There can’t be much more of a tragedy than what befell the Marlins from 2012 to their sell-off to the Bruce Sherman and Derek Jeter-led ownership group after the 2017 season. There was, for starters, the 2012 fire sale, which nearly crushed the fan base entirely after they immediately cast off Jose Reyes, Hanley Ramirez, Anibal Sanchez, and Mark Buehrle.
Then there was hope in the aftermath, as the Marlins slowly but surely built what could have been the best team since their 2003 squad, cultivating talents such as Giancarlo Stanton, Christian Yelich, Jose Fernandez, JT Realmuto, Marcell Ozuna, and Nathan Eovaldi. The team I’m describing could theoretically win a World Series with some additions, and that’s the kind of thinking that pretty much doomed them from the start when you totally exclude decent free agents from the equation.
Then there were three trades that seemed totally inconsequential at the time, but ultimately will prove critical in hindsight as every single one of those aforementioned, star players ultimately took their horse down the old town road.
The first of those trades came way back in December 2014, when the Marlins traded Nathan Eovaldi, Garrett Jones, and Domingo Germán for David Phelps and Martin Prado. Now, Prado wasn’t a insane calculation; he played multiple positions at a time when flexibility was beginning to become more important, and he produced 7.2 fWAR in the following two seasons. The only problem was that that was the end of his usefulness, and he has been sub-replacement level ever since.
Phelps was also an incredibly useful late-inning reliever considering his troubles in the Yankees’ rotation, and he was flipped before the rebuild, so we’ll say the full results are pending. Yet there was one unheralded figure that worked out, and his name was Germán.
Germán was widely considered the “lottery ticket” at the time, and after two troubled years to start off his Yankee career, he has now taken up the mantle of Luis Severino and has put up a 56 ERA-/64 FIP- to start off 2019, so good in fact the All Star Game isn’t out of the question.
Of note is that his curve has generated a 21% whiff rate, so while his pitch mix was even a concern back then, Brian Cashman was correct in calculating that his two plus-pitches could get him into the rotation. That the Marlins tossed away a future rotation mate for a middling contender is the theme going forward.
The last two deals in 2016 were once again for naught as they tried to claw their way even to .500 and failed, hitting their high watermark for that period at 79 wins. They handed young pitcher Chris Paddack to the Padres for familiar face Fernando Rodney, and in short order, he collapsed. After pitching to a 0.31 ERA prior to the trade, he hit a flat tire and allowed 24 earned runs in 36 2⁄3 innings.
Paddack, meanwhile, has pitched to a 1.99 ERA in his first eight starts in the big leagues, and Jay Jaffe at FanGraphs just recently outlined how his strategy of attacking hitters up in the zone with fastballs puts him a category with Justin Verlander, Tyler Glasnow, Gerrit Cole, and James Paxton, so basically the kind of pitcher the Marlins would need in a rebuild.
The final blow was a deal that they actually made twice, if that can be believed. Luis Castillo was included in a deal with the Padres, swapping Josh Naylor, Carter Capps, and Jarred Cosart for Andrew Cashner, and notably... Colin Rea. Rea’s medicals were infamously fudged by general manager AJ Preller, ultimately forcing Castillo back to Miami in exchange for Rea. No worries, as the Marlins flipped him once again just six months later to get Dan Straily from the Reds. Straily has an 85 ERA+ with the Marlins.
Castillo, on the other hand, ranks second in the league in fWAR, allowing just three home runs and striking out 76 in his first ten starts. His fastball and changeup have been basically unhittable this year:
Luis Castillo, Unfair 3 Pitch K (99mph Fastball/Foul, 98mph Fastball/Foul & 88mph Changeup). pic.twitter.com/FZUBl4JFmg— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) May 17, 2019
There’s really no better compliment than when Joe Maddon says, “he pitches like Javy (Báez) plays shortstop.”
Unlike Realmuto, Yelich, Ozuna, and Stanton, these three deals could have been (theoretically) avoided. They ultimately were for lost causes in seasons that were essentially doomed from the start, only to bite them when they would have needed them most... in their next rebuild.
If you were to look at the long-term outlook, and I think the three-year ZiPS is a good indicator, here is how much they are projected to produce from the beginning of 2019 through 2021:
- Germán: 5.3 fWAR
- Paddack: 4.6 fWAR
- Castillo: 8.2 fWAR
There’s a lot to be said about the current Marlins’ regime. One is that it does have some continuations from the previous one like Michael Hill at the helm, and some could even say that the Jeter Administration is just business as usual, a Loria v2.
Yet you can’t look at this situation with respect to Germán, Paddack, and Castillo as equal Comedy of Errors and just dumb luck, as they sent balloon prospects right before a rebuild only to watch other organizations make the right developmental moves they may never have made anyway. The baseball Gods seemingly always tip the scales against the Marlins’, but this time it just seems like the writing has become overly heavy-handed.