Evaluating trades is one of the most fun aspects of baseball analysis. The best evaluations often are made at the time of the trade, based on perceived mindsets of the teams involved and on the information available at the time the deal was conceived. Hindsight makes things easier, but often winds up with less accurate assessments. Still, taking another look after a couple of years can be an interesting exercise, especially when players involved in the original deal moved to new teams.
Suddenly, one move can impact the roster of four or five different teams depending on the eventual destinations of the players involved. One recent deal involved the Florida Marlins sending all-stars Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis to the Tigers for Andrew Miller, Cameron Maybin, Burke Badenhop, Mike Rabelo, Dallas Trahern and Eulogio De La Cruz. Though the latter four players have their merits, the December 2007 deal was really two of the top prospects in baseball for Cabrera and the ability to not have to pay Willis.
Three years later, the Marlins essentially unloaded a hall-of-fame player for three middle relievers — as both Maybin and Miller are on new teams and only one of the original players acquired remains on the major league club.
Almost everyone in that deal is on a new team. Maybin roams center field for the Padres. Miller was dealt to the Red Sox in November. Eulogio De La Cruz spent a year in Florida before going to the Padres in 2009 and missing the 2010 season. He is now in the Brewers organization, pitching with the same mediocre results.
Willis is in the Reds minor league system. Rabelo is back with the Tigers. The only three players who have stayed put are Cabrera, Badenhop and Trahern. Miggy continues to tear it up and he just turned 28 years old. Badenhop has been a key in the Marlins bullpen since the deal was made and Trahern is posting Kyle Kendrick-ian strikeout rates in the minors. Color me skeptical that he ever helps the Marlins.
Miller brought back minor-league pitcher Dustin Richardson, who misses plenty of bats, but exhibits poor control. Miller certainly hadn’t been an effective major league hurler, but Richardson is 27 years old and seems to be nothing more than bullpen fodder. The most interesting offshoot of the Cabrera deal was the trade sending Maybin to the Padres for relievers Ryan Webb and Edward Mujica. This trade essentially looks like Miguel Cabrera for Webb, Mujica, and Badenhop.
The original trade, and the two that followed — sending both Miller and Cabrera to their new digs — illustrates the risks inherent with evaluating prospects. On one hand, it’s entirely possible that the Marlins overvalued Maybin and Miller and should have sought a better return for Cabrera. On the other hand, prospect mavens rated both highly, and the Marlins might have given up too early on them — especially Maybin. Essentially, the same team might have under- and overvalued the same two prospects.
Given that Maybin already has produced approximately two wins above replacement, revisiting his trade to the Padres is in order. The move really made no sense for the Marlins, even before factoring in how well he’s played this season. He was perceived to have underperformed with the Marlins, even though his playing time was sporadic. From 2008 to 2010 — his age 21 to 23 seasons — he hit .257/.323/.391. The league average in the senior circuit in that span was approximately .258/.329/.407. In other words, Maybin was practically a league average hitter in his time with the Marlins. At worst, he was a league average fielder at arguably the toughest position on the field. Combine those factors with his age and it seems incomprehensible to trade him for two middle relievers. With all due respect to Webb and Mujica, there are only two reasons to trade someone like Maybin if you’re in the Marlins position:
1. The team is absolutely blown away with an offer
2. The team is convinced he’s a bust and wants to get something — anything — for him
Webb and Mujica, in no way fit the first reason. Given his production — 2.7 WAR in 144 games and 557 PA at age 21-23 — how on earth could the team be convinced he was a bust? Andrew Miller might not become the pitcher everyone envisioned when the Tigers took him in the first round, but the Marlins had a chance to keep a player with potential to be an upper-echelon center fielder, and squandered that opportunity by giving up on him too early. Even if Maybin settled in the 3 to 3.5 WAR range (which seemed realistic), instead of the 5+ WAR area, he would have greatly benefited the Marlins.
The trade was strange in November given what we knew at the time. Now? Well, it only seems stranger To give up on a 23-year-old, former top prospect who produced at least at a league-average level is questionable. To trade that player for two middle relievers is inexcusable, regardless of how he produces over the rest of his career. At the time of the deal it made no sense, and it makes even less sense with the aid of hindsight.