Marlins Deal Busted Prospect or a Decent Player?

Over the weekend, the Marlins pulled the plug on the Miguel Cabrera trade, shipping off both Andrew Miller and Cameron Maybin in separate deals that brought them some bullpen help. I like several of the arms that they got in return, so it would be unfair to label these moves as dumping busted prospects, but it’s clear that this is not what the Marlins were expecting when they got Detroit’s two top prospects in exchange for Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis three years ago.

JoePawl will have more on Miller and the Marlins haul in a bit. For now, though, let’s talk about Maybin.

Heading into his age-24 season, he’s got a bit of experience under his belt. He has 610 plate appearances in the big leagues over the last three years, where he’s hit .246/.313/.380. That’s not great, but it’s not abysmal either, especially for a center fielder. Over what amounts to one full season’s worth of playing time in the majors, Maybin has been worth +1.7 WAR, making him a slightly below-average player.

So why’d the Marlins dump him? It essentially comes down to a lack of contact and what that may mean for his future potential.

Major League teams have learned how to tolerate high strikeout totals from power hitters. Most teams will live with the whiffs to have a Ryan Howard or Adam Dunn hitting 40 bombs a year, realizing that the value that comes when they do make contact offsets the frustration of watching them swing and miss so often. Maybin, however, is not that kind of slugger, yet he still strikes out like one.

Of Maybin’s 610 big league plate appearances, 172 have resulted in strikeouts. His K% is the 16th highest in the majors among players who have at least 500 PA over the last three years. There are really only two types of players ahead of him on that list – power hitters and backup catchers, and the latter aren’t really in the big leagues for their offense.

The reason there aren’t any other small, high-strikeout guys in the big leagues? It is almost impossible to maintain any kind of value with that skillset. Guys with gap power – like Maybin – have to make up for their lack of big hits with a high quantity of singles and doubles, and that’s really hard to do when you’re striking out once a game. Maybin’s career average of .246 isn’t likely to get any better while he’s whiffing this frequently, as his BABIP is already .334, and he’s pretty close to reaching a ceiling with how often he can expect the balls he does hit to find holes.

If this were Maybin’s true talent strikeout rate, I’d understand why the Marlins traded him – he’s unlikely to ever turn into more than what he is now with these contact problems. However, Maybin’s strikeout rate in Triple-A the last two years has been significantly lower – just 19.5% in 2009 and 18.5% this year. He had significant contact issues in the low minors, but has seemingly made some strides in that area, at least against minor league pitching.

If Maybin can get his whiff rate down to a more manageable 25 percent or so, then he’s a viable starting center fielder in the big leagues. At that point, he wouldn’t be much different of a player than B.J. Upton, for instance. Can he get there? Maybe, maybe not. But the Padres were wise to take a shot on him, as young, cheap, up-the-middle players with some offensive upside aren’t usually available for just bullpen help.

I get why the Marlins dumped him. It just seems a bit premature to give up on a guy really only needs to improve in one area to become a pretty nice piece for the future.

Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.

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Forrest Gumption
13 years ago

To me it appears Maybin might be the second coming of Preston Wilson, albeit much better with the glove and a little less pop. He already is worthwhile of an everyday CF position based off his glove alone. IMO SD got an absolute steal here, Ryan Webb has been nothing less than awful away from the friendly confines of Petco and Mujica’s HR/9 In is so alarming I struggle to believe he will have any kind of a career., especially away from SD.

This might be one of the worst trades in recent memory when all is said and done.

Mr. Sanchez
13 years ago

I thought his glove, like several other modern CFs, was mostly due to his athletic ability, and that like an Adam Jones or Matt Kemp, Maybin was awful getting reads off the bat. If so, I wouldn’t be sure he’ll pan out just yet.

I also think he could benefit with a full year in AAA. He has no more than 120 games at any minor league level, and hasn’t spent a full season anywhere in his professional career. I’m of the opinion that a full season with a good coach in AAA could do wonders for helping him realize his potential. Any chance the Padres let Gwynn Jr or Venebles go for a year with Maybin taking over in September, or in 2012?

Dan Greer
13 years ago
Reply to  Mr. Sanchez

I’m sure he could, but pretty sure Maybin is out of options. He’ll be the everyday CF.

dan woytek
13 years ago
Reply to  Mr. Sanchez

pretty sure Maybin is out of options, so he’ll only be in the minors if he clears waivers iirc.

13 years ago

I know RBI isn’t a terribly useful evaluation tool, but if Maybin has a 140 RBI season I will crap in a hat and eat it.