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The Marlins Traded Away A Playoff Team

As the MLB trade deadline approaches, the Miami Marlins are at it again, trading reliever Sergio Romo on Saturday to the Minnesota Twins for a prospect. We shouldn’t be surprised — trades are essential to the Marlins’ identity: The franchise has won two titles, in 1997 and 2003, but hasn’t made the postseason otherwise. Both titles were immediately followed by major trades of key players from the championship runs.

Of the top 25 players in Marlins history by wins above replacement,1 23 were traded away, and the other two were meant to be traded, according to Miami executives, but the trades fell through. The team’s history is littered with fire sales and payroll slashes. Some deals were merely ill-advised, such as the buy-now moves that sent away key prospects in 2016 — a season that ended with 79 wins. Others were more absurd, such as sending then-prospect Trevor Williams to Pittsburgh as compensation for a pitching coach who was let go by Miami after two seasons.

This got us thinking: Could you make an entire lineup of Marlins trade castaways? An entire roster even?

As it turns out, you can. And it’s a fairly good team. A 25-man roster of players who, at one point in their careers, were traded from Miami would project to win at least 90 games over the course of this season, based on the WAR those players have accumulated with their current squads. Through Monday, the team would be roughly 61-43 and in line for a wild card.

The Marlins traded an entire playoff-caliber roster

Hypothetical roster of former members of the Miami Marlins, projected to win at least 90 games based on their 2019 performances through July 29

Position Player Current Team WAR
C J.T. Realmuto Phillies 3.0
1B Justin Bour Angels -0.1
2B Dee Gordon Mariners 0.3
SS Enrique Hernandez Dodgers 1.3
3B Colin Moran Pirates 0.8
LF Marcell Ozuna Cardinals 1.7
CF Christian Yelich Brewers 6.1
RF Giancarlo Stanton Yankees 0.2
Bench Jake Marisnick Astros 1.4
Bench Cameron Maybin Yankees 1.2
Bench Austin Barnes Dodgers 0.5
Bench Adeiny Hechavarria Mets 0.2
SP Luis Castillo Reds 2.3
SP Domingo German Yankees 1.7
SP Chris Paddack Padres 1.6
SP Trevor Williams Pirates 1.1
SP Nathan Eovaldi Red Sox -0.2
RP Anthony DeSclafani Reds 1.5
RP Anibal Sanchez Nationals 1.3
RP Sam Dyson Giants 1.1
RP Jason Vargas Phillies 1.1
RP Yusmeiro Petit Athletics 0.7
RP Nick Wittgren Indians 0.6
RP Andrew Heaney Angels 0.5
RP Sergio Romo Twins 0.4

Sources: Baseball-Reference.com, Fangraphs

You could even name a manager in Craig Counsell, who scored the winning run in Game 7 of the 1997 World Series and was traded to the Dodgers in 1999 for a player to be named later.2

We used the current WAR of the former Marlins to construct this lineup, with some slight adjustments for injury: We would start Giancarlo Stanton, even though Cameron Maybin and Jake Marisnick have had better seasons so far, and Nathan Eovaldi, who could be replaced by Anthony DeSclafani in the rotation and Steve Cishek on the roster. And we moved some players out of their regular positions, including stashing the aforementioned DeSclafani in the bullpen and putting regular right fielder Christian Yelich in center field to make room for Stanton.

That 25-man roster doesn’t even include two of the most notable traded-away players: future Hall of Famer Miguel Cabrera, who is at -0.4 WAR for the season, and two-time All-Star Andrew Miller, sitting at -0.1 WAR.3 It’s also worth noting that this roster isn’t one the Marlins could realistically have if they had just stood pat: Some of the players on this list were at one point acquired by the Marlins in a trade for another player on the list: Dee Gordon, for instance, was acquired in a 2014 trade that sent four current major leaguers to the Dodgers, including Kiké Hernandez.

The total WAR from this 25-man roster, from their 2019 performances with non-Marlins teams, is 30.3, breaking down to 16.6 for position players and 13.7 for pitchers. The hitting WAR roughly equates to that of the Brewers, and the pitching WAR is close to that of the Astros. Both groups of former Marlins would rank in the top 10 of baseball. Using the winning percentage expected from a replacement-level team,4 we can extrapolate the former Marlins’ WAR to 162 games from the 104 the Marlins have played through Monday. Without adjusting for playing time, we find that the team would project to 95 wins over a 162-game season.5

If you think all of these trades should have netted the Marlins good players in return, well, they’re last in the National League by four games and have a farm system consistently ranked in the bottom 10 of the majors (though that may be improving).

