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Trade Retrospective: Marlins trade Hanley Ramírez to the Dodgers

The Marlins got the salary dump they wanted, and the Dodgers got a huge upgrade at shortstop.

Philadelphia Phillies v Miami Marlins Photo by Sarah Glenn/Getty Images

For the third straight offseason, BtBS is looking back on some of the biggest trades from years past. Check out all the entries here.

In a fire sale that included a trade of Omar Infante and Aníbal Sánchez, the Marlins traded Hanley Ramírez and Randy Choate to the Dodgers a few days afterwards. The Dodgers sent back Nathan Eovaldi and Scott McGough. In addition, the Dodgers took on the rest of the approximately $37.3 million left on Hanley’s contract.

In this trade retrospective series, trades will be evaluated based on what was known at the time. That is the only fair, logical way to evaluate trades and strip luck out of the equation: process over results. Having said that, we will still take a look at how the trade worked out for both parties.

The Deal

As mentioned before, the Marlins went all in for the 2012 season in order to draw fans to their new stadium that was supplemented by the taxpayers for a billionaire. Hanley Ramírez, of course, had been on the team for over six years at that point, but the team sat in last place and the season was clearly lost.

Hanley had become another player in the long list in the history of the Marlins who was unhappy with the team. He had to move off of shortstop to accommodate incoming free agent José Reyes and even though Reyes was declining at shortstop, Hanley had been a poor defensive shortstop for years, so moving him to third base was the right move.

The Marlins were selling low on Hanley. From 2007-2009, he was one of the best hitters in baseball. Over that span, he hit slashed .325/.398/.549, and posted a 145 wRC+ which was tied for seventh in the majors among qualified hitters. He was even a passable shortstop in 2008 and 2009.

In 2010, Hanley struggled with minor injuries, but still played 142 games and hit a robust .300/.378/.475. In 2011, he really began to struggle, hitting only .243/.333/.379, which was not even an average level of offense. Additionally, he missed the last two months of the season by aggravating a shoulder injury in an attempted diving catch. Haney’s good production on the basepaths had also vanished, taking away most of the skills that made him a well above average player.

Hanley’s 2012 season was not much better at the time of the trade. He was hitting .246/.322/.428 after moving down in the defensive spectrum. Despite the move to third, he was still not a good fielder. All in all, at this point in his career, he looked like a below average player. Such a player with approximately 2.5 years and $37.3 million left on his contract does not have a lot of trade value, even with the hope that classic Hanley might reappear some day.

The Dodgers had a gaping hole at shortstop. That was true even before Dee Gordon (who, coincidentally, would become a Marlin himself later on in his career) hit the DL after tearing the UCL in his thumb while stealing third base. He was one of the worst hitters in baseball, hitting .229/.280/.282 when he hit the DL in early July. In the first half of the season, his 58 wRC+ was tied with Cliff Pennington for the worst among qualified hitters in the game. He was not even a good defensive shortstop, either. Leading the league in stolen bases did very little to to make up for all Gordon’s deficiencies.

When the incumbent is a sub-replacement level player, nearly anyone could provide an upgrade. Hanley was rather expensive at the time for a league-average bat, but the new Dodgers ownership had a lot of the one thing that then-owner Jeffrey Loria valued far, far more than his baseball team or its fans: money. The Dodgers did not have an especially strong farm system at the time, so offering to take on the remainder of Hanley’s deal seemed especially sensible.

Losing only Nate Eovaldi instead of their best prospect, Zach Lee, made this a great trade for the Dodgers. Eovaldi projected with a ceiling as a mid-rotation starter, but his lack of a third pitch and movement on his fastball meant that there was risk he would fall to the bullpen. He lacked pedigree, ranking near the bottom of Baseball America’s top 100 prospects and was not on Baseball Prospectus’s rankings at all.

For the Marlins, this was purely a salary dump. Trading away an expensive, declining star when in last place makes sense. But one needs to maximize the return, and that can rarely be done when the team refuses to eat any of the departing contract. If the Marlins were really serious about building for the future, they would have eaten the entirety of Hanley’s contract in order to get the best prospects possible in return. As was always the case, the Marlins were never anything more to Loria than his personal ATM, and this trade results are another example of it.

The Results

Hanley was slightly better after going to Los Angeles. He hit .271/.324/.450 for the rest of the year, which is an above-average line when factoring in the pitcher-friendly Dodgers Stadium. While that was certainly a huge upgrade over Gordon, it was not enough to get the Dodgers into the playoffs. They finished two games behind the Cardinals for the second Wild Card slot.

