FanGraphs Double Feature: Rays and Marlins Trade Potential for Production

The Rays and Marlins love making trades. They’ve now combined for four trades this year, though this one is the most consequential. The terms are simple: Miami gets Joey Wendle and Tampa Bay gets Kameron Misner. That’s it!

Normally at FanGraphs, we try to tell you why the trade might make sense for both sides, and which way we would lean if we had to choose a winner. If we’re feeling feisty, we might throw in a joke or two, perhaps a Dick Monfort burn if Dan Szymborski is in the driver’s seat. Today, though, the two of us had wildly different views of who won this trade. So without further ado, here are Brendan’s (Marlins) and Ben’s (Rays) thoughts on which side got the best of the other in this very Floridian trade.

Brendan’s Take

Ben probably isn’t the first analyst to pan a deal where Miami sought to improve the big league club, but I can’t find much recent precedent. That the Fighting Jeters beefed up at all seems sufficient cause for celebration. MLB is at its best when teams put their top product on the field, and the Marlins often fail to clear that low threshold. But between the Avisaíl García signing, the Sandy Alcantara extension, the Jacob Stallings trade, and now the Wendle deal, the Marlins have the swagger of… well, not a contender exactly, but at least an upright major league team.

This is true even if Wendle is a player who divides opinion. To be sure, even after making an All-Star team and notching a 106 wRC+ and 2.6 WAR last year, there are reasons for concern. He’s 31 now and coming off of a career-worst strikeout rate. Last year’s modest power spike was driven in part by an unusual number of wall-scraping dingers hooked just inside the right field foul pole. His batted ball metrics are bland at the best of times and were meager even by his standards last year, when he posted a .284 xwOBA — more than 30 points below his actual output.

For Miami, though, Wendle doesn’t have to rack up a 110 wRC+ to provide value. In part, that’s because he’s a good infield defender. Predominantly a third baseman, he started more than a dozen games at each middle infield spot last season, and he plays each position pretty well. Even if you don’t put a ton of stock in defensive metrics, it’s still encouraging that he has consistently been rated highly by ours throughout his career.

Most importantly, his versatility offers value beyond what WAR can adequately capture, particularly to a team like Miami with question marks at several positions. The early scuttlebutt suggests that the Marlins plan to use him in a super-utility role, which gives him several paths to regular playing time. He could get a run of games at third, for instance, if Brian Anderson’s shoulder barks again, or even in the outfield given the club’s lack of depth on the grass. And if the National League adopts the DH, he’s the perfect player to shuffle around the diamond while Don Mattingly gives other regulars half of the night off.

Between the defensive versatility and the gap between his actual and expected production last year, Wendle is a tricky player to project, as his game doesn’t neatly conform to a $/WAR model. That said, he was about a 1 WAR/162 games player in an injury-plagued 2019 season (the worst of his career) and he accrued more than 2.5 WAR in 136 games last year. ZiPS projects him to accrue 1.7 WAR next season and another 1.3 in 2023 — nothing earth shattering but that’s also an estimate that gives him no credit for his versatility.

ZiPS Projection – Joey Wendle
Year BA OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SB OPS+ DR WAR
2022 .268 .320 .412 425 60 114 26 4 9 42 24 9 98 2 1.7
2023 .264 .316 .407 383 53 101 23 4 8 37 22 8 96 1 1.4

And even if you think he takes a step back in 2022, he’ll be underpaid: MLB Trade Rumors estimates he’ll earn $4 million in arbitration this winter, well below the going rate for a win on the open market.

The cost here is Misner, a divisive player in his own right. The Marlins drafted him out of Missouri with the 35th pick of the 2019 draft. An athletic 6-foot-4, 240 pounds, he’s a 60 runner who will likely stay in center; he also has plus raw power. Statistically, he’s performed well. His max exit velo is about 112 mph and he had nearly a 25% barrel rate in limited Double-A action (strangely, it was only about half of that in High-A).

In the box, though, Misner looks stiff. While his bat path isn’t long, there’s a lot of noise in his hands as he loads, and it feeds into a short, jabby looking swing. Lead prospect analyst Eric Longenhagen also noted Misner’s short stride length, and questioned whether it will hinder his ability to drive pitches in the lower part of the zone. Between that and some swing-and-miss in his game, we have Misner projected as a platoon bat in a corner or perhaps a second-division regular in center.

Given Misner’s tools, and Miami’s long odds of contention, you could certainly argue that the Marlins would have been better off holding on to their prospect. A few years ago, I probably would have agreed with that sentiment. At a certain point, though, you have to try to start winning games, and with Garcia, Stallings, and now Wendle in the fold, Miami seems to be heading in that direction. There’s a chance they regret letting Misner walk, but there’s also considerable risk that he never matches the production Wendle can offer right now. The Fish still have plenty of work to do if they’re to truly contend, but I’ve liked their winter thus far, and I think Wendle is a solid addition to a roster that could be sneaky-good over the next couple of years.

Ben’s Take

No, the Rays don’t win every trade they make. If you think that, you’re falling victim to the availability heuristic, the mental bias that causes people to take the first examples that come to mind and generalize using them. Or maybe you’re falling victim to confirmation bias, the tendency to see events in a way that confirms your pre-existing beliefs. My behavioral economics nomenclature is a little rusty, plus I’m over-generalizing here (another no-no).

