The Marlins’ Transformation

A few months ago, I made an offhand remark that “If the Marlins finish over .500, it will be one of the best stories of the year.” Well, the Marlins have played well indeed, going 39-31 since my remark, and 13-3 most recently, and their record is now an even .500 (69-69). As I write these words, they are three games behind the Padres in the Wild Card race.

The Marlins were actually better last year, finishing 83-79 (.512), but as you know, the story isn’t that simple. Last year, the Marlins had a payroll of $75 million. This year, it’s $15 million. You’ve heard the basics lots of times, but think about it once more. $15 million in salary. That’s one-fifth of what they paid last year.

Allow me to revise my statement: even if the Marlins flop for the rest of the year, they will still be one of the best stories of the year.

I think we all know the story of the Marlins’ offseason: how general manager Larry Beinfest was told by owner Jeff Loria to dump payroll, a dramatic overreaction by Loria to his situation. True, the Marlins lost $12 million last year, but Loria was frustrated in his attempts to get Miami to build a baseball-only stadium, and wanted to make a dramatic statement. So players had to go. Beinfest followed orders, but he managed to build himself quite a ballteam on the way.

Looking back with 20/20 hindsight, here’s a list of Beinfest’s deals and how they’ve impacted the club this year. I’ve included each player’s 2006 Win Shares Above Bench and salary. If no salary is listed for a player, just assume he’s making about the minimum ($327,000).

Traded Josh Beckett (4 WSAB, $4.3M), Mike Lowell (5 WSAB, $9M each of the next two years) and Guillermo Mota (-1 WSAB, $3M) to the Red Sox for Hanley Ramirez (10 WSAB), Anibal Sanchez (4 WSAB), Jesus Delgado and Harvey Garcia.

This was the deal that started everything, and what a coup it’s been for the Marlins. Despite Mike Lowell’s unexpected comeback, he’s due to make $9 million both this year and next year. Throw in the $4 million being paid Beckett, and the Marlins unloaded $22 million in this deal. But that’s not the real story.

The real story is that the Marlins are winning in 2006 WSAB, 14-8. Remember, this was a deal for the future AND Mike Lowell has made a fine comeback. But this scoreboard goes the Marlins’ way in 2006, and it’s likely going to be even more Marlins in the future. Hanley Ramirez (.283/.346/.446; 13 home runs and 44 stolen bases) has lived up to all the hype he received as a young shortstop in the Boston system. In fact, Jose Reyes is the only NL shortstop who has clearly had a better season. Anibal Sanchez has a 3.22 ERA in 78 innings. Both Delgado and Garcia are having good years in Single-A ball.

The Boston front office was in disarray when this deal occurred. Theo Epstein had left in a gorilla suit and this deal was driven by Larry Lucchino. You’ve got to think Epstein would have held onto that good young talent, but who knows? An absolute steal for the Marlins.

Traded Carlos Delgado (11 WSAB, $14M to $16M each of the next three years) to the Mets for Mike Jacobs (4 WSAB), Yusmeiro Petit (-1 WSAB) and Grant Psomas.

Actually, the Delgado deal occurred at about the same time as the Beckett deal but its impact has been a bit more muted. The Mets are winning the deal this year, 11 to 3, but this one was all about Delgado’s salary. Actually, the Marlins pulled a cute one here; they paid Delgado only $4 million in 2005, the first year of his big multiyear deal, then sent him to the Mets once the big money was scheduled kicked in. They also sent $7 million to the Mets to offset some of those gigantic dollars.

Mike Jacobs has had a solid rookie season with the Marlins, batting .271/.330/.487 with 18 home runs. Petit is one of the more controversial pitching prospects around, with some comparing him to Sid Fernandez and others not. First Inning projects a major league career with an ERA in the mid 4’s, which ain’t bad. Considering how much Delgado has contributed to the Mets’ cause this year, we’ll call this a win-win deal for now.

Traded Luis Castillo (4 WSAB, $5.7M each of the next two years) to the Twins for Travis Bowyer and Scott Tyler.

The Marlins unloaded over $11 million to the Twins (the Twins took on salary!) in this deal and picked up two fine young arms. Unfortunately, Bowyer has been out all year with an arm injury and Tyler has had a mixed year in Double-A. Still, the Marlins don’t regret this deal at all, because they picked up a pretty decent second baseman in the Rule 5 Draft (coming up).

