In their latest bid to help fill that Giancarlo Stanton sized hole in the lineup, the Miami Marlins pulled off a three team trade Wednesday night that landed them veteran outfielder Jeff Francoeur from the Atlanta Braves. The Texas Rangers were the third team in the equation, and interestingly enough, once rostered Francoeur themselves; Miami becomes the eighth team to be able to make that claim.
While not a top flight name in 2016, it’s certainly a name you’ve heard. If you’re a big enough fan to read a blog, it’s a name that’s given you nightmares at some point over the last twelve years. Or at least cost you a broken remote control or two.
Frenchy has clubbed more homers* and knocked in more runs against the Marlins than any other team in the bigs. His .301 average versus the Fish is technically his fourth best mark, though he hasn’t faced any of those three teams he’s fared better against more than forty times; he’s faced Miami 115 times in his career.
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Needless to say, especially with a September full of NL East games, I’m glad he’s finally on our side.
But was the asking price too much?
To answer that one, we need to explore one of the more intricate wrinkles of the MLB world: international draft slots.
The night this story broke, I was dining with a baseball diehard of a cousin. I was thrilled they made the move, even if a big part of the value was coming from Francoeur not being in the opposing lineup for those six Braves games. Prospect-wise, all they were losing was a Single A catcher, with catcher being a position that is blocked at the MLB level by a young and controllable star. My cousin was surprised by this though, due to the perceived high value of international draft slots. The Marlins dealt away two of them to get the deal done.
So what is the international draft slot? Baseball America covered this fairly well last year, but basically it’s a largely pointless accounting feature. The money teams can spend is determined based on record from the past season, and just like a true draft, the team that did the worst gets the best value. So, as an example, the Twins will have way more to spend than the Cubs next year. However, all teams are guaranteed a minimum figure of some $700,000, at least as of the 2015-2016 season we’re working with as an example. That floor, combined with the value of those performance-based slots, make up the international bonus pool.
But that’s it really, as far as slot relevance. International signings are not part of a true draft. So if anyone was viewing this trade as the Marlins giving up a second and fourth round draft pick (the slots were 37 and 97 respectively), they couldn’t be more off the mark. Not the NFL, or even the standard MLB draft. Teams can spend that pool money however they see fit, and every team in the league can theoretically make an offer to the perceived top target. Plus, to borrow from one more league, the only real penalty for going over the bonus pool is an NBA-style luxury tax. It’s steep, 100% actually, but still extremely affordable for the game’s super-rich clubs.
Most teams aren’t super-rich though, and are governed by some degree of financial limitation. So the slots can matter, though I have to stress one last time the absurdity of them. As Baseball America notes, they really only exist because the league tried and failed to make an international draft. But there is financial value allocated to them, and based on the previous season’s/”draft” values, the Marlins gave away the right to spend roughly another $700,000 on international signings along with Foley. It’s probably more than that given how bad last year’s team was, so perhaps it’s better to say Miami traded around twenty-five percent of their pool money. MLB teams can’t just trade the money straight up, but are restricted to doing it in pieces, via the slots. Finally, they are also restricted to only acquiring up to 50% of their original allocation.
This trade appears to have allowed the Rangers to max out on pool money they can pick up. Meanwhile, the Marlins have limited the size of the secondary signing bonuses they can offer to controllable for years international prospects in exchange for a single player they will control for less than two months. Unless they make the playoffs, of course; then it could be two months, provided they make the World Series.
Which is…an awesomely amazing trade. Good job Marlins. Sincerely.
The reason is twofold. Firstly, the Marlins kept their top slot. For 2015-2016, that came out to just over a million dollars. Not a bad chunk of change in and of itself, and that 2016-2017 value should nearly double thanks to the Dan Jennings-led catastrophe that was the 2015 season. So the team keeps the ability to throw that amount of money down on the table should they see a star to their liking.
Lastly though, and this is the crucial point, is the fact that……none of the above matters.
You might have noticed the rather liberal use of the italics key throughout this piece, particularly in regards to spending that pool money. Can spend, right to spend….could, would, should. Nothing was typed about must, obligated, or even likely to occur. Yes, there has been some indication that the Marlins might be more willing to spend internationally than they have in the past.
And, yes, those italics are a sloppy writing trick I’d take points off for if my students did it in a paper.
But, to date, the Marlins really never plunge into the international pool at all. The slots are only tough to give up if you have any intention of using them. And for all the loopholes discussed above, and countless other reasons ranging from expense to organizational philosophy, it’s just not something the Marlins really do. Like I said, the first response from my cousin was “those things are valuable.” My immediate answer was “only if you plan to use em.”
Seeing as how his team is the Cubs, the team with the fifth highest payroll in the majors according to Spotrac, I get it. Rightly or wrongly though, the Marlins often choose not to spend the pool money. At least not at a level where a real bidding war could result. So, in essence, the Fish found a veteran stopgap for the price of a middling Single A catcher.
I’d call this trade a win, and perhaps more than any other they’ve made so far this season.