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Not the Marlins fire sale we're used to
Give the Miami Marlins credit for one thing — they’re at least willing to admit their mistake.
But boy, what a mistake.
The Marlins proudly and loudly shed their low-revenue skin last offseason, jumping their Opening Day payroll from $56.9 million, seventh-lowest in the majors in 2011, to $118 million, seventh-highest in ’12.
And now look at them, the baseball equivalent of a train wreck — albeit one with their own television show, “The Franchise.”
Yes, the Marlins are about to go through yet another violent upheaval, though with a different motivation than in the past.
Monday’s trade — right-hander Anibal Sanchez and infielder Omar Infante to the Tigers for right-hander Jacob Turner, catcher Rob Brantly and left-hander Brian Flynn, along with an exchange of competitive-balance picks — was not the start of a fire sale.
It actually was worse — an admission by the Marlins that they didn’t know what they were doing last winter.
The Marlins did not trade Sanchez and Infante for payroll reasons, though they will save about $4 million this season and $4 million the next. No, they made the deal because they’re disgusted by their underachieving team, and want to try something different.
Third baseman Hanley Ramirez could be the next to go; the Marlins tried to send him to the Boston Red Sox last week, and he could interest the Los Angeles Dodgers, Oakland Athletics and other clubs, makeup questions and all.
Closer Heath Bell, the other player in the Marlins’ proposed offer for Red Sox left fielder Carl Crawford, also figures to be shopped aggressively — though, as with Ramirez, the Marlins likely will need to pay a portion of his remaining salary in any deal.
Rival teams covet right-hander Josh Johnson, who pitched brilliantly Monday night before leaving with mild skin irritation on his right middle finger (for what it’s worth, on Monday the Angels had a scout in Miami and the Marlins had a scout in Anaheim; Peter Bourjos would satisfy the Marlins’ need for a center fielder.)
The Marlins also could move lesser pieces such as left-handed reliever Randy Choate. But, to fully appreciate what their latest deconstruction would mean, consider their original plan.
Ramirez moved to third to accommodate free-agent shortstop Jose Reyes. Bell signed a three-year, $27 million free-agent contract. Johnson recovered from his shoulder injury and the Marlins again projected him as an ace.
Johnson, at least, stands a chance of fulfilling expectations. But so much for the new Hanley. So much for ownership’s infatuation with Bell. And so much for the hiring of Ozzie Guillen as the manager of this ill-conceived hodgepodge.
Some Marlins officials wonder if Guillen’s remarks about Fidel Castro and subsequent five-game team suspension contributed to the team’s early-season malaise. And some who know Guillen say he has been “a different guy” since the controversy.
The Marlins, mind you, aren’t thinking about firing Guillen, not when he is in the first year of a four-year, $10 million contract. But if the Marlins clear out their underachievers and Guillen still can’t get the most out of the club, then what?
More upheaval. Same old Marlins.
AND FROM THE TIGERS’ PERSPECTIVE . . .
At first glance, the Tigers seem to have paid dearly for Sanchez, who is a free agent after this season, and Infante, who is signed through 2013.
Indeed, for all that Monday’s trade signified about the Marlins, the deal itself actually could turn out pretty well for Miami.
Turner’s stock is not quite as high as it once was, but he was still the Tigers’ No. 1 prospect entering the season, according to Baseball America.
Brantly, the No. 7 prospect, could become a regular catcher in the majors, or at least a good-hitting backup.
And Flynn, the No. 24 prospect, was 8-4 with a 3.71 ERA in the Class-A Florida State League before recently getting promoted to Double A.
So, did the Tigers give up too much?
Not necessarily. And maybe not at all.
First off, the Tigers are “all-in” this season. Sanchez will join a rotation that already includes right-handers Justin Verlander, Doug Fister, Max Scherzer and Rick Porcello. Infante, an underrated player, will fill the team’s black hole at second base.
No, the Tigers didn’t get four years of control with Sanchez the way they did last season when they acquired Fister. But who’s to say they won’t sign Sanchez to an extension?
Both Sanchez and Infante are Venezuelan, and the Tigers have become a haven for Venezuelan players in recent years.
Magglio Ordonez and Carlos Guillen helped persuade Miguel Cabrera to sign an eight-year extension with the club just four months after he arrived in a trade. Perhaps Cabrera and catcher Victor Martinez can be as convincing with Sanchez.
One executive predicted to my colleague, Jon Paul Morosi, that Sanchez would receive a four-year, $48 million contract this offseason, rating him the third-best starter on the market if Cole Hamels and Zack Greinke also became free agents.
By keeping Sanchez, the Tigers would ease the blow of losing Turner. Truth be told, they also can smooth over the loss of Brantly.
Their starting catcher, Alex Avila, is under club control through 2015. The team also has another highly regarded catching prospect, James McCann, though he is batting just .162 since getting promoted Double A.
ICHIRO: “A LOT BETTER THAN YOU THINK”
Teams that use advanced statistical models incorporate a player’s defense and base running into their evaluations.
Put it all together, and the newest New York Yankee, outfielder Ichiro Suzuki, is still an above-average player — “a lot better than you think,” according to one rival executive.
Suzuki, the exec said, is only an average hitter at this point, maybe even a tick below. But he remains a terrific base runner and great defender, the exec added, compensating for his offensive decline.
The Yankees, one of the most aggressive teams in their use of statistical analysis, likely viewed Ichiro in that light.
THE RANGERS: PROBLEMS SOLVED FROM WITHIN?
While the Texas Rangers continue to explore trades for starting pitchers, they still believe that they could address their rotation with internal solutions, if necessary.
Right-hander Colby Lewis will be out 9-12 months after he undergoes surgery to repair a torn flexor tendon in his right elbow. But right-hander Roy Oswalt, who received an anti-inflammatory injection in his back on Monday, might miss only one start.
The top of the Rangers’ rotation is set with lefties Matt Harrison and Derek Holland and righty Yu Darvish. Righty Scott Feldman and rookie right-hander Martin Perez currently are serving as stopgaps, but Oswalt could replace one of them and righty Neftali Feliz or righty Alexi Ogando could replace the other.
Feliz, recovering from an elbow injury, is expected to throw 60 pitches in his next rehabilitation start on Tuesday night. The Rangers would use him in the bullpen if they moved Ogando to the rotation, and vice versa.
Don’t worry about a shortage of relievers — the team already has reasonable depth to complement closer Joe Nathan, setup man Mike Adams and lefty Robbie Ross. Righty Tanner Scheppers is throwing well, and righty Mark Lowe is recovering from a strained right intercostal.
Still, even with all those arms, the Rangers ideally would love to get a top-of-the-rotation starter. Hamels will be at the top of their list if he does not re-sign with the Philadelphia Phillies.
AROUND THE HORN
• The Rangers’ Lewis never has earned more than $5 million in a season, and his injury will cost him the chance for a major payday as a free agent.
One executive said that Lewis might have received a two-year, $20 million deal or three-year, $24 million contract on the open market.
• The Phillies continue to signal to clubs that they are eager to move right fielder Hunter Pence, who could earn $13 million to $14 million next season in his final year of arbitration.
Pence, 29, is batting .268 with a .789 OPS, 17 homers and 57 RBI. His value could be enhanced by the signings of the San Diego Padres’ Carlos Quentin and Toronto Blue Jays’ Edwin Encarnacion and their respective removals from the trade market. But few teams are willing to assume high salaries and part with significant prospects.
The Nationals, however, traded four prospects for left-hander Gio Gonzalez last offseason. Their farm system is not as deep as it once was and club officials continue to indicate that they are reluctant to move significant prospects for a rental such as Greinke.