Trades are one of the things that baseball has over other sports. Midseason trades are extremely rare in football, and you need a degree from M.I.T. to figure out what kinds of trades will work under the NBA's salary cap. The NHL is a collection of competitive hockey teams across North America. But in baseball, trades are essential in the offseason and during the regular season.
If you had to categorize them, though, the vast majority of trades are veteran players for lesser prospects. Want to trade for a lefty reliever? Give up an A-baller of moderate promise. Want a starting outfielder? Give up a couple of A-ballers with a little more promise, or a pitcher who's had a cup of coffee in the majors. Veterans-for-lesser-prospects is a default, a standard. It's the affair in a soap opera -- the particulars can make for an interesting part of the storyline, but it's not exactly a new twist.
Those kinds of trades don't automatically fascinate me, though. A prospect-for-prospect trade is fascinating. A top-five prospect like Wil Myers going for a veteran pitcher is incredibly fascinating. But it's the completely nonsensical trades that fascinate me the most. If the Twins traded for Vernon Wells, for example, that would be something like a riddle in a Lewis Carroll poem. You would drive yourself insane trying to figure it out, but you would have fun doing it.
So let's take a gander at a completely nonsensical trade of minor import, one that's looking worse and worse every passing month. It's the spiritual successor to the James McDonald trade, a mind-numbing, what-were-they-thinking masterpiece.
To the Marlins
It's beautiful. It makes no sense. The Marlins thought that Carlos Lee was an answer to something. The only question Carlos Lee should have been an answer for in 2012 was, "Give me a player's name that sounds like an adverb."
He opened the envelope carlosly, knowing he had to reseal it before Martha got home from church.
On July 4, 2012, the Marlins traded for Carlos Lee on purpose. Someone picked up a phone and intentionally said a combination of words that led to Carlos Lee playing for the Marlins.
You can use a lot of words to describe what the Marlins have done over the last calendar year. You could start with "surprising" and, if you're especially bitter, move right on to "craven" or "deceitful" or "oblivious" or "self-immolating" or, well, you get the idea.
But I don't think you can use "nonsensical" for most of them. You might disagree with the logic or timing of the trades, and you might even be underwhelmed with the young players who came back to the Marlins. But there's at least an argument to be made for almost all of them from a baseball perspective. Older, expensive players out. Younger, promising players in. That's the paradigm.
The Carlos Lee trade was nonsensical. First of all, when July started, the Marlins were three games under .500 and 7½ back in the NL East. They already had their June of doom, and the mood in Miami was already dour. It wasn't exactly quittin' time for the Marlins -- when they traded for Lee, they were exactly one game short of the record posted by the A's at the time, for example -- but it wasn't time to see if Carlos Lee was the answer. Gaby Sanchez was in an awful funk, and he was eventually traded for a dog-eared copy of a Danielle Steele novel. Would you be surprised to know that Sanchez was a better hitter after the trades? No. No, you wouldn't.
We've made fun of the idea behind Carlos Lee already, but now let's focus on the return. Rob Rasmussen is a Grant-sized starting pitcher. The odds are against him, even if I'm pulling like crazy for him.
Matt Dominguez, though, is a captivating player. Mostly because he's already been written off. He was a first-round bust. It happens, move on. He's 23, and it almost seemed like his ceiling is Pedro Feliz -- all glove, some power, nothing else. That can be a good complementary player, but he wasn't supposed to be anything more.
Before just last season, he was in the top-100 of Jonathan Mayo's list on MLB.com. There are tools. Oh, there are tools. And what do we have since his teenage years? A little pop. Awful plate discipline.
But he was aggressively promoted, usually a little young for his league. Suddenly over the last couple of years, his strikeout rate improved. That came with a drop in home runs in the minors, but he had a few of those in his late-season call-up with the Astros after the trade.
So far this spring -- I know, I know, you might as well look at tea leaves -- Dominguez is looking great. Four walks and one strikeout in 25 plate appearances, with two homers and three doubles. And it makes you think, "Well … maybe."
"Well … maybe" is exactly what the Astros should be messing around with right now. They're putting slightly burnt fuses back in the fusebox, seeing if anything can get the power on. And Dominguez is a heckuva lottery ticket. The defense limits his floor, which allows a team to gamble on his offensive potential.
The Marlins are planning to start Placido Polanco at third base in 2013.
It's not like this was a toss-up when it happened. From our Astros blog, Crawfish Boxes:
I think Jeff Luhnow is a wizard.
This is a puzzling move for the Marlins. It makes sense because the team is interested in improving at first base without committing long term to an option, but the projected improvement with Carlos Lee just does not seem to warrant the move. Lee is well on his decline phase and it is almost as if the Marlins were working primarily on name value.
And then it got weirder and weirder …
Dominguez might not ever be a viable major-league starter. He has contact issues, and he doesn't have the kind of power that can automatically make up for that. But he's a raffle ticket. The Astros could use a raffle ticket. They could use a lot of them. So could the Marlins. The Astros have a 23-year-old, former first-round pick with a great glove and a not-insignificant chance to hit a little. The Marlins have Placido Polanco. What a nonsensical trade it was for the Marlins to get Carlos Lee. It's almost beautiful in its nonsensicality. Almost.