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You Won't Be Laughing When You Hear How This One Ends: Even Before the 2013 Season, That Marlins Trade Was All Kinds of Bad

While the Jays trade with the Marlins now looks very bad in retrospect, how bad did it look at the time? Still pretty bad. Just not as bad as it looks now. But, yeah, still bad.

Tom Szczerbowski-US PRESSWIRE

As expected, the Blue Jays did not extend Josh Johnson a qualifying offer. It's still possible that they work something out but there's no reason to expect that they will. So, now that we can close the book on Josh Johnson, I thought it would be interesting to take another look at the trade that brought him to The True North. Now that the 2013 season didn't work out, the naysayers are coming out in droves and I don't mean to be the negative one, but you'd be negative, too, if you saw this trade from a value perspective all along.

Now, I've been (likely rightfully) criticised many times for being a bit verbose, so let's just cut to the chase. We all remember the trade, but these were (essentially) the moving parts that were included:

Jays received: Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle, Josh Johnson, John Buck, Emilio Bonifacio, and $8.5 M

Marlins received: Yunel Escobar, Henderson Alvarez, Adeiny Hechavarria, Jeff Mathis, Anthony DeScalfani, Justin Nicolino, and Jake Marisnick

Of course, this trade supposedly made the Jays (who'd been bad the previous season but had also been hampered by injuries) into a contender and they were projected by many folks to win the AL East or, failing that, one of the wildcard slots. There's definite value in putting a good team on the field and, had 2013 gone better, this post could be extolling the virtues of the trade. As you know, 2013 did not go well. The Jays were, again, hampered by injuries, and many of the players weren't all that good when they were on the field. In any event, here is a quick summary from the perspective of the surplus value offered by the players that the Jays received (I previously posted this in a comments section here). This surplus value is based on the ZiPS projections for 2013, the salaries for their contracts. According to Fangraphs, the value of a win in 2013 was $5.5 M. For Reyes, I assumed inflation would bring the cost of a win up to an average of $6.25 M and for Beuhrle, I assumed it would bring it up to $5.75 M. I projected 0.5 WAR per season decline for Reyes and Beuhrle.

Josh Johnson: 3.4 WAR, $13.75 M = $4.95 M + qualifying offer compensation
Jose Reyes: 15.4 WAR, $96 M = essentially scratch
Mark Beuhrle: 6.6 WAR, $48 M = $-10 M
Emilio Bonifacio: 0.5 WAR, $2.6 M = essentially scratch
John Buck: 1.5 WAR, $6 M = $2.25 M

There aren't actually that many moving parts here, though inflation could make this look slightly better or slightly worse. The other moving part would be how much you value that qualifying offer compensation (obviously the Jays didn't end up getting this but it should nonetheless be included in Johnson's projected value) and how likely you feel he was to receive and reject it. There's also the $8.5 M that the Marlins included.

As the surplus values of these contracts essentially cancel one another out, we're left with the value that the Jays received in this trade being tied up in the $8.5 M cash that the Marlins sent over and the possibility of Josh Johnson receiving a qualifying offer. For argument's sake, let's say that compensation is worth $10 M and that Johnson was 75% likely to receive and reject it, making its value $7.5 M. This may be overestimating its value but in the context of the salaries the Jays took on, let's not worry about that too much at the moment. Here we have the total surplus value that the Jays received at $8.5 M (cash) + $7.5 M (value of Johnson's Q.O.) = $16 M. This means that Johnson was projected to have a lot of surplus value: around $12.5 M (though, again, we're probably overestimating the value of that Q.O.).

So what about the value that the Marlins received? There are a lot more moving parts here because, aside from Escobar and Mathis, these players are all still in development. Nonetheless, let's try and use the most conservative estimate possible. We'll only assess players assumed to be in MLB and we won't credit them for growth from their 2013 projections at all. Essentially, we'll estimate that they'll be compensated at the league minimum (around $0.5 M) as long as possible, then they will be compensated through arbitration for three seasons at 40 / 60 / 80 % (respectively) of their value. The only one this doesn't apply to is Hechavarria, who was still under contract for $1.75 M last season but who, I believe, is now eligible to make the league minimum for the next two seasons before entering arbitration. I could be wrong on his contract status as it's a relatively unusual one. If so, please correct me in the comments. There were two team options for Escobar for $5 M each, we're going to assume the team picks them up because they'd provide positive value. For Escobar, wins are estimated at 5.75 M. For Alvarez, we'll use $6 M. For Mathis, $5.5 M. And, for Hechavarria, we'll use $6 M.

Escobar: 6.0 WAR, 15 M (3 seasons at $5 M each) = surplus of $19.5 M
Alvarez: 5.0 WAR, ~13 M (2 seasons at minimum + 40 / 60 / 80 for 1 WAR at 6 M/war),  = surplus of ~$17 M
Mathis: 0.1 WAR, $1.5 M = defecit of $-1 M
Hechavarria: 6.5 WAR, $17 M (1 season at 1.75 + 2 seasons at minimum + 40 / 60 / 80 for 1.3 WAR at 6 M/war) = surplus of $22 M

So the total of the surplus value for these players is $57.5 M. Plus the surplus value of the prospects, which we're assuming to be zero for the sake of being as simple and conservative as possible. Thus, the total projected defect for the Jays (from a value standpoint) was $41.5 M, and this was assuming that the three pretty good prospects they sent over provide zero surplus value. It also assumes absolutely zero growth from any of these players (but does project 0.5 WAR per season decline for Escobar).

Now, it's true that the Jays got some good players and some of that defecit ought to be offset by the excitement generated by putting a good team on the field and having people interested in the team. However, it also ought to be considered that, outside of Johnson, the Marlins were essentially just dumping salary for talent that was available on the free market as recently as the previous season. It made pretty good sense to take on those contractual obligations if the Jays weren't going to send a lot of value over in the form of players. It made sense to send over some value in players if the Jays didn't have to take on those contractual obligations. What doesn't make sense is taking on the salaries and sending over so much value in players.

Now, of course, a major reason we're revisiting this trade right now is because ZiPS missed so badly on most of these players: Buehrle played as expected but Reyes was hurt and provided only slightly more than half his projected value for 2013 and Johnson was hurt and terrible. Escobar had a great season and Alvarez had an (albeit likely very lucky) 2 WAR season. Hechavarria underplayed his projection by around two wins but that only partially offsets the increased production of Escobar and Alavarez. Either way, this analysis doesn't worry about what the players actually did, it looks at how this trade stacks up considering what was projected.

But, while we're here, let's consider that Johnson, the only player the Jays received who was supposed to provide surplus value ($4.95 M in contract + $7.5 M in Q.O.) ended up being a defecit of $11 M. The difference between the surplus value of that projection and the actual defecit ends up being somewhere around $20 M, making the loss of surplus value for the Jays around $60 M. Presupposing, of course, you project zero growth for Hechavarria, Alvarez, Nicolino, DeScalfani, and Marisnick. And that Reyes didn't miss half of 2013.

Let's put that $60 M deficit another way. When the Jays traded Vernon Wells to the Angels, he had $86 M remaining on his contract and he was projected to be around a 2 WAR player. Assuming 0.5 WAR per season decline, he'd have provided somewhere between 4 and 5 WAR, at least 20 M in value, about a $60 M deficit.

In AA, we (maybe shouldn't) trust.

Thanks to They Might Be Giants for the "Negative One, Negative Too" line and WinnepegWinnipeg's own Weakerthans for their song "Relative Surplus Value".