Thankfully, I've run out of non-Phillies N.L. East teams to give a rundown for during this season of Trade Deadlinery. The last gasp here is the Miami Marlins. I'd propose that they trade their uniforms to the old Houston Astros, but that would just open a prismatic vortex in space-time that would destroy the solar system, so I know that their mutual GMs wouldn't go for it, even though they probably both have lost their respective wills to live, much like I have in this season of suck.
Still, let's walk through the formula:
So, like a hooked marlin, let's jump...
The Marlins just spent a ton of money on bloated player contracts last year in the form of Heath Bell (bloated player) and Jose Reyes (bloated contract - backloaded like a Sir Mix-a-Lot girl, but still...). They have some really good parts, like Giancarlo Stanton and Hanley Ramirez. They are unlikely to SELL! SELL! like the old guys in Trading Places. The Marlins fully expect to be competitive. They are not going to set their players on fire and try to collect the insurance money.
If the Marlins sell, it will likely be in a limited, circumspect manner that allows them to compete next year. Here is an excellent piece from Fish Stripes discussing players the Marlins might reasonably try to cash in on. Similarly, more cool-headed trade thoughts from Fish Stripes suggest that the Marlins will act as rational actors and listen to deals from anyone since, quoting John Frisaro's sage advice, "you don't know if another organization would dramatically overpay" and then Michael Jong, writing for Fish Stripes, essentially concludes that it is nearly impossible for another team to pay enough for Stanton, referencing this great piece at Fangraphs.com. The article is a good read, and the kind of trade deadine talk that is not nearly common enough. +1, Michael. Can I have your fingerlings?
With that perspective, where are the Marlins weak, and where might they seek to improve? Let's go to the Baseball-reference.com fallback here! The Marlins possess an OPS+ of 88, "good" for 14th in the National League. They are 13th in the league in runs scored. Outstanding! Where on the diamond is all this suck coming from?
Catcher and first base are primary suspects. Before Carlos Lee rode into town to relieve him of his duties, Gaby Sanchez posted an OPS+ of 49 in 208 plate appearances. This from a first baseman. It is to laugh. John Buck posted an excellent OPS+ of 69 at catcher. Carlos Ruiz spoils us all.
Hanley Ramirez and Jose Reyes are going nowhere, though Reyes' power has deserted him this year. They will both be fine. Omar Infante has been a wonderful option for them at second base, though he has been bandied about as trade bait, largely because he has a very favorable (but short) contract and would provide an acquiring team with significant value this year and next.
In the outfield, the Marlins have a nice set of regulars in Emilio Bonifacio (OBP .361, 22 steals, 2 CS), Giancarlo Stanton (.919 OPS and 22 years old), and Logan Morrison (OBP .320, .746 OPS). Average age? Slightly over 24. Cost controlled! Still getting better! I remember those days. They have some nice bench parts, too, in Austin Kearns (still in the league!) and Justin Ruggiano (who ate the Phillies alive, as I recall). Chris Coghlan was apparently lobotomized after his rookie season, though. Poor guy.
Short version, they are set in the outfield, but need help at first base (Carlos Lee's epic contract is due to end and Gaby Sanchez, while cheap, is pretty fringy, even when he doesn't suck like he does this year). If they trade Infante, as is very possible, they will need a replacement at second.
As far as pitching goes, it's Mark Buehrle (signed long-term), Josh Johnson (contract expires after 2013, injury-prone, but excellent), Anibal Sanchez (2.5 - 3.5 WAR pitcher, FA at the end of the year), Ricky Nolasco (signed through 2013, but marginal at best at about 1.0 WAR a year), and walk machine Carlos Zambrano, whose laughably improbable option for 2013 will not be triggered, allowing him to test the free agent waters, presumably while wearing concrete shoes.
The Marlins could use some starting pitching. So it's natural to think about trading Johnson, right? Blink. Blink. Stay with me.
Johnson is so good that even with his injury history, he will command a steep price in free agency. I doubt the Marlins can keep him, so trading him may be the best path to go, but not unless they want to hamstring their chances in 2013 considerably. If they keep him, they'll get a pick for him when he walks in free agency, and they get his WAR next year, which they will almost certainly need to help them make the playoffs. Consolidating some fan love with a playoff appearance this year or next would be really valuable to the Marlins right now, so they'd really have to be blown away to deal Johnson, but it's not beyond the realm of possibility. If they do deal him, they'd need a massive return, including a ready for 2013 starter. Not totally crazy, but very unlikely, unless maybe Texas really unloads.
Zambrano is replaceable. I mean, duh. Nolasco is...kind of meh. Maybe a good 4 or 5 starter, but not enough to carry the team next year, and probably not enough to excite a trade partner this year, unless it is someone really desperate for pitching, like the Orioles. If I were the Marlins, I might consider a "Nolasco for [needs a change of scenery pitcher]" deal with the Orioles for one of their endless "pitchers of the future" who seem to remain "pitchers of the future" and never the "now." It might work out for both sides, but if I dance with the Marlins on that, I'd be hard-pressed to offer more than "I'll pay the guy's salary this year ($9.0 M) and in 2013 ($11.0)."
Similarly, Sanchez might be dealt under similar circumstances, but he would probably return some value, though his contract is up this year. Perhaps the Pirates want another arm to which they are not obligated past 2012? Again with the Orioles? The Nationals and Mets could use help, but my sense is that in-division deals are taboo-ish, even now.
In the bullpen, the Marlins are saddled with Heath Bell until the end of 2014, and maybe 2015. Reliever WAR is purportedly weird, but an rWAR of -1.1 can't be good, no matter how you spin things. He's probably not tradeable. And speaking of Bell, it presents an opportunity to point out that the Marlins have lots of beef on the roster, with Zambrano (270#+), Carlos Lee (270#+), Heath Bell (260#). Apparently it is true that the Marlins have at least the heaviest, if not the fattest, roster in all Major League Baseball, with an average weight of 218#. Team flights must be fun. The Yankees and Mets are also in the top four, so perhaps New York City is onto something with the need to reduce the availability of sugary drinks.
Steve Cishek and Randy Choate aside, the Marlins bullpen does not impress, as reflected by their rank of third-worst in xFIP by relievers in the National League per Fangraphs.com. Surprisingly, the Marlins have converted a decent percentage of hold/save opportunities. I exported the data to Excel, and added saves to holds and divided the total by a denominator of saves + holds + blown saves (which includes "blown holds" by definition). The Marlins are seventh in the NL. The Phillies are eleventh and the Mets are twelfth. The Rockies are last, of course, but that figures because of the nature of baseball at Coors Field where no lead is safe.
So, despite the snark and the xFIP, the Marlins are, sort of, getting it done in the pen.
Were I the Marlins, I would definitely deal Choate to a bullpen-hungry team, such as the Mets or Cardinals. Cishek, no way. If some fool would take Bell, I'd unload him for pretty much anything.
Areas of improvement? First base and find some starting pitching for next year and beyond, even if you have to flip pitching from this year to do it. Sell if you get the right deal, but don't burn it down. Maybe dump Nolasco's contract or part of it.