Garrett Jones signing: Logan Morrison trade critical to Marlins' signing

Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

The Miami Marlins are closing in on a deal with free agent first baseman Garrett Jones, but the success of that deal is directly tied to Miami's return on incumbent Logan Morrison.

The Miami Marlins are trying to make the best out of the team's first base situation. The club is close to signing free agent Garrett Jones to a two-year contract to be the replacement for incumbent first baseman Logan Morrison. The plan for the Marlins is to send Morrison off in a trade, preferably to fill in any number of holes the team still has. The most dire need appears to be at third base, with the Fish apparently no longer interested in using in-house options like Donovan Solano or Ed Lucas as starters.

Morrison remains Miami's second-best trade chip behind its copious starting pitching, but it may be its most important trade piece as well. The Garrett Jones signing was puzzling to say the least, as Jones is older than Morrison and does not seem to be an upgrade over the 26-year-old former top prospect. On the surface, it simply appeared as though Miami chose to replace a younger player with potential for an older player with more certainty in his production. It was especially puzzling given the fact that Jones too did not have a strong season in 2013, batting just .233/.289/.419 (.309 wOBA) last year.

The lack of an upgrade at first base is exactly what makes the Morrison trade such an important one, even though Morrison's trade value has dramatically fallen over the last two years. The team's signing of Jones appears all but terrible as of right now, but a potential Morrison trade can redeem it. The return on this trade is the key to the Marlins' signing, because it could provide a source of upgrade at other positions without costing the Fish their coveted pitching prospects. So far, Miami is only interested in pulling the trigger on a pitching trade if it acquires young, cost-controlled options at problematic positions. It failed to find such a trade in the last few weeks, which is why the Fish decided to resolve second base and catcher with Rafael Furcal and Jarrod Saltalamacchia respectively.

That leaves Morrison as their only trade option for an upgrade at third base, where Solano and Lucas are currently battling for the position. Because Morrison and Jones on a production basis are expected to be similar, the team likely loses nothing on the field with the switch. That makes the third base option the Marlins attempt to acquire with Morrison the actual prize of the signing. The signing frees up Morrison to be dealt, and if Miami can find the right trade for a player under team control for a few seasons, the Fish can at least justify signing the older Jones. Instead of strictly replacing one bad first baseman with another, Miami can say that it was creating a surplus to fill in a hole elsewhere.

Luckily for Miami, there appears to be a lot of trade interest in Morrison, with as many as 10 teams involved.

With so much interest from teams currently lacking a first baseman, it appears as though Miami chose wisely to at least consider trading Morrison. One prominent trade option among the rumors around Morrison involves Tampa Bay Rays utility man Sean Rodriguez, who is a strong defensive option at third base. Unfortunately for Miami, Rodriguez has also struggled at the plate (career .228/.304/.360 batting line), and Miami's interest specifically lies with upgrading its offensive production.

The replacing of Morrison in Miami is only worthwhile if the Fish can get a strong return for him in the trade market. Miami is seeking only a temporary replacement at third base, as its long-term future at the position is still top draft pick Colin Moran. If Miami cannot find a decent short-term replacement, then the Jones signing can be deemed a complete failure. Miami needs to beat one-win options like Solano at third, so the Fish should look for an upgrade beyond that level of play. If the team cannot, the Jones signing will remain perplexing and ultimately disappointing.

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