The 2013 season was a season to remember for Hanley. He only played 86 games due to injury, but he was the best player in baseball when he did play. He hit a whopping .345/.402/.638. Had he qualified for that batting title, his 191 wRC+ would have been second only to Miguel Cabrera’s 193 wRC+. He amassed 5.4 bWAR in only half a season. It was one of the greatest shortened seasons of all time, a season that Devan Fink will surely get to in his shortened seasons series. Had Hanley been able to perform like that for a full season, he would have easily been the MVP.

As expected, Hanley’s bat fell back down to earth in 2014. He still hit very well, though, with a line of .283/.369/.448. A 136 wRC+ is great to have in a contract year, so the Red Sox signed him to a four-year, $88 million to bring him back to the organization that originally drafted him (and traded him for Josh Beckett). Unfortunately, he has been below replacement level for two of the last three years. Moving him off of shortstop to left field, while a very reasonable decision on paper, was a disaster.

Hanley is entering the last year of his contract, but he does have a $22 million vesting option for 2019. As Matt Collins discussed at Over the Monster, Hanley needs 497 PA in 2018 and then pass a physical at the end of the year for that year to vest. As Collins discussed in that article, whether or not the Red Sox want that year to vest depends entirely on how Hanley performs in 2018.

Randy Choate was the quintessential lefty reliever, but he disappointed while on the Dodgers. He had a 4.73 RA9 and walked 14 percent of the batters he faced. The Dodgers let him walk in free agency.

Choate landed with the Cardinals on a three-year, $7.5 million deal. While the salary commitment was very low, giving three years to a LOOGY was odd. He excelled in 2013 with a 2.29 RA9, but disappointed in the two years afterwards. He went back to the Dodgers on a minor league deal in 2016, but he never saw any major league action. He officially retired before the 2017 season.

Nathan Eovaldi had a solid debut in half of a season with the Marlins. His 4.57 RA9 might belie that, but the Marlins also had a bad defense. He had a 3.92 DRA with the Marlins in 2012. He continued to be solid in 2013 with a 3.72 RA9, but that rose to a 4.82 RA9 in 2014. The Marlins decided to give up on him. In December 2014, they traded him to the Yankees in exchange for Martín Prado and David Phelps.

Eovaldi returned to his 2013 levels in 2015. He had a 4.20 RA9, which is quite respectable in Yankees Stadium. Unfortunately, he regressed in 2016 with a 4.76 RA9, and then he had his second Tommy John surgery in August of that year. He missed all of 2017 and became a free agent. He signed a one-year, $2 million deal with the Rays for 2017, with a $2 million club option for 2018. The Rays exercised the option, so we might see Eovaldi make his comeback in 2018.

The problem with Eovaldi was the same problem that always plagued him. Despite a fastball that touches the high 90s, he kept turning in poor strikeout rates: his career-best is 18.5 percent. It is not that coaches didn’t know the reason behind that. Eovaldi’s fastball lacked plane and it was easy for batters to see it coming out of his hand. Furthermore, when he overthrew it, he could not command the pitch. Despite the best efforts of his coaches and himself, Eovaldi has never been able to correct any of this, and he fell far short of even the tempered expectations of him.

Scott McGough was a throw-in to the trade, and he did not make the majors until 2015. He had a 9.45 RA9 over six appearances. He got sent back down and has not seen the majors since. He bounced to the Orioles, then back to the Marlins, and then to the Orioles again. He currently is on a minor league deal with the Rockies.

Dodgers Results

Remaining Control WAR Salary (M)
Remaining Control WAR Salary (M)
Hanley Ramírez 2 9.6 $37.3
Randy Choate 0 0.1 $0.6
Total 2 9.7 $37.9
Baseball Reference, Spotrac

The Dodgers did not need to get vintage Hanley back in order to get a good return on investment, but that is what they got. They got great production for what they paid.

Marlins Results

Remaining Control WAR Salary (M)
Remaining Control WAR Salary (M)
Nathan Eovaldi 4 3.3 $1.3
Scott McGough 6 -0.2 $0.1
Total 10 3.1 $1.4
Baseball Reference, Spotrac

Considering the money the Marlins saved, the numbers do not look too bad on this one. But as I mentioned before, this kind of return does not impact a rebuild, and Eovaldi was expected to be more than he what he was in a Marlins uniform.

The Dodgers easily came out on top in this trade by both process and results. The Marlins could have gotten a more even trade had Loria actually cared one ounce for the team or its fans, but as always, he chose the money.

. . .

Luis Torres is a Featured Writer at Beyond the Box Score. He is a medicinal chemist by day, baseball analyst by night. You can follow him on Twitter at @Chemtorres21.