How the Marlins Did and Didn’t Mess Up by Dave Cameron December 11, 2017 In a few hours, the Yankees will hold a press conference here in Orlando to officially welcome Giancarlo Stanton to their organization. They landed the reigning NL MVP just 24 hours after he vetoed trades to the Giants and Cardinals and said New York was one of just four destinations he would approve a trade to. Left with minimal leverage, Derek Jeter and Michael Hill engineered a trade with Jeter’s old club, sending Stanton to the Bronx for Starlin Castro and a couple of low-level prospects. The reaction to the decision has been almost universally negative. The Marlins’ new ownership group began their tenure by behaving much like the old one, dumping their best player to cut payroll. Instead of hope and change, it looks like more of the same in south Florida. But while Jeter has made a number of apparent missteps since taking over as the head of the organization, and made some mistakes with the Stanton negotiations specifically, I think it’s also worth pointing out that, on a pure baseball level, the Marlins seemed to come out okay here. The outrage about the fact that this was viewed as a necessary move is entirely justified. It is unquestionably embarrassing for Major League Baseball that Jeffrey Loria was allowed to run the team in such a ridiculous way that the new ownership group had to assume $400 million worth of debt, the service of which is going to eat up such a significant amount of their cashflow that they couldn’t afford to keep a great player making $25 million per year. In reality, Stanton’s current salary is well under market value for an elite player, and if the Marlins can’t even afford players at this level, it’s unclear how they’ll ever compete. Great players are now routinely pushing $20 million in their final few arbitration years, so if the Marlins can only field guys with 0-5 years of service, or guys who aren’t good enough to command big money in arbitration, putting a competitive team on the field just isn’t practical. The damage a few terrible owners have done to baseball in Miami is a disaster for MLB. This should be one of the best baseball markets in the country, but the market was strip-mined for personal profit by a swindler. That the league allowed Loria to wildly enrich himself while leveraging the franchise because he couldn’t actually run a baseball team should be embarrassing for everyone involved. But while the Marlins shouldn’t be in this position, that doesn’t change the fact that these are the ashes that Loria left. And if we just look at what the Marlins got for Stanton, given their lack of leverage, I don’t think the deal was actually all that bad for the franchise. While it’s easy to look at Stanton for Castro and A-ball guys as a ridiculous heist for New York, this is yet another reminder that teams aren’t just trading players, but they’re trading contracts. And Stanton’s contract, with an opt-out after 2020 — or $295 million in committed salary if he doesn’t use it — isn’t all that attractive of an asset. There’s a reason Stanton cleared waivers back in August, and why every team negotiating with the Marlins wanted Miami to keep part of his post opt-out money on their books. And while the Marlins mostly took Castro back in the deal to help the Yankees luxury tax calculation, he’s not an underwater contract, and they could move his remaining 2/$22M if they decide to keep dumping salary further. Once Stanton vetoed trades to STL and SF, I thought the Marlins might have to pay Stanton’s deal down into the $225M to $250M range, but they got the Yankees to pick up $265M of the contract without sticking them with any dead money coming back. And while the two prospects they got in return aren’t close to the Majors, both look pretty interesting. Eric’s write-up is pretty encouraging for the few remaining Marlins fans who might want some long-term hope. Jorge Guzman, specifically, looks like a Top 100 prospect, as a guy who throws 100 mph and put up video game numbers in the minors last year. As a 50 FV guy with plenty of upside if he keeps developing, we’d estimate that Guzman is probably worth something like $20 million in value by himself. Devers is too far away to put a ton of value on, but he’s probably worth at least a few million. In other words, the two prospects the Marlins got are probably worth close to the amount of Stanton’s contract that the Marlins kept on the books. If they can move Castro without paying down his deal — which they should be able to do — then the deal won’t be all that different from if they just let Stanton go on waivers, except they were willing to use some cash to buy upside prospects, which is exactly what rebuilding teams should be doing. Given that Stanton killed trades with the two most aggressive bidders and used his no-trade to limit the market to just four buyers, none of whom really needed Stanton, this is a pretty decent outcome for Jeter and his staff. If the organization had any credibility to say that the savings would be reinvested into acquiring other talented players, I think it’s possible the Marlins might actually come out ahead here, moving present value for future value at a time when they can’t really capitalize on present value. But, of course, the Marlins aren’t going to reinvest the savings. And that’s the lousy part. Instead of this being a rational decision based on the ability to acquire more value by spreading the money around instead of concentrating it one high-risk asset, the reality is that the Stanton money will go towards paying down the debt accrued by Loria because he and his son-in-law ran the team like drunken sailors. But for how easy it has been to make fun of the Marlins over the years, I think we should acknowledge that their two salary-dump trades so far haven’t been terrible baseball trades. Dee Gordon was moved for some legitimate prospects, and Stanton brought back at least one guy who could turn into something special. The Marlins are dumping salary, but these moves haven’t been just straight salary dumps. And if they can make a few more decent trades, perhaps getting STL to overpay for Marcell Ozuna, the Marlins could potentially come out of this all okay. It’s not fun that they have to do this, and MLB should take steps to not let owners mismanage teams like Loria did, but the Stanton deal looks like a decent enough trade that I don’t think piling on Jeter and the current ownership group is entirely justified.