In the winter of 2007-2008, the Marlins had a chance to make a big splash. The free agent market lacked a game-changing bat. Teams seeking a significant offensive upgrade turned to the trade market, where the Marlins were dangling Miguel Cabrera, who would be 25 years old in 2008. After doubling payroll from 2006 to 2007, the Marlins clearly had no intentions of raising it again. And so they traded Cabrera, along with Dontrelle Willis, to the Tigers for a package of players that included two first-round picks: Cameron Maybin, No. 10 overall in 2005, and Andrew Miller, No. 6 overall in 2006.
Three years later the trade looks a bit worse for the Marlins. It appears they recognize that, too, as they flipped both Miller and Maybin this past weekend. It couldn’t have been an easy decision. Both players are still relatively young, but the Marlins haven’t seen much production out of them in the past three years. By trading them now, while they still have the “change of scenery candidate” tag attached to them, they’re hedging against both busting completely. In the process they’ve given two teams good opportunities.
For the Red Sox, trading Dustin Richardson for Miller makes complete sense. A fifth-round choice in 2006, Richardson converted to the bullpen after the 2008 season and has had nothing but control problems since. He walked 5.57 per nine in 118 minor relief innings during the last two seasons, and walked more than a batter per inning during his 13-inning MLB stint in 2010. He’s no better than Miller, and is actually a year older. The Marlins, of course, are looking at this from a savings perspective — Miller will make close to $2 million in 2010 despite being a zero-to-three player. The Red Sox view this as a baseball move.
There are certainly concerns about Miller’s delivery and command. When rating Miller the Tigers’ No. 2 prospect before the 2007 season, Baseball America wrote, “Most scouts’ concerns about him center on his arm action, as he has a slight wrap in the back of his delivery that hampers his command.” From what I gather, that still appears to be an issue today. Miller’s walk rate remains high. He also hasn’t adequately developed a changeup, which would act as a swing-and-miss weapon against right handers. Given what we’ve seen from pitchers in the past, it’s unlikely that Miller overcomes these issues. But if he does, the Red Sox will benefit greatly. Even if he doesn’t they can end up as winners; at their current levels Richardson probably isn’t any better than Miller. The Red Sox have once again used their financial resources in a savvy manner.
A day after trading Miller, the Marlins then traded the other significant component of the Cabrera trade, Cameron Maybin, to the Padres in exchange for two relief pitchers, right handers Ryan Webb and Edward Mujica. Webb, 24, had a phenomenal sophomore season, allowing just one home run in 59 innings. Mujica allowed 14 home runs in 69.2 innings, but made up for it by striking out 9.30 per nine, an increase of two per nine from 2009, and walking 0.78 per nine. He will reach arbitration for the first time this year.
The Padres did well in this trade, dealing from a position of strength. Their bullpen was, by many measures, tops in the majors this season. Webb and Mujica played roles in that, but the Padres managed to keep their top three guys: Heath Bell, Mike Adams, and Luke Gregerson. Quality bullpen arms might not be easy to come by, but the Padres do have a history of finding undervalued relievers. They can find ways to replace Webb and Mujica. At the same time, they’ve acquired a young player who, while not as promising as he was two years ago, still has a chance to make an impact in the majors.
Not only is Maybin young, but he is also cost controlled. Heading into the 2010 season he had just 129 service days, and then didn’t spend the entire season on the active roster. There’s a chance he’ll attain Super-Two status after the 2011 season, but that’s no guarantee. If he doesn’t the deal works out even better for San Deigo. They’ll have acquired two very inexpensive years of a talented player, followed by three more expensive, but still cost-controlled, years.
Maybin, of course, brings the Padres no guarantees, as Dave noted earlier. But even if he doesn’t develop, the Padres will have made a worthy gamble. To them, the chance to upgrade at center field is far more important than a couple of bullpen arms, which they seemingly grow on trees anyway.
At the time of the Miguel Cabrera trade, it appeared as though the Marlins did well. They got two exciting young players who had star potential. But in the following three years they were treated to nothing but disappointment. When they cut bait last weekend they did improve their bullpen, but more importantly they provided Boston and San Diego with opportunities. The Red Sox did well, because they traded a regular old fringe reliever for a fringe reliever with potential. The Padres did well, because they dealt two replaceable relievers for a 24-year-old former top-10 prospect with at least one more zero-to-three season. While the Marlins will benefit from a strengthened bullpen, the teams they dealt with could improve even more.