It is never too early to start talking about the trade deadline, especially when we can talk about would-be contenders that might unexpectedly end up being sellers rather than buyers at the deadline. Over the next few weeks, we'll be taking a look at many of these such teams, and there is a surprisingly large amount, and what exactly they might be looking to sell if they don't turn around their season in a hurry.
Losers of six straight (and counting) and a -28 run differential that belies their 31-29 record, the Marlins are in real danger of falling out of contention. They are only five games out of the division lead, but they are still in fourth place in the uber-competitive NL East. If things don't turn around soon, this last off-season's big flashy spender is going to have to turn into a seller come the trade deadline.
So, what can the Marlins offer to the rest of the league?
Big Chips: Anibal Sanchez
He doesn't get a lot of attention for it, but Anibal Sanchez has been the ace of the Marlins staff this season as well as one of the best pitchers in the National League. That's great timing for him because he is a free agent this off-season in a thin pitching market, setting him up for a major contract. That's bad news for the Marlins who pretty much blew their wad this last off-season and thus might be unable to afford bringing Sanchez back. If that is the conclusion they come to, expect Sanchez to shopped to a contender for two quality prospects at the trade deadline so that Miami doesn't lose him for nothing other than maybe some draft picks.
Money Moves: Heath Bell, Carlos Zambrano
No player has been a bigger symbol of Miami's struggles this season than Heath Bell. Touted as one of their "Big Three" pick-ups this last winter, Bell has been an unmitigated bust. He's been on the verge of permanently being removed as closer almost all season long and probably has only lasted this long because of his contract and the stark lack of alternatives in the Marlin bullpen. It would take a massive admission of being wrong from the Marlins front office, but if they got the chance to dump the decaying veteran and part, if not all, of the $20+ million he is owed through 2014, they might have no other choice than to do so, no matter how much it hurts their pride (and PR image).
Carlos Zambrano has been quite the surprise for the Marlins this season. They traded for him as a roll of the dice that he could return to form and again resemble the frontline pitcher that he is being paid to be. So far, that gamble is paying off, however the Marlins have to ask themselves if they are willing to double down on that bet as the Big Z has a $19.25 million vesting option that kicks in if he finishes this season healthy. Only this time, the Cubs won't be kicking in to cover most of that salary like they are this year. No that $19+ million would be all on the Marlins' bill. While the Fish might fancy themselves as big spenders, they can't possibly be interested in paying ace money to a guy who is more of a mid-rotation starter now. If some other team were to come along and offer up a prospect for the right to pay Zambrano big money next season, it is hard to see Miami saying no.
Solid Pieces: Ricky Nolasco. Gaby Sanchez
Moving Nolasco would be a dream come true for the Marlins front office. He has never really performed up to his contract, but he is coming dangerously close to doing just that this season. It would be no surprise at all if Miami finally found a taker for Nolasco and the $11.5 million he is owed next season. That does qualify him as something of a salary dump, but as long as he keeps his stats around where they are now, the Fish might actually be able to real in a modest prospect return as well.
Don't let his recent brief demotion to the minors fool you, Gaby Sanchez is a decent player. He has had a miserable 2012 season, of that there is no doubt, but he is only just entering his physical prime and still under team control for three more years. Even if he is seen only as a part-time player, there should be a handful of teams with interest in picking him up now that his value is a bit deflated. Given that the Marlins are losing faith in Sanchez and slowly realizing that Logan Morrison needs to be moved to first base, that could easily make Sanchez available for a prospect or possibly even in a challenge trade for another underperforming young major leaguer.
X-Factor: Logan Morrison
The Marlins have a problem in Logan Morrison. At times, he looks like he can be a fixture in the middle of their order, but at other times, he looks primed to be sent back down to the minors. It certainly doesn't help that he is playing out of position in left field most of the time either. Oh, and there is the small matter of his big mouth and Twitter account creating PR headaches for the team on semi-regular basis. Right now, he just doesn't fit and isn't performing for the Marlins, so there is a big temptation to cash out on him while he still has some value. On the other hand, they'd be taking a risk that they are trading away a cheap, young player who could very easily flourish in a different environement.
Warm Bodies: Austin Kearns, Randy Choate
Austin Kearns is playing out of his mind right now, which should get him on some GM's radars as a potential rental lefty-killer for the stretch run.
Choate is actually having a fantastic season, so it seems a bit cruel to list him as a "warm body" but he is one of the LOOGY-est LOOGYs that ever LOOGEY-ed, making it hard to see Miami getting anything other than one middling prospect back in return for him.
But what they'll probably do is… nothing. Heck, they might even become buyers no matter what happens. The Marlins made a big deal out of their new stadium and subsequent free agent spending spree this last off-season. For the first time in years, attendance is decent (though still not great) and people are starting to forget about how the team bilked the city out of millions of dollars to get a more favorable stadium deal. The last thing they can afford to do is take dynamite to that goodwill by embarking on anything that even kind of resembles one of the fire sales that the franchise has become infamous for.