With the Miami Marlins way out of contention in 2012, the value of having Carlos Lee at first base at the moment is minimal; it only saves face for a lineup that, aside from two or three players, is loaded with mediocre at best talent. With Logan Morrison sidelined potentially for the rest of the season, however, the team would have no other credible major leaguer to man first base for the rest the year. This is especially true because the Marlins traded Opening Day starter Gaby Sanchez to the Pittsburgh Pirates yesterday due to his massive struggles at the plate.
The first base position, much like a lot that has happened in the 2012 season for the Marlins, was not supposed to be this way. The Miami Marlins had a plan set for the first base position for 2012 and presumably 2013 forward, but it did not seem like the plan was a sound one, and we noted this much before the season. There is a reason why there was a clamor to trade one of the team's two first basemen in Morrison and Sanchez before the year and attempt to use that return to fill other positional holes. Instead, the Marlins opted to keep Morrison in left field and play two first baseman in their lineup. Then, when Sanchez struggled, the team opted instead to acquire a third first baseman in Carlos Lee rather than look to move Morrison back into the infield.
The result? The Marlins received the brunt end of a series of bad results that could have been prevented had the team wisely avoided having this many first basemen in the first place.The Morrison/Sanchez Trade Dliemma
Before the season, a number of fans noted that they recognized in 2011 that Logan Morrison was not a capable defender in left field. These fans, myself included, wondered if trading either Morrison or Gaby Sanchez in return for either major league assistance would have been significantly better than the Marlins keeping both players. From the linked article in the preseason:
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.
At the time, the team did have a hole in the pitching staff. The Fish were unable to pick up an additional in the free agent market such as C.J. Wilson, and the team had an opening available presuming they would be more than willing to shelve Chris Volstad at the time (clearly they would have). Had the Marlins been able to piece together a trade for either an outfielder or a starting pitcher, the team could have attained a decently cost-controlled option who would have at least been around through 2013, with the downside that the club would have to lose one of its two first basemen. Given the additional defensive upside of not having Morrison in the outfield, it seemed like a logical move to pursue this sort of deal.
Instead, the Marlins opted to retain their defensive alignment and continue with the plan of playing Morrison in the outfield and Sanchez at first base. The club filled its starting pitcher need with Carlos Zambrano, a worthwhile gamble at the time. Still, a team that has often designated itself as considering defense and pitching extremely important once again opted for offensive output without concerning itself with defensive play.
During the Season
Flash forward into the regular season. Morrison has already suffered from knee injuries associated with his patellar tendon tear surgery from before the season. He missed Spring Training time and was not sharp to open the year. In addition to that, his defense was poor, as expected by most fans.
Meanwhile, Sanchez begins the season in an absolute struggle, batting .197/.244/.295 through May 19. For those struggles, he earns himself a demotion to Triple-A in order to help figure things out with his bat. The Marlins resolve the first base concern by moving Morrison to first base as they should have done before the season by trading Sanchez. Morrison still continues to struggle at the plate as well, but at least defensively he no longer appears to be a liability.
However, with Sanchez's struggles to open the season, the Marlins have suffered their first negative result of their decision to keep both players: Sanchez has lost significant trade value. When coupled with his equally poor performance in his return to the lineup from June 10 into early July, Sanchez's projection fell so badly that he could no longer be considered a viable starting first baseman, thus losing almost all of his value in the trade market. Whereas prior to the season, the Marlins could have sold Sanchez as a league average first baseman under four seasons of team control, the team could now only sell him as a platoon player who could make arbitration with only one month of major league time.
The Lee Trade
Because of Sanchez's struggles, the Marlins began looking for help in the trade market in early July. This would have been a perfect opportunity, if the right outfielder were available, for the Marlins to make a more permanent move of Morrison to first base in light of Sanchez's struggles. Yes, the Marlins may have felt Sanchez's demotions would be temporary, but the team should have explored outfield options simply because the team's outfield depth was primarily composed of defensive-minded fourth outfielders that the team seemed reluctant to start.
