Thoughts on the Carlos Lee-to-Miami deal

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– It was obvious the Marlins had to upgrade. Gaby Sanchez looked like a borderline All-Star at this time last year, but he hit just .225/.320/.359 after the break, and even that would be a big improvement on his 2012 line of .194/.240/.283. He posted OPSs of .576 in April, .484 in May and .496 in June. It’s not Marlins Park, either: he’s hit .163/.212/.245 on the road this year. I wouldn’t write him off entirely for 2013 and beyond, but his 2012 looks like a lost cause.

– So, in steps Carlos Lee. I like the fit. Lee isn’t a big home run guy anyway, so Marlins Park won’t scare him off. His .286/.336/.412 line this year is modest enough, but he has more extra-base hits (21) than strikeouts (17). He’s a league-average first baseman, and that’s a big upgrade for Miami right now.

– The price was surprising, but that’s because the Marlins, unlike the Dodgers, wanted the Astros to pick up all Lee’s remaining salary. They’ll pay only about $200,000 of the approx. $9 million he’s still owed. It’s not my money, so I think the Astros did better here than they would have getting right-hander Garrett Gould from the Dodgers.

– In Matt Dominguez, the Astros get a potential third baseman of the future. I’ve never been very high on the former first-round pick, but he truly is an excellent defender, and if he can just shake the injury bug, he might prove adequate enough offensively to make it as a regular. He’s still just 22 years old. I’m not a Chris Johnson fan, and I don’t think he’ll prove to be any sort of long-term answer for Houston. Besides, he’s a poor defensive third baseman, so even if he does prove me wrong offensively, he’ll make more sense at first or DH for Houston anyway.

– Left-hander Rob Rasmussen was the other prospect in the deal. The 2010 second-round pick is 4-7 with a 3.90 ERA and a 75/36 K/BB ratio in 87 2/3 innings as a repeater at high-A Jupiter this season. Baseball America rated him as the Marlins’ No. 7 prospect headed into the season (Dominguez was No. 4), but realistically, he’s probably a reliever at best.

– Besides getting a couple of youngsters, the other benefit here for Houston is they’ll get to see whether Brett Wallace should be included in their future plans. If they had the chance, they’d certainly take back the trade that brought him from Toronto for center fielder Anthony Gose two years ago. Wallace did excellent work filling in for an injured Lee earlier this season, going 12-for-36 with two homers in 11 games. Still, that only pushed his career OPS up to .701 through 516 major league at-bats. He still has the nice line-drive stroke that made him a prospect, but he possesses limited power and little defensive value. The Astros should give him every chance to succeed in the second half and then look to move on this winter if he doesn’t progress.

– Given that the Marlins didn’t take on any salary here, they should still have the ability to go get another piece this month, whether it’s a center fielder or a late-inning reliever. The problem is that the cupboard is pretty bare: the Marlins have two excellent prospects in outfielder Christian Yelich and right-hander Jose Fernandez, but there probably aren’t more than two or three minor league systems with less depth to them.

Agent: Nick Senzel’s reassigment “egregious case of service time manipulation”

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Reds prospect Nick Senzel is ready for the majors. Although he battled injuries, the 23-year-old performed well with Triple-A Louisville last season, batting .310/.378/.509 with 20 extra-base hits, 25 RBI, 23 runs scored, and eight stolen bases in 193 plate appearances. Senzel has also performed well this spring, batting .308 across 39 at-bats.

The Reds, however, announced on Friday that Senzel was among a handful of players reassigned to minor league camp. Senzel was drafted as a third baseman, began playing second base last year, and had been playing in center field during spring training. The common thought is that the Reds, who have built a competitive roster, will keep Senzel at Triple-A to begin the season and call him up right after the club secures an extra year of contractual control.

Per ESPN’s Jeff Passan, Senzel’s agent Joel Wolfe calls Senzel’s reassignment an “egregious case of service time manipulation.” The full quote:

I don’t believe I’ve ever made public statements on this issue in my career, but I feel compelled to do so in this case where it feels like a simply egregious case of service time manipulation.

We are well aware of the mandate from ownership for the Reds to win this year — and this seems to fly in the face of it. The NL Central was decided by one game last year. Every game matters. This is a shortsighted move that may be frugal now but could cost them dearly later.

Nick Senzel is not a young prospect. He’s a major league-ready impact-type player. He has done everything they’ve asked this spring, including working hard to become a major league center fielder.

Nick takes pride in wearing the Reds uniform. He appreciates how much support he’s received from Reds fans. He’s going to go to Triple-A and prove every day he belongs in MLB.

We have covered the service time manipulation issue pretty extensively here, so Wolfe’s statement doesn’t come as much of a surprise. Prior to an injury, the Blue Jays were going to undeservingly stuff Vladimir Guerrero, Jr. — baseball’s No. 1 prospect — at Triple-A for the first two weeks or so of the season. The White Sox were going to do the same with Eloy Jiménez before using their leverage to nudge him into inking an extension. The Braves toyed with Ronald Acuña Jr.’s playing time last year. Kris Bryant and Maikel Franco filed respective grievances against the Cubs and Phillies for service time manipulation several years ago.

Team executives don’t outright admit to gaming a prospect’s service time to gain that extra year of control because that’s how one loses a grievance. They dance around the topic by making a nebulous claim, typically about the player’s defense needing to be worked on at Triple-A. That’s what the Cubs said about Bryant, and it’s what the Jays said about Guerrero. It’s a subjective enough evaluation that it can’t be falsified. It’s why the grievances that have been filed over this have fizzled out and it’s why more and more teams have brazenly joined the service time manipulation bandwagon.

Senzel’s case is, admittedly, a bit more murky. Though he performed well this spring, Scott Schebler has outperformed him, batting .379 with five extra-base hits and 11 walks in roughly 40 trips to the plate. The starting spot in right field is taken by Yasiel Puig and left field is taken by Jesse Winker. Schebler has ostensibly earned the starting job in center. I can’t imagine Wolfe having a compelling case if he were to file a grievance on Senzel’s behalf.

That being said, it is important that agents (and the MLBPA) speak out about this when they can. Senzel’s case may not be open-and-shut, but bringing service time manipulation into the public consciousness will have a lasting impact ahead of the December 2021 expiration of the current collective bargaining agreement. Holding team executives publicly accountable may make them less willing to manipulate their players’ service time going forward, as it may sour what could otherwise be a terrific relationship between team and player. Service time manipulation is an important piece of the labor puzzle and those on the players’ side have to seize whatever they can to potentially gain leverage. Awareness leads to solidarity.