Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The Marlins Strike Again

In what appears to be a strategy of business 101, the Marlins picked up a reliever off of the scrap heap, inflated his value, and flipped him for a very promising return. This is how you run a sports franchise. This is why in the 16 seasons the Marlins have been in existence, they have managed to win two Major League Baseball World Series Championships, all the while having a penny pinching low payroll.

The club hasn't wasted it's time building a brand new ballpark, or impressing fans. Instead, the club has put together a cast of players to win a championship, then sold those players off for new players that they would have for the next championship run.

The latest appears in the form of a closer who was acquired in an under the radar type of deal. The Florida Marlins Kevin Gregg was traded to the Chicago Cubs, for an explosively talented relief prospect in Jose Ceda. Without even getting into the analysis, the Marlins won this deal hands down, but let's look a little further, to see exactly how foolish the Cubs were in this move.

Kevin Gregg is nothing special. When news broke that the Marlins were looking to unload Gregg, as a fan of the Indians, a team in need of relief hope, I simply shuttered at the idea of giving away anything of value for the still powerful 30 year old reliever.

Gregg owns a nice, by unspectacular strikeout rate. Couple that with a poor walk rate, and you have the makings of an okay reliever. The move from a ballpark which greatly deflates home runs (as noted by Gregg's home run per fly ball rate of 5.15% as a Florida Marlin) to a ballpark which inflates them, one can expect Gregg to take a considerable step back in value. It is a positive that Gregg has improved his fly ball statistics, but we're still talking about a guy who was extremely fortunate to be playing in Dolphin Stadium.

We are also talking about a reliever that is coming off of an injury and is entering the back end of his career.

Jim Hendry and the Chicago Cubs must have decided that it was wise to acquire a cheap plan B closer then to go into the season with Carlos Marmol, Jeff Samardzija, and company-not a terrible idea, however a poorly executed one.

That is, after coming off of a season in which Gregg made $2.5M, in his second season as a closer, there is no reason to believe that Gregg's arbitration figure will not head north of $4M, and stick at at least that number for 2009. As a 'reliable' closer, that is a fair price tag, however, there is little reason to believe that he will be closing in 2009, and even less of a shot at doing so in 2010.

Wouldn't it then have been equally as efficient to bring aboard a pitcher like Kyle Farnsworth? Farnsworth has some experience as a closer and wouldn't cost a top pitching prospect-arguably baseball's best relief prospect. If the Cubbies wanted too, they could have upped the ante slightly, and went hard after Brandon Lyon.

Both angles would have brough aboard a reliever with similar talents, as well as landing one with closing experience in the case of Marmol not quite working out. The dollar and year commitments might have been slightly higher, but not by enough to disuade one from making such moves.

We aren't talking some run of the mill prospect. We aren't talking a failed started who happened to catch on as a reliever. We're talking a legitimate relief prospect. If one were to make odds about what current minor league player would become a closer, and a great one at that, Jose Ceda would top most peoples lists.

The soon-to-be 22 year old right handed fireball reliever has been absolutely dominant in the minors. Three years as a starter (to get in work) and reliever have went a long way in building Ceda's stock, to the point where he was considered as the likely closer-of-the-future in a Chicago organization that has Carlos Marmol.

According to MLB.com,
He throws plenty hard, with a fastball that sits comfortably in the upper 90s and has hit triple digits in the past. His slider has sharpened considerably since he began working in relief in 2007.

The only real blip on Ceda's radar came in '07, when he missed some time with a sore shoulder. When he returned, he finished off the season with 23 1/3 consecutive hitless innings.
Really? 23 1/3 consecutive HITLESS innings?!? If that doesn't sell you, I'm not sure what will. Although I'll keep trying.

Entering the 2008 season, here are a list of highlights from around the interweb:
  • Baseball America rated Ceda's fastball as the best in the Cubs system;
  • John Sickels rated Ceda as a B- prospect, one of the best relievers in the game;
  • Kevin Goldstein rated Ceda as a 3 star prospect, stating, "fastballs that sit in the 94-97 mph range, and he has hit triple-digits on occasion. His slider is also a plus offering that features heavy two-plane break."
Goldstein even rose his praise on Ceda after the 2008 season, now bumping him up to a 4 star prospect. Further, Goldstein asserts that there is little doubt Ceda will be pitching late in games sooner rather then later. He cites members of the Cubs organization who believe Ceda is very close to being ready for Major League action right now.

This is a substantial gain from where Ceda was to start the 2007, where Sickels suggests Ceda was a long ways away.


While nobody will suggest that the Cubs shot themselves in the foot here, there is very little reason to believe they improved their club from an angle they couldn't have attacked via free agency. Ceda's value, while an understandable luxury for a club with Marmol, Samardjiza, and Donald Veal, has got to be substantially higher then what the Cubs received for him.

That is, as I mentioned, would the Cubs be worse off with Farnsworth or Lyon for the next 2 or 3 years instead of Gregg? If so, by how much? I think it is reasonable to suggest that Ceda would more then make up for any possible deviation noted there.

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