Once again, the Marlins prioritized money over talent, and the Dodgers took advantage of that.
For the fourth straight offseason, BtBS is looking back on some of the biggest trades from years past. Check out all the entries here. This series was first started in 2016 by Spencer Bingol, who has been part of the Red Sox Baseball Operations department for the past two years. Congratulations to Spencer on the team’s recent World Series championship!
A few weeks before the 2013 trade deadline, the Dodgers traded for Ricky Nolasco from the Marlins. To complete the trade, the Dodgers sent Steven Ames, Josh Wall, and Ángel Sánchez to Miami. The Dodgers also took on the remainder of Nolasco’s salary.
In this trade retrospective series, trades will be evaluated based on what was known at the time. That is the only fair, logical way to evaluate trades and strip luck out of the equation: process over results. Having said that, we will still take a look at how the trade worked out for both parties.
The Dodgers were struggling midway through the 2013 season. They were three games below .500, virtually tied with the Rockies, and 3.5 games behind the Diamondbacks in the division. It was starting to look like the two Wild Card teams would be coming from the NL Central, so the Dodgers’ best chance at making the playoffs lied with catching the D-Backs.
The top of the Dodgers’ starting rotation was strong, anchored by Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke, and Hyun-Jin Ryu. Beyond those three, though, things did not look so good. Josh Beckett had been out since May, and he would go on to miss the rest of the season due to thoracic outlet syndrome. Chad Billingsley was recovering form Tommy John surgery. In order to take the division, they needed to do better than starting replacement level pitchers such as Chris Capuano and Matt Magill.
Ricky Nolasco was not much more than a back end starter, but that was still an upgrade over what the Dodgers were dealing with. He was in his contract year, and the Marlins being in last place — because of course they were — had no need for him. Since Jeffrey Loria has never cared about doing what was best for the team when money was involved, he had the team trade Nolasco for money instead of talent. He saved $5.5 million and got nothing more than some relief prospects back. It might be harsh to categorize the return as lottery tickets, but at best they were not much more than that.
To be fair, the Marlins were not going to get much back for a rental of a back-end starter. Still, a rebuilding team needs to be maximizing returns on talent, not trying to save the amount of money that might get one year of a below average player. This was a team that was going to finish in last place for the third consecutive year, and had only finished over .500 six times since its first year in 1993.
That’s still true, by the way. If building a winning team was what was most important to Loria, he would have eaten the salary to maximize the return. The optics of this trade were arguably the worst part of it, but we all know Loria has never cared about what the fans think.
Ames and Wall had ceilings as relievers, and middle relievers at that. Sánchez was seen as having the potential to be a starter, but it did not seem terribly likely. He lacked command and an average breaking ball. His future was most likely as a reliever.
The Dodgers got a one-to-two win upgrade to their rotation in what was looking like a tight division race, and they got it for little more than money. The Marlins got to continue to embarrass themselves.
Not only did the Dodgers end up winning the division, they won by a lot. Their 92 wins were 11 wins better than the Diamondbacks. It is a good thing too, because sure enough, the two Wild Card teams came from the NL Central. In fact, the Pirates finished with more wins than the Dodgers did!
Nolasco more or less performed to expectations. He had a 4.14 RA9 and continued to have strong walk rates but sub-par strikeout rates. He was worth 0.6 WAR which is roughly average for 87 IP. I would conservatively estimate that he was a one-win improvement over the alternative, though that did not end up mattering. He made one start in the postseason, and it went poorly, giving up three runs in four innings.
After the 2013 season, the Twins signed Nolasco to a four-year, $49 million deal, plus a team option worth $13 million. Unfortunately, it did not work out. He lasted only two and a half years in Minnesota with a 5.72 RA9 and -0.2 WAR over that period, and he struggled with injuries, especially in 2015. The Twins traded him to the Angels at the 2016 trade deadline, where he became shockingly good for the rest of the season. He had a 3.33 RA9 over his final 11 starts that year, though his strikeout rate had fallen below 18 percent. A .257 BABIP helped, as did pitching in front of Andrelton Simmons.
Believe it or not, Nolasco was chosen to be the Opening Day starter for the Angels in 2017. The regression monster came for him, yielding a 5.07 RA9 that season. His walk rates started to climb up, too. The Angels unsurprisingly decided not to pick up his option for 2018. Nolasco has not appeared in the majors since 2017. He most recently signed a minor league deal with the Diamondbacks and was invited to Spring Training.
Ames pitched four unremarkable innings for the Marlins in 2013, and has not seen major league action since. He spent all of 2014 in the minors, followed by the Marlins cutting him before the 2015 season, leading to him spending the year in the Atlantic League. He has presumably retired since then.
Wall never threw a pitch for the Marlins, spending the rest of the season with their Triple A team. The Angels claimed him off waivers at the end of the season. He barely even got a cup of coffee with them that year in 2014, making only two appearances. He faced 11 batters and got only three of them out, neither of whom by strikeout. He gave up a total of six runs on three walks and five hits. He would never appear in a major league game again.
The Pirates claimed Wall off waivers in late May 2014, and kept him through 2015. The White Sox then signed him, but he was cut before playing a game. He played a few months in the Atlantic League before announcing his retirement.
Sánchez took until 2017 to reach the majors, and it was not with the Marlins, nor was it as a starter. The year following the trade, he was claimed off waivers by the Rays, and then by the White Sox less than a month later. He ended up back with the Marlins again before landing with the Pirates in 2015. He made his major league debut with them in August 2017. He pitched 12 1⁄3 innings over eight appearances, giving up five home runs and 12 runs total. He was released later that year. Failing to find any MLB offers, he signed to play in the KBO. His current status is unknown, though there are reports that his KBO team wants to re-sign him.
Not much to say here. The Dodgers got what they were looking for, which is a good return for what they gave up.
I am nearing the end of my third year doing this trade retrospective series during the offseason, and I have never put up a table like that. The Marlins likely did not care at all about whom they were getting back in this trade. The money was all that mattered.
The Dodgers did a great job in taking advantage of an owner who had never cared about the team by getting a needed starter for a low cost. The Marlins accomplished nothing in their rebuild. But hey, at least Loria got to pocket $5.5 million.
. . .
Luis Torres is a Featured Writer at Beyond the Box Score. He is a medicinal chemist by day, baseball analyst by night. You can follow him on Twitter at @Chemtorres21.