Over the past few trade deadlines, the Miami Marlins have half-assed it. With the team on the outer fringes of contention last season, they picked up Andrew Cashner from the Padres (and Colin Rea, but sent him back after Rea blew his elbow out in his first start) and reliever Hunter Cervenka from the Braves. In 2015, they sold off some veterans and relievers that weren’t going to be around for the long haul, including Steve Cishek, Sam Dyson, Dan Haren, Mat Latos, and Mike Morse. In 2014, they traded for Jarred Cosart. In 2013, they sent Ricky Nolasco to the Dodgers.
2012 was the last trade deadline in which the Marlins tried to truly commit one way or another, selling off Randy Choate, Omar Infante, Edward Mujica, Hanley Ramirez, Anibal Sanchez, and Gaby Sanchez, and getting a whole lot of nothing in return (the best player that came back was Nathan Eovaldi, who was traded to the Yankees at the 2014 Winter Meetings).
But this year, the Marlins may be able to bolster their weak farm system and put themselves in a position to truly commit to a rebuild. Fox’s Ken Rosenthal is hearing that Miami could look to move catcher JT Realmuto this summer, along with highly-touted outfielders Marcell Ozuna and Christian Yelich. The trio are three of Miami’s top four players in terms of fWAR this season, and all have multiple years of control remaining. Realmuto still has three years of arbitration eligibility and won’t be a free agent until after the 2020 season, while Ozuna will hit free agency after 2019 and Yelich is signed through 2021 at a cost of roughly $43 million.
Given that Miami, at 23-31, is already 11 games back in the NL East (and nine games back of the second Wild Card spot in the National League), selling at the deadline might be their best option, even though the only players guaranteed to hit free agency this offseason are backup catcher AJ Ellis and reliever Dustin McGowan. Suitors for Ozuna, Realmuto, and Yelich would likely give up more in terms of assets for an extra year (or hell, even an extra two months if the Marlins decide to make deals this offseason) of control. Not to mention, the Marlins would shed some payroll for 2018 by moving the trio – that’s always a concern with this organization.
It’s tough to consider what the Marlins could receive in return for the three without diving into each potential buyer’s farm system, but consider this – for three guaranteed seasons and two option seasons of Adam Eaton, the Nationals gave up arguably their three best pitching prospects, two of which ranked among the top 100 (or top 50, depending on your prospect analyst of choice) in all of baseball. Yelich would come with three and a half guaranteed seasons, and one option season, with the bonuses of him being three years younger than Eaton and being a better hitter (.348 wOBA, 120 wRC+ for Yelich compared to .340 and 114 for Eaton).
Realmuto’s value is tougher to gauge because you don’t see many catchers getting dealt in this day and age, but a year and a half of Jonathan Lucroy (and Jeremy Jeffress) got the Brewers a pair of top 100 prospects from the Rangers. A similar return for Realmuto wouldn’t be off-base.
However, there’s one small detail that could hamper the Marlins’ efforts to extract maximum value for these three players (and perhaps others, if they wanted to go that route) – there may be more sellers than expected this summer. Only four National League teams are above .500 as of the morning of June 4th, with the Cubs checking in right at .500 and the Cardinals a game under. The American League is more balanced, with even the league-worst A’s only 5.5 games out of a playoff spot. But with that many mediocre teams in one league, you could end up seeing teams like the Pirates, Mets, Braves, Padres, Giants, and Phillies sell off more affordable, less desirable pieces at the deadline, leaving the Marlins in a situation where it could be tough to get fair value for their potential trade pieces.
The trade deadline is still eight weeks away, and a lot can change in those eight weeks. Maybe the Marlins stay hot, and win seven or eight out of nine against the Pirates, A’s, and Braves in mid-June to further delay a sell off. But if Miami continues to struggle and fails to make headway in the National League, this could be the best way for the team’s incoming new ownership to build for the future.