Anyway! My point is that simply trading with the Rays doesn’t make you a trade loser. But in this one, I think the Marlins got the worst of it. It’s not because I think they massively mis-valued either player in the deal — this isn’t a Chris Archer situation — but simply because the trade misunderstands how to best manage their roster over the long run.

The Marlins think they’re going to contend this year. That’s admirable, and I think they’re closer than most observers think. Adding García and Stallings didn’t come cheap, but those moves buttressed two weak points on the roster. They have an exciting — albeit untested — pitching staff. If they can get some offense going, there’s enough here to compete in a tough NL East.

For that reason, adding Wendle seems to make sense, and I buy Brendan’s argument that the Marlins could use a competent super-utility player. Their bench is thin and counts on a few guys I’m skeptical of — Jon Berti and Monte Harrison don’t inspire confidence, and Garrett Cooper is recovering from a season-ending injury. From that perspective, Wendle is an upgrade.

But I don’t know if he’ll start for them, and this is a pretty high price to pay for a bench bat. The Rays were masterful at getting the most out of Wendle. They used him all across the infield — mostly at third this year, but he can handle second and short as well. Contrary to popular belief, he wasn’t exclusively a platoon bat — he took a higher percentage of his trips to the plate against southpaws than the average lefty hitter — but still: a lefty middle infielder is a nice thing to have, particularly if you’re using a lot of interchangeable parts in your lineup, as the Rays always do.

The Marlins don’t really fit this mold. If Wendle is playing at third, that means Anderson isn’t. That’s assuming Miami is going to give Miguel Rojas and Jazz Chisholm Jr. everyday reps up the middle, but I think that’s a safe bet. Anderson can’t shift to the outfield easily anymore, either — García plays right field, where Anderson previously split time. Maybe they can run out a bat-heavy lineup where they put García in center, but I don’t buy that working on a daily basis.

Also, if they want a bat-heavy lineup, why is Wendle in it? Steamer projects him for a 90 wRC+ in 2022. He’s a league-average hitter in his career, and pretty much every peripheral went the wrong way in 2021. If you’re looking for bats, why not keep Anderson at third and move Cooper to right?

Essentially, I think contending teams need players that fill the Wendle role, guys who have plenty of defensive versatility, an acceptable bat, and a willingness to come off the bench or start as needed. If the Marlins get 400-450 plate appearances from Wendle in that role, that’s a perfectly nice player, but it’s the kind that most teams acquire in free agency or promote from within. This trade isn’t moving the needle on contending. If you’ll grant me the reins of the FanGraphs home improvement metaphor machine, this is more gorgeous backsplash than Viking range. If you have a nice kitchen already, Wendle will make it shine. If you’re looking to improve your kitchen, this is not where to start.

To get their backsplash, the Marlins gave up a toolsy outfielder who showed flashes of his pre-draft potential this year. Misner is a huge guy who can run. He mainly played center in the minors this year, and Eric thinks he could be a defensive fit there. Brendan already covered the ups and downs of his swing above, and the power as well — his 16% barrel rate across two levels of the minors says a lot about his power potential, though he’s more doubles than homers in games at this point.

Are the strikeouts worrisome? Most definitely. He can still play, though. Eric has him on the borderline between a 45 and 45+ FV, which means he won’t make the top 100 prospects list this year but is likely in the 101-200 range. That would place him around 10th in a still-very-good Rays system, and his is the kind of boom-bust profile that could see him move meaningfully in either direction within a year. 2021 was only his second season as a professional thanks to COVID weirdness, and capable up-the-middle defenders built like Misner don’t grow on trees.

If the Marlins signed Wendle in free agency, I’d be into it. If they lost Misner as part of a package to acquire an impact everyday starter, I’d be into it. But this trade — give up an intriguing prospect to shore up a minor weakness while major weaknesses still exist — doesn’t really do it for me. I like Wendle just fine in his role, and I think the Marlins will get what they’re expecting from him. I just don’t think it makes sense given the rest of their roster and the fact that they’ll need two or three more solid everyday regulars to compete.

Bonus! Did you know that Misner played in the Arizona Fall League this year? Well he did, and Eric captured 17 minutes of video featuring Misner taking, whiffing, and mashing baseballs en route to a goofy .205/.373/.513 line. Don’t scout Fall League statlines — but do watch his swing in action:





newest oldest most voted
Kevbot034
Member
Kevbot034

Misner seems like the kind of player who would flop and fail in Miami but will succeed in TB. I don’t say that just because “lol Rays always win” but just because he really is the kind of player they tend to get a lot out of somehow and then doesn’t do much after he leaves the team. I should look into some solid example of this.

Ivan_Grushenko
Member
Member
Ivan_Grushenko

To which type of player are you referring? Below average hit tool and plus power and speed/defense? You mean Carlos Peña? Mike Zunino? BJ/Melvin Upton?

Kevbot034
Member
Kevbot034

Yes!

sadtrombone
Member
Member
sadtrombone

BJ Upton (I think he’s now back to that) what every scout dreams of when they find a power/speed CF with an iffy hit tool. But the list of guys like this are mostly busts, with Lewis Brinson, Jake Marisnick, and Anthony Gose being more likely. I think there’s some room to hope he’s better than that, hitting righties at league average or slightly above and is plus in CF.

(Upton, Colby Rasmus, and Drew Stubbs are probably the most successful ones in recent memory. Well, and Byron Buxton, although Buxton is unattainable for just about everyone. )