Washington’s division rivals started to revamp their rosters late Monday afternoon as the Miami Marlins completed the first of what may be a number of trades prior to next Tuesday’s non-waiver trade deadline. The Marlins shipped a pair of players to Detroit in the deal that brought them right-hander Jacob Turner, catcher Rob Brantly, and left-hander Brian Flynn. The Tigers received second baseman Omar Infante and right-hander Anibal Sanchez in the trade. The two teams will also swap compensatory draft picks in next June’s MLB Draft.
Infante is in the first year of a two year contract that he signed with Miami prior to the end of the 2011 season that will pay him a total of $8 Million. Through 347 plate appearances on the year he’s batting a respectable .287/.312/.442 with 8 HR and 33 RBI. Infante doesn’t walk much (just 12 on the year) but will help strengthen what is already one of the better offenses in the American League. He offers an instant upgrade for the Tigers at second base, who’ve seen Ramon Santiago and Ryan Raburn combine for an MLB-worst .201/.286/.276 line of production at the position.
Just last week, John Verburg at Motor City Bengals discussed Infante as a possible target for the Tigers. Verburg noted the offensive improvement he’d provide and specifically cited his superior defensive abilities to that of Santiago (who’s received the bulk of the playing time at second for Detroit). While he was in favor of such a move, he did admit that a move might not come cheap (suggesting a one-for-one deal might require a prospect such as Brantly) given the fact that Miami did not have a significant need to move Infante due to the fact that he is a relatively affordable option given his current contract.
Infante spent his first six seasons in the Majors with Detroit, batting a combined .253/.298/.386 over 1,732 plate appearances. His best season came in 2004 during which he batted .264/.317/.449 with a career high 16 HR and 55 RBI. He’s never come close to such power production since, but he’s seen consistent improvement in his batting average and even made the 2010 National League All Star roster while playing for the Atlanta Braves.
Meanwhile, Sanchez provides another quality starting pitching option to a Tigers rotation that has struggled with consistency this year. Sanchez has made 19 starts on the year, posting a 5-7 record and 3.94 ERA over 121.0 innings of work. He’s also allowing a career low 2.5 BB/9. Sanchez is earning $8 Million this season and will be a free agent this winter. Initially there was some speculation that Detroit could look to sign Sanchez to a contract extension before the season concludes, but according to Danny Knobler of CBSSports.com the team is viewing him as a “true rental player” and will not look to extend him before he reaches free agency.
The 28 year old will provide an established option for Detroit to fill out their rotation along with Justin Verlander, Doug Fister, Max Scherzer, and Rick Porcello. Verlander has not been his usual dominant self for much of the year, while Scherzer and Fister have both struggled at times after having strong 2011 seasons. Porcello has generally failed to develop into the top-of-the-rotation talent that many believed he’d be when the Tigers first drafted him, meaning Sanchez’s addition in the middle of the rotation should provide a big boost for the American League Central leaders.
For Miami the move signifies what could be the start to a semi-rebuilding process as 2012 could only be described as a disappointing season to date. The Marlins had an expensive and busy offseason during which they finished building a new stadium, changed their team name and uniforms, brought in a new manager, and spent a great deal of money on free agents. The Marlins sit at 45-51 on the year, 4th in the NL East and 11.5 games behind the Nationals. Team officials are reportedly unhappy with the results they’ve seen on the field to date and speculation has run rampant for much of the past week that the team could look to move a number of their assets in an attempt to restock the farm system with some high-quality talent.
Turner is the biggest name of the group acquired by Miami. The former 1st Round Draft pick (#9 overall in 2009) was ranked as the #22 overall prospect in all of Major League Baseball entering the season, according to Baseball America but has had a difficult 2012 campaign. He’s spent the bulk of it in the minor leagues, posting a combined record of 5-4 in 14 starts with a 2.77 ERA through 84.1 innings of work. He’s seen a dip in his strikeout rate (just 6.1 K/9) and a rise in his walk rate (3.3 BB/9) this year but has been able to limit the damage by allowing a career low 7.4 H/9.
The 21 year old has made six starts in the Majors in his career (three in 2011 and three this year), going 1-2 with an 8.28 ERA through 25.0 innings of work. It appears likely that he’ll remain with the Marlins MLB club, likely taking Sanchez’s spot in the rotation.
Flynn, a 6’8” left-hander, was originally a 7th Round pick by the Tigers in the 2011 Draft. He’s spent the better part of the 2012 season with Detroit’s High-A affiliate in Lakeland, with whom he made 18 starts and threw 102.0 innings. He posted an 8-4 record in that span with a 3.71 ERA and 1.422 WHIP. Flynn has been assigned to Miami’s Double-A affiliate in Jacksonville.
Brantly may ultimately end up being the key to the trade for the Marlins, though it’s uncertain what path his career will take. The 23 year old has split the season between Detroit’s two upper level minor league affiliates, batting a combined .287/.332/.387 in 334 plate appearances. He doesn’t offer much power (just three home runs on the year) but has shown a decent ability to get on base to compliment what has widely been described as a solid defensive foundation behind the plate. Brantly, Detroit’s 3rd Round pick in the 2010 Draft, was once selected by the Nationals (2008, 46th Round) out of high school but he elected to attend the University of California at Riverside instead.
Some have compared him favorably to former Tampa Bay Ray and current Seattle Mariner John Jaso. In 2010 Jaso burst onto the scene with an impressive rookie campaign. He batted .263/.372/.378 in 404 plate appearances, good enough to finish 5th in the AL Rookie of the Year voting. He was widely complimented for his on base ability, unusual speed (for a catcher), and strong defensive abilities. Jaso’s career has taken a downward turn since, as he struggled in 2011 and has been limited to just a part time role in 2012. Brantly likely needs another year of minor league seasoning before he’ll truly be MLB-ready, but he instantly becomes the top catching prospect in Miami’s organization and there is reasonable hope that he’ll be able to help at the Major League level by the end of the 2013 season.
While the move could the be the start of some major changes in Miami, it will have a minimal immediate impact on the Nationals. The Marlins sit towards the bottom of the NL Eastern division, 13.5 games behind Washington. The fact that they are dealing quality players in exchange for prospects is a sign that their chances of fighting back in the tough NL East are slim at best. Miami’s simply looking ahead, rather than trying to improve and make a run through the season’s final few months.
Nationals fans likely won’t notice Infante’s absence from the Marlins lineup much, as he’s just a career .242/.292/.352 hitter against Washington with just a pair of home runs and 14 RBI in just over 200 plate appearances. Sanchez, meanwhile, was a little more effective in his limited time against the Nationals. He’s made two starts, totaling 14.0 innings, with a 1-0 record and 1.29 ERA.