Last week, Scott Gelman mentioned the Miami Marlins and their gamble on the Logan Morrison trade, and an important quote from the Miami Herald linked article came out from president of baseball operations Michael Hill.
"We felt that there was value in LoMo," Hill said. "He’s just 26 years old and there’s still a ton of potential there. There’s no question there’s a ton of potential. But we wanted to go with a more proven, consistent player. And I think once we made that decision, we went to work on trying to sign the best fit [Jones] to help our ballclub."
This reveals something about what the Marlins are trying to do and how they approached the 2013-2014 offseason. Aside from free agent catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia, nothing that the Fish did was an impact move that could bring the Marlins a significant number of wins. All of the signings were small upgrades over what the roster already had, and they were all short-term moves for the franchise. And for positions like third base, where the team had a future prospective player in Colin Moran waiting in the wings, those were acceptable, if unnecessary, moves.
But the first base situation was a different story. As disappointing as Morrison's Marlins career was, he was still under team control for three more seasons at what would likely have been reasonable prices. The Marlins could have chosen to see how a healthier Morrison, a year-plus removed from multiple knee surgeries, could have performed. Instead, the Fish opted for "consistency" and a known quality in Jones over the unknown "potential" of Morrison.
There are two problems with this. The first issue is that the Fish picked up a player in Jones who is neither consistent nor an upgrade over Morrison. Jones is a career .254/.316/.458 (.333 wOBA) hitter, but his best season (2009, .393 wOBA) and his worst (2013, .309 wOBA) are pretty disparate in quality. For his career, he and Morrison are boasting about the same batting line in terms of overall value, but Jones has more power and it is likely that Miami sees consistency in his home run capabilities rather than his overall performance. In four and a half seasons, Jones has never hit fewer than 15 homers in a campaign, though that year was last season.
But take away the idea that Jones is not necessarily "consistent" in terms of offensive value. The Marlins chose a player with about the same level of production as their incumbent, but one whom they saw as consistently performing at that level. They eschewed the youth and remaining upside of Morrison to consistently get expected mediocre production from a player who was recently designated for assignment and released.
Why would the Marlins do that given where they are in terms of playoff contention?
Garrett Jones is not the sort of player who could put any team over, but if the Fish were just a hair under contender status and felt that he was better than Morrison, they could justify opting for guaranteed production over gambling for upside. But the Marlins are not anywhere near contention for a playoff spot. The team is still evaluating a number of young players in 2014 and is looking at a difficult push towards 70 wins, let alone 90. Why would the club agree to surefire mediocre play from Jones when it will only certainly put them from, say 65 to 66 wins tops?
The alternative would have been to see if Morrison could become a three-win player now that he supposedly has health under him. The likelihood of it was low, but there is something like a 50 percent chance that Morrison becomes a better player than Jones over the next two years. The worst that would happen is that Miami loses out on the one-win upgrade from Jones, but that one win is essentially meaningless for Miami right now. The consistency of that win cannot be worth sacrificing the potential, however small, of Morrison. Jones has no shot of becoming a three-win player at his age and developmental status. Morrison, even at age 26, can still improve.
Yes, the Fish likely believe that there is some value for putting a winning product on the table in an attempt to acquiesce Giancarlo Stanton, but the differences in Jones and Morrison would have been meaningless. There is also some downside in tearing away Morrison from Stanton, since the two are long-time teammates. I cannot tell how important both aspects are to Stanton, but I doubt they make a significant impact. Again, just how valuable is that one extra win to Stanton's chances of re-signing with the team, especially when that win is no guarantee?
The Marlins seemed to have approached this offseason with certainty over upside in mind. At second base, where the team has questionable prospects, it is not a bad idea. At catcher, where the team has no future, it was a good call. But the Marlins had an option to play for the upside in a lost 2014 season and opted for mediocrity instead. When the right play would have been to gamble on Morrison, the team played it safe, as it has many times before with a number of risk-averse moves. The likelihood that they get burned is not huge, but if Morrison becomes a significant contributor with the Seattle Mariners while Miami gets two insignificant years from a middling Jones, they will realize that the team's not gambling on Morrison was more problematic than anything else.