Yesterday, our Fish Stripes 2014 Marlins Season Preview began with our look at the Miami Marlins and their situation at catcher. The Fish solved their issues at that position by signing free agent Jarrod Saltalamacchia, but he was not the only veteran free agent the team picked up. The Marlins decided at some point this offseason that the club would be better off without Logan Morrison, the team's former top prospect at first base. Once Miami decided to pass on Morrison, the team had to make a move on the buyer's market at first base, where there was a bounty of options. However, the club opted for a cheaper play and turned to Garrett Jones, who was released from the Pittsburgh Pirates in his second-to-last arbitration season.
Jones is a player of many flaws, and the move brought some puzzled looks from Marlins fans. But how will he fare in 2014?
Depth Chart: First Base
Minor League Depth: Mark Canha
The Marlins signed Jones to a two-year contract in order to fill a need at the first base position and in the power department. Jones is indeed quite the power-laden player; of the players with at least 1000 plate appearances in the last three seasons, Jones has the 40th-highest ISO at .208. He shares that mark and position with players like Yoenis Cespedes, Pedro Alvarez, and Adam Dunn. None of those players are prolific home run hitters, but they all bring a power to the table that the Marlins certainly did not have in 2013. The prevailing thought is that the Fish needed more power and that is the primary reason why they made the switch to the older veteran Jones over the younger and still promising Morrison.
Jones is a lefty, however, and lefties have a really hard time in Marlins Park. Since Marlins Park was built with similar dimensions to that of Sun Life Stadium before it, the right field home run porch is extremely deep. But Jones's history with the Pirates means he has spent plenty of time playing in a stadium that suppresses lefty power. PNC Park was not as rough as Marlins Park has been, but its 93 park factor (allows seven percent fewer home runs than the average park to lefties) is not that different from Marlins Park's 86 factor. That seven percent drop in home runs means that Jones would have hit about 53 home runs in the last three years instead of the 58 he hit, which translates to about 17 home runs a season instead of 19.
So there is a good chance that Jones's power won't be sapped by staying in Miami. But the problem is that the rest of his game is also a mess. Jones does not struggle with strikeouts significantly, as he has a career 20.8 percent strikeout rate. But unlike Saltalamacchia, he also does not add value by getting on base. Jones's walk rate has dipped from 9.4 percent in his first three seasons to 6.7 percent in his last two years. In his last two years, Jones has upped his swing rate from 47 percent to 50 percent and has essentially suffered all negatives in that regard. He could return to a more patient approach, but it appears unlikely without coaching input.
Jones does himself no favors on the defensive end. Even as a first baseman, UZR, DRS, and other defensive systems have frowned upon his work. The fans in the Fans Scouting Report have done the same, consistently giving him seasonal ratings ranging from three to seven runs below average. Everything points to Jones also taking runs away with his limited range, meaning that the Marlins are likely playing a below-average first baseman on both offensive and defensive fronts, which is a prime recipe for disaster.
Some of Jones's issues should be mitigated by his platoon, but considering that Jones was heavily platooned for much of the last two seasons of his career and still yielded terrible results, that may not be a saving grace. Jones hit his mediocre .251/.309/.459 (.331 wOBA) line in the last three years while facing lefties in just 176 of his 1433 plate appearances (12.2 percent). Miami did find a competent platoon partner in Jeff Baker, who has dominated lefties in his career, but that will only cover about 70 percent of the expected plate appearances against lefties (based on the 230 plate appearances Jones logged versus lefties in his full 2010 season).
The projection systems are not kind to Jones's chances of looking impressive this upcoming season.
There is essentially no confidence in these projections, as two of the three see Jones as a below-average hitter and a net negative defensively. The Marlins often clamor for defensive prowess, and they do have a brilliant defensive guru in infield coach Perry Hill, but hiring lead-footed first basemen is not the way to build a Gold Glove infield.
The defensive problems and the fact that Jones cannot face lefties both play a role in his awful projection. Based on the average of these numbers, 475 plate appearances and 0.1 WAR would be a reasonable expectation. That means that the Marlins essentially paid Morrison's salary into a replacement-level player. And this is not that surprising; if you buy Jones's bad defense over the last three years, FanGraphs had him worth 1.9 WAR in three seasons, or just over half a win a year. Given that he is coming off of a career-worst campaign, a terrible projection was sure to follow.
The terrible nature of Jones's projection makes this move look like a regrettable signing, and the Marlins will probably feel it next year when the team commits more than $2 million to a bench player.