What Do The Marlins See in Dee Gordon?

Unpopular opinion time: the Miami Marlins are the not a band of penniless rubes ready for the exploitin’ by the Dodgers slick-talkin’ front office army. The Marlins are a lot of things, but clueless is not one of them. They don’t have much in the way on field success — minus a couple of championships — but the Marlins could very well have the best player development record in baseball. The Marlins never-ending prospect churn seems to have produced more than its share of talent, and that’s probably not an accident.

At some point, even the thrifty Marlins decided to roll up their stake and make a move. The moves are still Marlins-sized, but this isn’t your typical Marlins deal. This time, the Marlins are trading pre-arb players OUT and bring established players IN, so this is not the run-off-the-mill Marlins sell-off. Something is afoot. Something is amiss. Could they be making their team…better?

Some might argue that giving up Andrew Heaney, Enrique Hernandez and others for the Dee Gordon makes the Marlins worse, not better. But Miami is in the surprising position where filling roster holes trumps the marginal surplus value of bulk player control years.

But this trade, as Sullivan laid out, doesn’t look good on its face. There is a not-insignificant pile of evidence that the Marlins gave up a lot to get not a lot. But as mentioned above, the Marlins are no fools. Cheap and avaricious and unpopular – yes! But not fools. So what, possibly, could they see in this trade that lets it make some sense?

They like the way Gordon fits in their lineup

Yes, Gordon’s numbers, particularly in the second half, aren’t great. It remains highly unlikely that the Marlins don’t already know this. I bet they can find the ‘SPLITS’ tab on his profile page. They surely have a healthy, realistic view of his production floor and ceiling. Perhaps, instead, they like what he can do for their lineup, how his particular skills and abilities might help synthesize some extra runs.

In 2014, the Marlins were a middling team on the bases. Not great at stealing bags, average at taking the extra base etc. This is an area of Gordon’s expertise. This is a dimension they lacked and one they think will help them score more runs.

Gordon doesn’t need to be their leadoff hitter. He could well be an ideal 8th place hitter, grabbing a few free base on balls in front of the pitcher and wreaking havoc on the bases while Jose Fernandez goes yard. Or they could stick him at the top of their lineup and hope he can, in fact, steal first.

More than just steals and general base path mayhem, the Marlins can look at his success bunting the ball as a legitimate, repeatable offensive skill. His 20 bunts hits are one of the highest totals are on record, and other players with high bunt totals maintained high in-play averages while using the bunt as a weapon. Juan Pierre averaged 24 bunt hits a year during his first three seasons in Miami, posting very much above average BABIPs during that time. During his heyday, Willy Taveras snared nearly 30 bunts and a .346 BABIP. Brett Butler posted high BABIP, high bunt seasons into his 30s (though he was a better hitter.)

The point being, there might be a method to this madness. There might be reason to believe he can continue producing in a BABIP-driven way if his skills and approach support it, and the team lets him loose to bunt with reckless abandon.

They like his defense and think it can improve

The Marlins front office is on the record with their profound love of Adeiny Hechavarria. They love his defense even if our advanced measures do not. As Sullivan (again) points out, Hechavarria is prone to the odd brain lapse but remains capable of fantastic and difficult work with the glove.

Among second baseman, here is his Inside Edge rank on made play percentage by bucket: Remote (0-10%) 4th, Unlikely (10%-40%) t-3rd, Even (40%-60%) 2nd, Likely (60-90%) 8th, Routine (90-100%) 20th. There are 20 second baseman on this list.

It is a very similar profile to Hechavarria. Nearly identical, really. The Marlins either believe they can cure these two young players of their lapses in concentration or they simply don’t care. They value the extra outs created out of thin air more than the free outs handed to the opposition. Putting two of these players together in a double play tandem gives Miami a very rangey duo up the middle.

They like the total package more than their existing options

By Steamer, Dee Gordon projects to produce about a single win of value. That’s not much, and doesn’t help roughly .500 team make the playoffs. Using that very same projection system, already on the roster Marlins like Derek Dietrich or Hernandez appear capable of one, lonely Win Above Replacement and more on a 600 PA basis. Evidently, the Marlins are not enamored with the idea of playing Dietrich every day. So they acquired an upgrade.

But with better defense, and a less-aggressively regressed BABIP providing more opportunities to showcase the undisputed skill in his tool kit – his base running. Projected to be less than half of last year’s total, the track records of high run-value runners like Ian Kinsler, the aforementioned Pierre, Elvis Andrus and even Mike Trout suggest he can carry this over year-to-year.

There are good reasons to believe 2014 isn’t a fluke and Gordon is closer to league average or better, with four years of control remaining. A league average player is a huge win for the Marlins, who sit poised to make gains in the weakened N.L. East. The price they paid? That’s another debate for another day.

The Dan Haren situation remains unresolved. If healthy and willing, he gives the Marlins an established innings eater and stabilizing presence at the back of their rotation. If he decides the lure of Southern California retirement is strong enough, the Marlins are no worse off, other than making this apparent overpay a gross overpay.

Getting nickels on the dollar for your player assets is no way to live, especially when operating on a shoestring like Miami does. But there is something to be said for identifying a weakness in your team and then addressing it. You must give to get, and these four young players are the prize Miami appears comfortable paying.

The Marlins aren’t crazy. Andrew Friedman and Farhan Zaidi do not have the rest of baseball under a spell. We can only assume the Marlins went into this trade, taking on salary and hoping to get better right now, with their eyes wide open. No need to squint, Dee Gordon absolutely makes them better in 2015. (Edit: they are taking on no salary. None. Zero extra dollars. They’re different but they’re still the Marlins.)

Drew used to write about baseball and other things at theScore but now he writes here. Follow him on twitter @DrewGROF

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dewon brazeltron
8 years ago

Whats not to like about the rich man’s Billy Hamilton that plays MIF?