The Book of Mike

"This is no junior college. This is the notorious University of Miami.” -- Marlins starter Dontrelle Willis, after getting knocked around for six runs in 2 1/3 innings by the Canes.

Friday, August 06, 2004

Enough Already: De Podesta got the best of Beinfest

Last week’s big trade between the Marlins and the Dodgers was, and is, the subject of much debate. There seem to be two schools of thought. One is that the Marlins made some good moves to fortify themselves for a run at the 2004 post-season by filling in gaping holes at catcher and in the bullpen. The other school of thought is that Dodgers’ general manager Paul De Podesta is a genius and he is re-building his team mid-season.

Normally I have two rules of thumb for evaluating trades. The first to determine which team got the best player. This normally determines who got the better of the trades. Sometimes that will be difficult to figure out at the time the trade is made (for example, take a trade like Doyle Alexander to the Tigers in exchange for John Smoltz, then a prospect, who went to the Braves – in the short term that was, arguably, a win for the Tigers, but in the long run, a definite win for the Braves). My second rule of thumb is to consider who is making the trades. You can generally assume, in a trade not made purely for financial or other uncontrollable reasons, that Athletics’ GM Billy Beane and Braves’ GM John Scheurholz almost always get the better end of their deals. With other GMs it’s more difficult to say.

My rules of thumb fail me here. Who got the best player in the Marlins – Dodgers trade is highly subjective. Many would say that the Dodgers did by acquiring Hee Seop Choi. While Choi might not be the best player of the six involved here today, he most likely will be two years from now and almost certainly will be five years from now. He’s young, talented, hits for power, and shows good discipline at the plate.

Others would say that Brad Penny, also acquired by the Dodgers, is the best player involved in this deal. Like Choi, Penny is young and comes with ample major league (and even post-season) experience. He’s a power pitcher, and you can never have enough of those. There are probably even a few folks out there who would argue that Bill Murphy, the pitching prospect the Marlins included in the deal, will one day be the best player. That’s a stretch, but the Dodgers were able to use Murphy in their deal with the Diamondbacks, which landed them Steve Finley.

From the Marlins perspective, you could argue that Mota or Lo Duca were the best players in this deal. Mota fills a role that few other relievers in baseball are capable of filling, and he’s proved capable of that over a number of years (the flip side of that is that he’s older and inevitably will break down – plus he’s relatively expensive). Nearly the same can be said of Lo Duca. He fills a role that’s difficult to fill (catcher), but his best years may be behind him and he’s relatively expensive (because of his service time, etc). Still though, Lo Duca could be the best player involved in this trade when it’s all said and done.

The biggest negative for the Marlins in this deal is that they’re now saddled with Juan Encarnacion for not only this season, but next season as well. Juan seems to be a nice enough guy and an above average defender, but he simply can’t hit. There’s really not any arguing with that. His onbase percentage is less than .300. That’s about the same as Barry Bonds’s onbase percentage if you only count the plate appearances in which Bonds is intentionally walked.

So to me, it’s not clear who got the best player in the deal. My hunch is that we’ll look back at this deal two years from now and say that the Dodgers did. We’ll probably say that they got the two best players – in Penny and Choi. Maybe the Marlins will turn it around and win the 2004 World Series. This week, it doesn’t look like it, but it could happen.

In the short term though, there’s only one measure that can clearly help us decide who won this trade. It’s not runs created above average, runs saved above average, win shares, or any other metric like that. It’s simply wins and losses. The Marlins are 1 – 3 since the trade last Friday (not counting last Friday, as none of the players involved played that day). The Dodgers, on the other hand, are 4 – 1. While the sample size is small, it’s clear so far that the Dodgers won this deal. They look like near locks right now to reach the post-season, and if they do, they’re a threat to win the whole thing. Plus, they’re better positioned for 2005 and beyond. The more and more you go through this, the clearer it is that the Dodgers won this deal. Sure, the Marlins could get lucky and catch lightning in a bottle again this year, but it sure doesn’t seem like that’s going to happen.

Oh well. It’s still fun to see them make a move in late July and to be quasi-in playoff contention in August. That’s never happened two years in a row in for the Marlins before.


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