Cutting Costs

The Florida Marlins continued to dump payroll this week, dealing away arbitration-eligible players Kevin Gregg, Scott Olsen and Josh Willingham in deals with Chicago and Washington.

The Matt Holliday deal received most of the attention this past week, but there were a number of other under-the-radar moves that were overshadowed by the latest chapter of the Billy Beane story.

The Florida Marlins continued to dump payroll, trading three more players who were eligible for big raises in arbitration. The Marlins made one of the first moves of the Hot Stove season when they dealt power-hitting, low-OBP first baseman Mike Jacobs to the Kansas City Royals in exchange for reliever Leo Nunez a few weeks back. They stayed on course with their plan this past week, dealing away Kevin Gregg, Scott Olsen and Josh Willingham in two cost-cutting transactions.

Olsen and Willignham are headed to the Washington Nationals, who sent second baseman Emilio Bonifacio and a pair of minor leaguers down to Florida in return.

The Marlins were clearly looking to wash its hand of the pair for financial reasons. The Nationals, though, received some solid immediate help in this player swap.

Olsen has had some serious off-the-field issues in the past, but reportedly made strides as a person this past year. He has above-average stuff for a left-hander as well, which is why he was a top prospect not too long ago. Although his average fastball velocity dropped nearly three miles per hour, he had a respectable, but not spectacular finish; 201.2 innings pitched, 4.20 ERA, 101 ERA+.

However, Olsen does not miss bats as frequently as many scouts expected when he was considered a top prospect. In fact, his K/9 rate has steadily decreased since his strong rookie performance in 2006--8.27, 6.78, 5.04. He has been prone to giving up the long ball as well, having allowed 59 in the past two seasons. He is still only 24 years old and has proven to be durable in his recent past, but his ceiling is fairly limited if he does not regain some velocity.

If Olsen can do so, there is a chance for the Nationals to add a difference-making lefty to their starting rotation for a fairly cheap price.

Willingham is an above-average offensive player with solid on-base skills. He has decent power (45 home runs from 2006-07), but excellent plate discipline is the biggest area of strength in his skill set. The outfielder, in an injury-plagued campaign, posted a decent line of .254/.364/.470, with 15 homers, in 351-at bats in 2008. The Nationals' outfield is getting crowded quickly, but he has a chance to add a significant boost to an anemic offense that is starved for players who get on base. He is a poor defensive corner outfielder, which negates some of his contributions at the plate. Still, he is a bargain in cost relative to the market value for his production; he has a career .472 slugging percentage and 117 OPS+.

The Nationals are miles away from putting good enough of a product on the field to realistically compete in the N.L. East; Jim Bowden is still the general manager, after all, and this deal is by no means destined to push them over the top. To his credit, though, Bowden acquired two low-risk, high reward options who could each breakout in a new environment, improving his roster in the short term.

On the Marlins' end, they received a decent utility man in Bonifacio, who has batted .240/.300/.328 in 192 major league at-bats. He is a solid infielder defensively, with the ability to play multiple positions effectively. While he is still young, he is never shown much offensively--outside of a strong performance in the California League in '06, when he posted minor league highs in batting average, OBP and slugging percentage--and does not project as even a league average hitter in the majors.

Florida also picked up two low-level minor leaguers, P.J. Dean and Jake Smolinski.

Dean was selected in the seventh round back in 2007 out of a Texas high school. He had a so-so short-season debut in the Gulf Coast League once he signed, posting a 4.06 ERA in only nine starts. He had some success in the New York Penn League in his second pro stint; 4-1 record, 1.57 ERA, 34 strikeouts, 16 walks in 46.0 innings pitched over 10 starts for the Vermont Lake Monsters. In the long run, he could end up blossoming into a legitimate big league prospect but he still is several years away from adding any value at the major league level.

Smolinski will miss all of 2009 after undergoing knee surgery. The Nationals' second-round selection in '07, he was considered one of the best prep hitters in the nation during his senior year of high school. He played some second base and the outfield during his career so far, yet still lacks a real position at this point. He is an interesting hitting prospect who makes good contact, but is not expected to hit for a lot of power. In 77 games combined between three levels, he batted .271/.345/.395, with four homers and a .740 OPS.

Considering its primary intention, Florida adds two high school draftees who could develop while receiving some salary relief. Washington still appears to be the winner here.

The Marlins gained a lot more than the opportunity to free up some payroll in their deal with the Chicago Cubs, getting back promising right-handed pitching prospect Jose Ceda.

With the Gregg move, Chicago has officially cut its ties with free-agent closer Kerry Wood, who was looking for at least a three-year deal. Wood's replacement, Carlos Marmol, had an excellent year in a setup role and should pick up a ton of saves when given the chance. Unfortunately, the Cubs' new reliever is really not as great as advertised, and is a clear downgrade in the setup role when compared to the Marmol/Wood combination. He has been effective by mixing a sinker, split-fastball and slider in the recent past, enabling him to win the closer role in Florida in '07. It is easy to get fooled by his 61 saves since then, though, which are a function of his being just decent enough to gain the opportunity for so many chances more than anything else. His control is subpar--77 walks allowed since '07--and he has a 4.00 career ERA.

It is misguided to criticize Chicago for not locking up Wood to a long-term deal, given his injury history. However, it is surprising that they parted ways with Ceda, who has excellent stuff, a live arm and the chance to be special. He posted a 12.46 K/9 ratio in 22 relief appearances in Double-A in '08, striking out 42 in 30.1 innings. In fact, the soon-to-be 22-year-old has posted high strikeout totals at each stop in the minors, using a mid-90s fastball/slider mix to overmatch young hitters. He is a nice pickup for the Marlins, who were going to cut Gregg loose, anyway, since he is due to make around $3-million in arbitration.

To reach Tyler Hissey, send an email to

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