Traded Paul Lo Duca (5 WSAB, $6.7M next two years) to the Mets for Gaby Hernandez and Dante Brinkley.

Gaby Hernandez has had a fine year in Single-A ball, posting a 3.68 ERA and a 115/35 strikeout/walk ratio. The Marlins replaced Lo Duca with free agent Miguel Olivo, who has had a better year behind the plate but not at it. The Marlins are losing this deal in the short run, but may make it up in the long run. A potential win/win deal.

A Hardball Times Update
Goodbye for now.

Selected second baseman Dan Uggla (12 WSAB) from the Diamondbacks organization in the Rule 5 draft. Also signed Pokey Reese for second, but released him before spring training concluded.

Along with the Beckett deal, this was the key to the Marlins’ offseason. In fact, this may have been the single best transaction of the offseason. At this stage of 2006, Uggla leads all NL second basemen in WSAB (yes, he’s even ahead of Chase Utley) and has batted .291/.352/.497 with 22 home runs. Those are All-Star numbers.

Traded Juan Pierre (2 WSAB, $5.7M) for Ricky Nolasco (2 WSAB), Sergio Mitre (1 WSAB), and Renyel Pinto (1 WSAB).

The Cubs panicked and traded three fine young arms for a leadoff hitter who isn’t much of a leadoff hitter. Juan Pierre has great speed, but his .335 OBP, coupled with a near-total lack of power, makes him one of the worst leadoff hitters in the game. Ricky Nolasco has been solid for a rookie, posting a 9-8 record and a 4.85 ERA, though he looked better early in the year. Even though the Marlins haven’t found a center fielder to replace Pierre, Ramirez has been a better leadoff hitter. No regrets.

Traded Ron Villone (2 WSAB, $2.2M) to the Yankees for Ben Julianel.

Ron Villone has had a pretty good year in the Yankee bullpen, and Julianel has only pitched 34 innings in Double-A this year. The Marlins have had one of the worst bullpens in the majors this year, and they could have used Villone.

Let A.J. Burnett sign with the Blue Jays for $55 million and Todd Jones (0 WSAB, $6M, $5M next year) go to the Tigers.

Good moves. Jones has had an okay year (4.56 ERA, 35 saves), but he’s not worth that amount of money. His WSAB are so low, by the way, because Win Shares expects more of a closer. A.J. Burnett has had a fine year in Toronto, but he’s also been injured and has made only 16 starts. Josh Johnson and Scott Olsen, two great rookies, have been better.

Signed Miguel Olivo (4 WSAB, $700K), Joe Borowski (3 WSAB, about $500K) and Wes Helms (3 WSAB, $800K) to one-year contracts.

This is a great example of what judicious free agent spending can do. All three Marlin free agents have had good, solid years for less than $1 million each.

Signed Dontrelle Willis (5 WSAB) to a $4.3M contract.

There were rumors that the Marlins would trade Willis (in fact, the rumors have never ceased) but he has brought real “veteran” leadership to this group of young kids. It still might be a good idea to trade him because he has pitched a lot of innings at a young age. And if this year has proved anything, it’s that trading veteran players doesn’t have to mean “throwing in the towel.”

Last week, in an intro to an article about Omar Minaya, I said he was the “obvious” choice for NL general manager of the year. Several readers chided me for this, citing Beinfest’s great work in Florida. While I’d still vote for Minaya I have to admit that the choice isn’t really that obvious.

Beinfest had several things going for him: his roster included relatively inexpensive MVP candidate Miguel Cabrera and Willis, and his fine farm system was producing major-league-ready talent such as Johnson, Olsen and Josh Willingham. But Beinfest took his marching orders and did something completely unexpected: he kept the Marlins competitive at 1/5th of the cost.

As John Brattain pointed out last week, maybe he did his job too well.

References & Resources
As you probably know, Sanchez threw a no-hitter last night. Timely article, huh?

Here is a link to the Forbes’ page regarding the Marlins’ financial situation. You also might enjoy reading Carolina’s preseason Marlin review.

I highly recommend First Inning for minor league stats. They even have a new service by which you can track your favorite minor leaguers regularly.

Dave Studeman was called a "national treasure" by Rob Neyer. Seriously. Follow his sporadic tweets @dastudes.

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