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July 8, 2013

Transaction Analysis

One Less Marlin, and a New National

by Mark Anderson, R.J. Anderson and Ben Lindbergh

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IN THIS ISSUE

National League

MIAMI MARLINS
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Acquired RHPs Angel Sanchez, Steve Ames, and Josh Wall from the Dodgers for RHP Ricky Nolasco and International Bonus Slot 4. [7/6]

The Marlins added three pitchers with varying degrees of arm strength. The top prospect in the deal is 23-year old right-hander Angel Sanchez. Sanchez has a chance to remain a starter, with three pitches that could all rate at least average. His fastball sits in the low 90s and bumps 94 with improving control, and his slider and changeup have both flashed average according to scouts in the Midwest League this summer. Sanchez still has plenty of development remaining but he has the ceiling of a no. 4 starter.

The Marlins also add two middle relief prospects in right-handers Steve Ames and Josh Wall. Ames drew plenty of praise after a lights out performance in the Double-A Southern League in 2012, and he was added to the 40-man roster as a result. He has continued to find success in Triple-A this year, firing fastballs in the low 90s and sliders that flash in the solid-average range. Both pitches can work at the big-league level but lack the crispness to miss bats in high-leverage situations.

Wall has arguably the best pedigree of the group, having been popped by the Dodgers in the second round of the 2005 draft. With a 12.08 ERA in 12 2/3 big-league innings over the past two seasons, Wall has yet to gain consistency with his power fastball and slider. He can reach back for 94-95 mph when he needs it and sits in the 91-92 mph range during most relief outings. His slider can be a true plus pitch at its best. Wall’s control and command lag behind the rest of his game, resulting in too many pitches over the heart of the plate. Barring a sudden and very unlikely leap forward in his command, Wall profiles in the middle innings, similar to Ames. —Mark Anderson

The Marlins held one of the market’s most widely sought-after trade chips, auctioned him off early, and bundled him with $197,000 of international bonus money (which otherwise would have ended up under their mattress). In return, they received a package highlighted by a pitcher whose ceiling is another Nolasco. Given the scarcity of serviceable starters and the number of teams that need one, the Marlins likely could have acquired a promising prospect had they prioritized talent. Instead, they prioritized not paying Nolasco, and with the Dodgers picking up the $5.5 million still owed him this season, a trio of low-upside arms was the best they could do. The Marlins have done a good job of developing whatever young talent comes their way, but there’s not a lot to work with here.

This is business as usual in Miami, where Nolasco’s $11.5 million full-season salary has made him a marked man since the latest firesale started. Now that the 30-year-old righty—who, somewhat sadly, holds most of the Marlins’ franchise pitching records, at least when it comes to counting stats—is officially a former Fish, Adeiny Hechavarria and Placido Polanco, each of whom is collecting $2.75 million, take over as the team’s top earners. The Players Union is probably already drafting a complaint to send to Bud Selig in the event that Jeffrey Loria tries to carry his current payroll into 2014. And a few more fans who might have paid to see the Marlins in the second half—with the team’s average attendance already down over 10,000 per game—have probably decided to stay home. —Ben Lindbergh

LOS ANGELES DODGERS
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Acquired RHP Ricky Nolasco and International Bonus Slot 4 from the Marlins for RHPs Angel Sanchez, Steve Ames, and Josh Wall. [7/6]

Were it not for Chris Capuano's two most recent starts, in which he allowed 11 runs in eight innings, the Dodgers might have opted against trading three arms for Nolasco and absorbing what remains of his salary. But those disastrous outings preceded, and perhaps caused, a deal in which the Dodgers receive a capable no. 4 starter and cap leeway for their international efforts.

Nolasco brings a deep arsenal and strike-throwing tendencies to the table. His fastball tops out in the low 90s, and he seems self conscious about it. During a recent start versus St. Louis he threw six fastballs over a two-inning, 21-pitch stretch and instead filled the zone up with his splitter, curveball, and slider. This backward approach can get messy, as it necessitates control over all of the offerings, which can lead to inconsistency.

The good news for Nolasco is that he fits better with his hometown team than he did with the Marlins. He can take comfort in knowing that the Dodgers have Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke, and Hyun-jin Ryu to hold down the front three spots in the rotation. That leaves Nolasco as the club's fourth starter, with either Capuano or Stephen Fife—the statistical favorite—to bring up the rear and battle for a possible playoff start.

If Nolasco appears more at home in Los Angeles, expect to hear about how he needed a change of scenery. This belief existed even before the trade, as there's some thought in the industry that he could improve in the right situation and under the right coaching staff. Whether the Dodgers meet those conditions is unknown. More certain is Nolasco's impending free agency. These few months out west may determine whether Nolasco signs a comfortable multi-year deal or takes something shorter in term and dollars.

In the interim, Nolasco represents an upgrade over the loser of the Dodgers' rotation situation, and as a result improves their playoff odds. Given the opportunity cost involved, it's hard to find fault with the Dodgers' side of this deal. —R.J. Anderson

WASHINGTON NATIONALS
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Reportedly acquired OF-R Scott Hairston and a player to be named later from the Cubs for RHP Ivan Pineyro and a player to be named later. [7/7]

It’s hard to believe that Hairston caused such a stir as a free agent over the winter, in light of how little he’s played. After a career-high 134 games in 2012, the 33-year-old started just 25 of the Cubs’ first 86 contests this season, mostly spelling Nate Schierholtz against southpaws. And despite being protected from righties more often than ever—nearly 80 percent of his plate appearances with the Cubs came against lefties—Hairston is hitting only .172.

But that average is somewhat deceptive, both because he’s been subject to the pinch-hit penalty—Hairston is 5-for-23 off the bench, though he went out on a high note with a seventh-inning homer on Sunday—and because his secondary offensive skills still seem intact. Hairston has swung, walked, made contact, and K’d at roughly his career rates, and after several seasons in parks where it’s hard for right-handers to homer, his ISO benefited from a relocation to Wrigley, where he hit seven of his eight homers.

The production the Nats got out of bench bats like Roger Bernadina, Steve Lombardozzi, Tyler Moore, and Chad Tracy was a big factor behind their 2012 success, but those same players have been offensive zeroes this season. Hairston, who’s signed through next season and has hit as many homers as those four players combined, will take Tyler Moore’s place, giving the Nats the power pinch-hitter they’ve lacked, as well as a more palatable replacement for Bryce Harper in the event that they ever persuade him to take a day off. Nationals Park isn’t as easy on righties as Wrigley, but it’s a cakewalk compared to Petco, the Coliseum, and Citi Field.

The NL Central has a shortage of southpaw starters—the Cardinals and Brewers have all-righty rotations, as will the Reds when Johnny Cueto returns—so the division switch might help Hairston get into more games (though the Mets and Marlins also lack lefties). He won’t have to wait long to see action, since the Nats will face lefties John Lannan, Cole Hamels, and Cliff Lee in the first three games of a four-game set against the Phillies that starts today. —Ben Lindbergh

Mark Anderson is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Mark's other articles. You can contact Mark by clicking here
R.J. Anderson is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see R.J.'s other articles. You can contact R.J. by clicking here
Ben Lindbergh is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Ben's other articles. You can contact Ben by clicking here

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