|The Marlins dropped $191 million to sign free agents Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle and Heath Bell last winter, but despite that financial outlay Miami entered July with a sub-.500 record and in fourth place in the National League East. They brokered a trade during the July 4 holiday in an effort to improve their standing, sending two of their better prospects to the Astros for 36-year-old first baseman Carlos Lee. Houston kicked in about $8.75 million in the deal—all but the prorated minimum salary owed Lee the rest of the way—and for its efforts received Triple-A third baseman Matt Dominguez, who ranked as the Marlins' top prospect heading into 2011, and high Class A lefty Rob Rasmussen.
Though Lee's production has tailed off significantly from his prime seasons—and despite his recent move down the defensive spectrum from left field to first base—he represents a sizable upgrade on the Marlins' incumbent. Gaby Sanchez batted .202/.250/.306 with three homers in 55 games while making the majority of starts at first base, but he'll now try to get back on track in Triple-A following another demotion. (The average NL first baseman has compiled a .769 OPS this season—or about 210 points higher than Sanchez.) The acquisition of Lee also allows Miami to leave Logan Morrison in left field and Greg Dobbs on the bench, where he can serve as primary pinch-hitter. It's also the second in-season trade in which the Marlins acquired a lineup regular from the Astros. In late May, Miami traded 21-year-old catcher Jobduan Morales to Houston for outfielder Justin Ruggiano, who has assumed a more or less full-time gig in center field for the Marlins.
By kicking in so much money, the Astros bought themselves a bit more certainty in the form of more advanced prospects who, though their ceilings may be modest, will require less development time than many others. They employed a similar policy when trading Mark Melancon to the Red Sox (which netted Jed Lowrie and Kyle Weiland) and when dealing Humberto Quintero to the Royals (acquiring Kevin Chapman in the exchange).
|Matt Dominguez, 3b
Age: 22. Born: Aug 28, 1989 in Chatsworth, Calif.
Ht.: 6-1. Wt.: 215.
Bats: R. Throws: R.
School: Chatsworth (Calif.) HS
Career Transactions: Selected by Marlins in first round (12th overall) of 2007 draft; signed Aug. 15, 2007.
The 22-year-old Dominguez is one of the top defensive third basemen in the minors, but his offensive development has stagnated in the upper minors, as evidenced by his .647 OPS this season in the accommodating hitting environment of the Pacific Coast League. He reached double digits in home runs every season from 2008 through 2011, though his isolated power (.122) this season is significantly below the PCL average (.154). Throughout his minor league career, Dominguez has shown the ability to put the bat on the ball, and he has cut his strikeout rate again this season, striking out in just a tick fewer than 10 percent of his plate appearances. He'll have to make harder contact and display more power to allow his Gold Glove-caliber defense to play at the major league level.
|Rob Rasmussen, lhp
Age: 23. Born: Apr 2, 1989 in Pasadena, Calif.
Ht.: 5-9. Wt.: 160.
Bats: R. Throws: L.
Career Transactions: Selected by Marlins in second round of 2010 draft; signed July 7, 2010.
In his second straight season in the Florida State League, Rasmussen has made incremental improvements by increasing his strikeout rate and decreasing his walk rate to push his strikeout-to-walk ratio north of two, but he has been the definition of a league average starter. Attacking hitters with a four-pitch mix that includes a 90-93 mph fastball and a power slider in the mid-80s, Rasmussen has posted roughly league average strikeout (7.7 per nine innings), walk (3.7), and home run (0.62) ratios in one of the best pitcher's parks in the minors. With the potential to be a back-of-the rotation starter or situational reliever, he has pitched well in his last four starts, allowing just four runs over 22 innings while striking out 20.
|Carlos Lee, 1b
Age: 36. Bats: R. Remaining Commitment: Under contract for $18.5 million in 2012 (Astros sent about $8.75 million in the deal)
Contract details courtesy of Cot's Baseball Contracts.