Marlins Pay Steep Price to Not Get Better

Things have been enthusiastic around the Marlins lately. They surprised the industry by managing to lock up Giancarlo Stanton, and then they turned their attention to trying to extend a handful of other promising young big-leaguers. Also, the Marlins swore to improve the immediate big-league roster, signaling that they want to get to the playoffs. There’s been a sense that, for the first time, the Marlins are serious about getting good and staying good, and paying money to do so. The Marlins are trying to convince everyone they’re entering a new era. Which is all well and good, until you make a misstep in trying to improve. That’s the real dangerous bit.

I’m not sure if this is the worst move of the offseason. If it is, I’m not sure if this will remain the worst move of the offseason. But my later response continues to match my initial response: Andrew Friedman and the Dodgers are making out like bandits, successfully selling Dee Gordon about as high as possible. The Dodgers are losing a probable regression candidate, about to enter his Super-Two seasons. They’re getting probably the Marlins’ best prospect, and then even more to boot. The Dodgers picked up some more long-term assets. The Marlins might not have gotten better at all.

Haren’s the most confusing player here. He’s due to make $10 million in 2015, and the Dodgers are agreeing to pay his full salary, but he’s also said that he’ll retire if he’s not around LA. So while Haren would be technically free for the Marlins, he might not throw a single pitch for the Marlins. Maybe he changes his mind. Maybe the Marlins turn around and send Haren to the Angels for something. Regardless, Haren looks like a functional starter, but not a valuable starter, and this trade isn’t about Haren. This is about the Marlins trying to find a long-term second baseman.

In general, you get the idea. The Marlins didn’t have an incumbent regular. At the second-base position, they’ve been projected fifth-worst in baseball. Gordon last year, in his age-26 season, was worth more than three wins. He stole a ton of bases. Gordon was a valuable young second baseman, and the Marlins wanted a valuable young second baseman. The problem is what Gordon is likely to be.

He played better defense at second than short. It’s plainly obvious that Gordon’s a good runner. He managed a 101 wRC+. But, Gordon seldom walks. Pitchers pound him with fastballs and pitches in the zone. Gordon also strikes out a little too often. He owns four career big-league home runs. Gordon’s offensive success last year was almost entirely a function of a .346 BABIP. You want to believe he can stay a BABIP threat, because of his legs, but recent history isn’t real encouraging.

Gordon’s home-runs-per-fly-ball rate for his career stands at 2.1%. Since 2002, there are 24 players who have batted at least 2,500 times, with a HR/FB no greater than 4%. Not a single one of those players has a wRC+ of 100 or better. The highest BABIP in the group is .331. The average wRC+ is 80. The average BABIP is .300. Among the most successful hitters, Chone Figgins, Luis Castillo, and Dave Roberts made more contact than Gordon, with more walks. Gordon, even last year, walked 31 times, with 107 whiffs.

Steamer could be more encouraged. It projects Gordon for an 83 wRC+, basically matching his career. Over 600 plate appearances, Steamer projects Gordon to be worth about 1.1 WAR. He’s not a guy who’s suddenly going to develop greater power. This is where things get extra bad. Were it not for Gordon, the Marlins would’ve had three candidates to get time at second base. Here are all their 2015 projected WAR/600:

Dietrich and Hernandez are projected to out-hit Gordon. Solano’s close. Obviously, there are questions about Dietrich’s defense. There are questions about Hernandez’s defense. There are questions about Solano’s everything. But it’s not like Gordon himself is free of question marks. The Marlins don’t seem to be improving at second base, at least not by any meaningful degree, and they even gave up Hernandez to get Gordon, even though Hernandez is younger and cheaper. Even if you’re higher on Gordon than the projections, his upside is clearly limited, and the Marlins had pieces to get by at the position.

And now I’ll remind you this wasn’t cheap. Enrique Hernandez for Dee Gordon, straight up, would’ve been okay for the Marlins. Not awesome; just okay. Defensible. This isn’t Enrique Hernandez for Dee Gordon, straight up.

Hernandez is going away, and he’s a useful utility player. He can play a lot of positions. Heaney entered last season as Baseball America’s No. 30 prospect in the game, and then he blitzed through Double-A and Triple-A to get to the majors. Heaney is a real good prospect, a little shy of elite. If you haven’t heard of Chris Hatcher, he just threw 56 relief innings, with five times as many strikeouts as walks. And Austin Barnes is a guy who can play catcher, second, and third, who just finished a minor-league season with more walks than whiffs. Every single player is interesting, with Heaney a quality headliner. All this, the Marlins gave up, to maybe not even improve.

For your consideration, here is Kiley McDaniel on Heaney and Barnes, who are the two real prospects.

Heaney:

Heaney was the 9th overall pick in 2012 out of Oklahoma State and was seen as a lefty with feel and a fastball/slider combo that flashed plus. Since signing, his changeup has come along and flashed above average, while his fastball (90-93, touching 95 mph with life when down in the zone) and slider are still consistently 55-60 pitches on the 20-80 scale. His command is at least average and the historically-aggressive-with-prospects Marlins already had him in the big leagues two years after being drafted, with a good shot at breaking spring training in the MLB rotation in 2015. He could probably use a little more seasoning, but should be ready for a big league rotation spot at some point in 2015, with a good chance to reach his #3 starter upside in a few years.

Barnes:

Barnes has a much lower profile as an amateur than Heaney, signing for $95,000 in the 9th round in 2011 out of Arizona State. He was a middle infielder in college that converted to catching and he’s played well at multiple defensive spots; Barnes is still a solid runner for a catcher and can still play a big league caliber second base and third base. The Marlins played him at all three spots late in the season to keep him fresh and planned to do so going forward as well. He’s an advanced hitter with good feel for the strike zone, but not huge bat speed or raw power, projecting as a .260-.275 hitter with walks and 8-10 homers while playing a super utility role. Given the low offensive bar for catching, there’s still a chance he could work his way into a low-end everyday option behind the plate. Either way, Barnes should be ready to contribute in the big leagues at some point in 2015.

Heaney probably isn’t going to blossom into an ace. Hatcher, at the best of times, is a functional reliever. Barnes has a low ceiling and isn’t thought of as a top prospect, and Hernandez was dealt by the Astros just last summer despite a number of organizational questions about the left side of the infield. There’s no Addison Russell, here. There’s presumably no superstar. But there’s the Marlins giving up a good amount of short- and long-term value, and there’s the Marlins not getting meaningfully better in exchange. For Miami, it’s an unnecessary and damaging trade, and for Los Angeles, Andrew Friedman is showing he brought his skills over from Tampa. The Dodgers have more money than almost anyone, and the Dodgers have more prospects than almost anyone. The Marlins did the Dodgers a favor they didn’t need.

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Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.

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Slats
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Slats

Kershaw, Ryu, Urias, and Heaney sounds like a lefty’s nightmare.

Some guy
Guest
Some guy

possibly Hamels too