The Miami Marlins got some good news along with some bad news as of late, as the Fish had to send Chris Coghlan to the disabled list but got back Logan Morrison. If you recall, Morrison went down with knee soreness in July of 2012 and later had to get a second surgery done to repair the patellar tendon in his right knee. That knee was previously worked on before the 2012 season and caused the Marlins some great grief, as Morrison played while injured during the offseason as part of an ambassador trip.
The Marlins are happy to have Morrison back, and Morrison is certainly happy to be back on the field. In his first game back yesterday, he provided two singles and a walk and was a part of the Marlins' 10th-inning rally en route to the 8-4 win. The Marlins are going to want more performances like the one Morrison provided yesterday, as the team views Morrison's 2013 season as a critical one in terms of decision-making. Similarly, Morrison will have to play as well as he can, because his career as a starting player depends on how well he plays in 2013 as well.
For the Marlins, the stakes of Morrison's 2013 campaign are obvious. The team has to make a decision about him very shortly, because he is due arbitration salaries starting next year. We have discussed before how important this season would be for the Marlins to evaluate Morrison, and his knee injury has not helped matters. It has cut off two months of what could have been valuable time for Morrison to strut the skills he showed off in flashes in 2010 and 2011. For the Fish, a slow start by Morrison could be his death knell on the team.
Fish Stripes author Andrew Townes mentioned as much in the above linked article.
The issue with the current injury is that Morrison is out until practically June. Leaving Logan with just two months of playing time until the July 31 trade deadline, two months that can go any which way. Morrison could play the best baseball of his life in the two months, but he could also play the worst. Either way, at the trade deadline the Marlins are going to have to make a choice about Morrison's future.
The Marlins basically cannot decide on Morrison by the trade deadline thanks to his late start. The team will probably give him four months to prove himself this year and make the decision before the team needs to offer arbitration and go through a signing process with him. However, four months can be a very small time span to make a very important decision on a player once considered an important part of the future of this team.
On the bright side, the Marlins are unlikely to have to pay much for Morrison, so if the team is willing to eat a $2 million or so raise, the club can afford to keep him regardless of performance. But consider Morrison's most recent campaign, a 2012 season that was cut well short due to a knee injury and one in which he hit just .230/.308/.399 (.308 wOBA) with terrible left field defense. Would the Marlins even be willing to pay him $2 million if he performed that poorly again in 2013? The team traded Cameron Maybin two years before arbitration after only 557 plate appearances as a Marlin. How much patience will they have with Morrison, who has butt heads with the organization before and had more time to prove himself less useful.
If the Marlins see another struggling campaign from Morrison, they will have a very difficult time justifying a salary raise for him and may opt to trade him. Unfortunately, if he struggles, he may end up being very difficult to trade because of his salary. Couple that with the fact that the team has no ready-made replacements at first base and the team is in a catch-22 with Morrison: if he fails, the Marlins will have to either trade him for little return like they did Maybin or keep him on a salary he may not deserve.
From Morrison's side, the stakes of his 2013 season are much more simple: if he succeeds, he will likely get to keep a starting job, either here or perhaps elsewhere. If he fails, he may yet hold onto a job in Miami, but he will not if he is traded elsewhere. At the very most, Morrison will enter James Loney territory, where any mistake or struggle could lead to a quick demotion to the bench. For Morrison, it is time for him to prove to the Marlins and other teams that he is a major league starter.
Moving to his natural first base position should help. The Marlins will no longer rely on Morrison to shag down fly balls in a spacious Marlins Park, but rather to make simpler plays on the ground where he is more comfortable. The hope for both parties is that the move to first base will allow Morrison to stay healthier and keep his focus on hitting rather than improving his outfield play.
But this is Morrison's final place of demotion. The outfield experiment failed, as not only did he struggle but also got injured badly enough to miss 119 total games. The early scouting reports had Morrison being an average glove at first base, but years of injuries might have sapped his mobility even at a more limited position. If he struggles in that position as well, it will add more fuel to the fire supporting Morrison's failed prospect status.
So Morrison is facing performance pressure on two fronts, both as a hitter and as a fielder. Failure on either side will make life much more difficult for him, as right now he has not proven a good enough hitter to handle being a DH. Morrison needs to find success this season or face the eternal leash of being a struggling prospect at first base, a fate that has led James Loney to a struggling career up to this season.
Both the Marlins and Morrison have a lot at stake in 2013 in terms of their relationship. The Fish will see if they have a job for Morrison next season, while Morrison just wants to have a job somewhere in the majors. These final four months of the season are going to be very important for both parties, and Fish Stripes will be keeping a close eye.