The Marlins aren’t the only team that could fill out a roster of traded-away players: The Seattle Mariners have executed big trades in recent years. A roster assembled of the very best of once-traded Mariners, aided by recent trades of Edwin Encarnacion and Jay Bruce, can compete with the Marlins.6 The Pirates similarly have a potentially solid team of cast-offs, if not quite as good, but they don’t have a catcher (unless someone drags David Ross out of retirement.)

The Mariners also let go of some major players

Hypothetical roster of former members of the Seattle Mariners, projected to win at least 90 games based on their 2019 performances through July 29

Position Player Current Team WAR
C Manny Pina Brewers 0.8
1B Carlos Santana Indians 3.0
2B Ketel Marte Diamondbacks 4.8
SS Jean Segura Phillies 2.3
3B Asdrubal Cabrera Rangers 0.8
LF Chris Taylor Dodgers 1.3
CF Ben Gamel Brewers 0.7
RF Shin-Soo Choo Rangers 1.5
DH Edwin Encarnacion Yankees 1.9
Bench Jay Bruce Phillies 1.2
Bench Eric Thames Brewers 1.1
Bench Luis Rengifo Angels 0.6
SP James Paxton Yankees 1.7
SP Michael Pineda Twins 1.8
SP Pablo Lopez Marlins 1.6
SP Ryan Yarbrough Rays 1.7
SP Wade Miley Astros 1.8
RP J.A. Happ Yankees 0.9
RP Emilio Pagan Rays 0.8
RP Jason Vargas Phillies 1.1
RP Freddy Peralta Brewers 0.8
RP Edwin Diaz Mets 0.4
RP Paul Fry Orioles 0.6
RP Shawn Kelley Rangers 0.5
RP Alex Colome White Sox 0.5

Sources: Baseball-Reference.com, Fangraphs

Seattle has 50 eligible active players for its all-trade team, so half can be left off the roster; the Marlins have “only” 34. That’s a major difference: The Mariners’ current team is built from their sheer number of trades. Sure, they’d love to have Ketel Marte, but they got Mitch Haniger and Jean Segura, both 2018 All-Stars, in return.

The Yankees could also assemble a full roster of players they traded away, though it would project to a sub-.500 team. So it’s definitely hard to argue that they’d be better had they not made those trades. The Marlins, meanwhile, would almost certainly rather have Chris Paddack or Luis Castillo on their team right now than the three months of Fernando Rodney in 2016 or the two seasons of Dan Straily they received in return. Of the five players sent to Florida in the Cabrera trade, Maybin contributed the most value with just 2.3 total WAR in his stint with Miami — and four years later, all the players the Marlins had received were gone. Miami got a disappointing return in the 12-player 2012 trade with the Blue Jays; none of the prospects the Marlins received for Jose Reyes, Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle, etc. remain with the franchise or made a major impact. The recent trades under new CEO Derek Jeter have netted some prospects and are probably too early to truly be graded, but they’re still not enough to push Miami’s farm system into the top tier.

Of course, there’s another reason the Marlins are so accomplished at trading stars: money. Most trades for the small-market Marlins, last in baseball in attendance by a large margin, have been aimed at cutting costs.

The Marlins probably couldn’t have fielded their all-trade team because they couldn’t afford it. The 2019 contracts, according to Spotrac, for the 25 traded-away players total $134 million,7 nearly double of the team’s opening-day payroll of $72 million.

Check out our latest MLB predictions.

Footnotes

  1. According to FanGraphs’ measurement.

  2. That player would be minor leaguer Ryan Moskau.

  3. The other active players left off are outfielder Josh Naylor and relievers Cishek, David Phelps, Dillon Peters, Dan Jennings and Kyle Barraclough

  4. Roughly 29 percent.

  5. This team would have fewer plate appearances than expected for an MLB team but slightly more innings pitched.

  6. The Mariners’ team has accumulated more WAR this season, but the Marlins have far fewer plate appearances.

  7. That number doesn’t count Cabrera’s $30 million or Miller’s $11 million contracts since both players have been below replacement and don’t make the top 25.

Ari Levin is FiveThirtyEight’s sports intern.

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