Interestingly enough, the Chicago Cubs were interested in moving such an outfielder in Alfonso Soriano, with a guarantee that the Cubs would pay a majority of his remaining mammoth salary in return for halfway decent prospects. A trade for Soriano, which was proposed by Ehsan Kassim of Marlin Maniac before early July, would have likely cost the Marlins a poo-poo platter of prospects and the Fish would likely only have to have paid a third of Soriano's remaining $49 million at best. In return, the team could have received a decent piece hitting .273/.331/.494 through July and playing defense at least as well Morrison was (and based on the defensive statistics, perhaps significantly better).
Of course, this is just one scenario, but it was at least a viable scenario that the selling Cubs would have been willing to work with. Instead, the Marlins traded part of what would have constituted the group of prospects the Marlins would have sent for an outfielder to instead acquire a third first baseman in Carlos Lee. Lee's contract was entirely paid for, but he was hitting just hitting .287/.336/.411 when arriving with the Marlins, a good deal worse than Soriano's line at the time. In addition, Lee was not only another first baseman to be included in the Marlins roster, but he was an inexperienced one defensively, having only spent one season there.
The Marlins expected a large bonus from Lee versus Sanchez, and while Lee delivered a decent .270/.382/.338 line (very reminiscent of Jose Reyes's powerless May), the Marlins fell out of the race and suddenly have no need for a one-year rental of Lee. His impact was not big enough to stem the tide of the Marlins' other struggles, and now the Fish are stuck having sent two prospects and received nothing for 2013 and beyond.
This past weekend, Morrison was placed on the DL due to recurring knee inflammation associated with his knee surgery from before the season. If surgery becomes an option again to solve his problem, he could be out for the rest of the year. Undoubtedly, this signals the end of Morrison's time in left field, but sadly it should have come sooner. Given the news that the knee has been bothering Morrison since the start of the season, the team should have been wise enough to move him away from a position at which he already struggles to avoid stressing the recurrent injury. If Morrison did not tell the Marlins, that is his fault, but the team had a chance in midseason to alleviate his condition by letting him play first base full time, knowing that he was recovering from knee surgery. Instead, the team forced him back into the outfield, risking further damage.
Sure enough, that further damage seems to have come, and though we cannot fully ascertain that Morrison's knee inflammation is directly due to him stumbling and bumbling in the outfield, it is difficult to believe that his time in spacious left field did not hurt his recovery. In addition, the strain of the injury could have something to do with his struggles at the plate this season as well.
In the offseason, the Marlins had an opportunity to fix the first base dilemma and choose one player to man the position. They chose instead to ignore defense and choose offense instead. By midseason, half of the nightmare scenario of that decision had already come to fruition, as Sanchez and Morrison struggled badly enough that both players lost significant (and in Sanchez's case, almost all) trade value.
At midseason, the Marlins had an opportunity to move Morrison to first base after Sanchez imploded. The team could have spent their resources attempting to acquire an outfielder to replace Morrison short-term. Instead, the team opted for an inferior first base pickup, thus adding a third first baseman to the team. In addition, the team gave up two pieces that could have been used to otherwise pick up an outfielder in return for a rental that was not a major upgrade. What resulted from this? The Marlins fell out of the playoff race despite the pickup and now have nothing to show for the prospects they handed to the Houston Astros.
Now that the competitive season for the Marlins is over, we find that Morrison's knee is injured and may keep him out for the season. The Marlins' decision to continue to play him in left field could not have helped his knee recovery and may indeed have exacerbated his condition. The nightmare scenario of the decision is complete.
Sure, no one could have expected the nightmare scenario of Sanchez's collapse and the team's utter lack of competition as July finished up. But the Marlins had to know that some of these factors could occur, and even as the team began floundering in June, they continued the assertion that Morrison in left field was acceptable. It was not acceptable at the start of the season, and it should have been rectified. Everything has gone wrong with first base as a result, and you have to place a lot of the blame (though not all of it) on the Marlins' mishandling of the players involved.