Marlins Offseason Success Plan: The Morrison/Sanchez Trade Dilemma

As we continue discussing the Fish Stripes Marlins Plan for Offseason Success, we get to one of the most contentious parts of the plan. The Marlins have a problem of surplus, which is often times a good problem to have in the majors. They have a problem that they have recently discussed resolving. They have n issue that most fans see but few fans, myself included, truly know how to resolve. The Marlins have an intriguing surplus of first basemen.

This may not necessarily be apparent by the way the team was constructed last season. After all, Gaby Sanchez was very clearly the Marlins' first baseman for the last two seasons. However, this is because the Fish have forced a square peg into a round hole in left field by fitting fellow first baseman Logan Morrison into the outfield. From the observation of fans and numbers, he had a mixed season on defense, but it was certainly a net negative for the Marlins.

Depending on the severity of his below average defense in left field, the Marlins may have to make a decision on which player they will stay with at first base. If they do choose one, they will have to trade the other, and the rumors regarding a trade are already flying. So if the Marlins have to make a choice, who should they deal and what can they get in return? It all depends on what type of impact the Fish want to make with a trade.

Why Trade?

The most obvious reason why the Marlins should make a deal is that they have a hidden surplus at the first base position with two guys in Morrison and Sanchez and only one realistic defensive spot to place either. Moving one to another position, such as what the Fish did with Morrison, may end poorly defensively, and if the Marlins want to get the most value out of both players, they may be best off sending one away to fill another hole on the team.

It just so happens that most fans see another need for the Marlins in terms of starting pitching. With the uncertainty of Josh Johnson's health, Ricky Nolasco's unstable performance, and Anibal Sanchez's future with the team, the Marlins may very well be in the market for a starting pitcher. The added bonus in this situation is that the Marlins could acquire a pitcher that would be team-controlled at low costs instead of one purchased via free agency at market value. Such pitchers are not easy to find, but it just so happens that the Oakland Athletics are offering a starter like that in Gio Gonzalez. In addition, the Marlins are also interested in acquiring James Shields, who is still cheap for his current contract, though the likelihood of this occurring is slim.

Why Not Trade?

The premise of making a deal is considering whether the club really has two first basemen instead of a first baseman and a left fielder. If Morrison remains a capable left fielder like some sources are pointing out, then the Marlins would merely be filling one hole in their roster while opening another. Position aside, Morrison is the perfect type of player for a cost-sensitive team like the Fish, since he is young, talented, and under team control for five more seasons. If the Marlins were to trade him, they would want a similar caliber player, but if the move is largely sideways in that it makes for a difficult position hole to fill, then it would not interest the Marlins.

This situation is compounded by the fact that the Marlins do not have a surplus of depth in the outfield. Without making an expensive signing, the team would be depending on Emilio Bonifacio, Scott Cousins, and Bryan Petersen to fill the center and left field spots in the absence of Morrison either due to trade or move to first base. While each of those players have their positives, it is unlikely that they will be average or better contributors in the majors in the years to come, leaving them as just stopgaps instead of long-term solutions.

A trade would also depend on the return, and the Marlins do seem unwilling to deal Morrison without a king's ransom coming back. If the Marlins opt to trade the less valuable Sanchez instead, the return would be underwhelming and perhaps poor enough that making a move may not benefit the team as well. A Sanchez trade may require packaging with significant prospects to land the talent that Morrison could return on his own, and the Marlins may not be willing to spare what little talent they already have in the minors to make that acquisition.

What is the Plan?

So what should the Marlins ultimately do? Again, it really depends on their evaluation of Morrison's defense. From my viewpoint, he is well below average and difficult to watch in left field, but other sources say that he is more palatable. Even as a somewhat below average defender, Morrison's bat can sustain him and the team would not have to make a move at this time. But if he is as bad as UZR or TotalZone have been judging him (on the order of 10 to 15 runs below average in not even a full year), then the Marlins would be better off trading one of those two players.

If they do and they want a major league return for next season, the team will have to make a choice between the two:

- Trade Morrison and receive an attractive, cost-controlled option like Gonzalez in return

- Trade Sanchez for a short-term solution at higher costs.

Before the season started last year, I advocated trading Sanchez for Michael Bourn, saying that the Marlins would actually be giving up value to acquire Bourn for Sanchez, but that it would have properly placed numerous players at their appropriate positions. Later in the season, Bourn was dealt with one year of team control left for a meager package of pitching prospects and former center field prospect Jordan Schafer. Had the Marlins pulled the trigger by giving up Sanchez and one of their questionable but promising pitching prospects, the team may have been able to acquire Bourn.

I bring this up because this is the sort of acquisition the Marlins could still make with Sanchez. He has four seasons of team control left, but since he is older, those seasons are his peak years, meaning he does not have a whole lot more improvement left in him. Packaging him with a prospect could net the Marlins a one- or two-year rental player that could fill a hole like Bourn but at a decent cost and for not a lot of time. Expecting anything more is asking too much.

On the other hand, trading Morrison would net the Marlins a significant, including possibly a cost-controlled young starter like Gio Gonzalez. Naturally, the Marlins would have to give up a talented, cheap player like Morrison to get similarly talented players in return, but the difference between Morrison and Sanchez at first base, especially in two or three seasons, will likely be significant.

The Gio Gonzalez Example

Gio Gonzalez poses an interesting example. He will be under team control for four more seasons, though he will be arbitration eligible in each of those years as a "Super Two" player. He will be 26 years old for most of 2012, meaning he is young but not so young that improvement is guaranteed, as pitchers do not generally age as well as position players and may actually begin declining in their late 20's. The Marlins would give up a 24-year old position player with five seasons of team control remaining for a player who will start off earning an estimated $4.2 million in arbitration in 2012.

Using some rough estimates of value for both players over the next four and five seasons, it is likely that Morrison outstrips the surplus value of Gonzalez by about $15 to 20 million. In this case, it would seem as though the Marlins were right to say no if indeed they were asked about Morrison straight up for Gonzalez. Still, Gonzalez would seem to be the best available fit, and if the Marlins wanted to make it work, they could work out a package in return for Morrison that would be more fitting for his value. Nevertheless, a one-for-one deal would again not be in the Marlins' favor.

Still a Question Mark

After all this discussion, I am still unsure about making a trade. I am of the opinion that the Marlins need to trade one of the two because Morrison is a very poor left fielder, but with the statistical disagreement, it would be up to scouts to tell me whether or not he can handle the position in the future. If the Marlins try to find a lower-end trade partner for a package including Gaby Sanchez, this may be of interest, but at the moment it does not seem any team is intrigued by him. The difficulty of the situation is such that the team may end up just playing both players in their same spots and looking into the free agent market to fill their supposed pitching needs.

What do you Fish Stripes readers think? Would it be wise to deal one of these two players in return for pitching? Is Morrison bad enough in left field to necessitate a move to first base? Can a package including Sanchez bring a rental return worth losing four years of cost-controlled, above-average play? Tell us your thoughts.

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