The Miami Marlins' signing of Jeff Baker, a player who has extreme platoon splits but would be a good hitting option opposite first baseman Garrett Jones, was not necessary. As good as Baker is versus lefties, he does not represent a major addition over the team's incumbent candidates like Donovan Solano, and because of the apparent competition for his services, Miami had to guarantee a second year in his contract to acquire him. As we learned from Greg Dobbs, two years for a bench player is not the best plan.
Having said that, Miami may have been wrong about the players they picked up, but they were right in the process they used to acquire first base help after they decided to deal Logan Morrison. For a team that is on a small budget, the Fish tried to find a way to get the most out of their investment in a crowded but still expensive first base market.
Consider the contracts that other teams gave to free agent first basemen this season. The top deals went to Jose Abreu and Mike Napoli, both of whom received over $10 million per season on an annual basis. Miami never wanted to commit that kind of cash to any one free agent, so they were out of the running for both players after short flirtations. But after that tier of players, the following group represented a significant drop-off. Corey Hart, Justin Morneau, and James Loney all earned between $6 million and $7 million annually for up to three years on their deals. Adam Lind earned $7 million and is essentially a designated hitter.
With the dollar values and years that were going to single players to play first base, the Marlins were right to question the odds of them getting a good player. Of the four players listed, Loney appeared to be the most valuable and the least risky choice, and even signing him would have represented a scary thought given his known lack of production at the plate. The alternative for Miami became clear; sign two players and platoon them, and get those players at lower rates.
The team did just that, but it did so with too much money and time still committed. The club signed Garrett Jones to a two-year contract that likely could have easily been a one-year deal, and the team was forced into giving Baker a second year due to competition with other teams. Both contracts added up to too much money; their combined values totaled $11.45 million, about a million less than Morneau received.
But the idea was right. The first part of the plan was to get a competent left-handed first baseman who displayed good number against righties and the team could limit versus lefties. The player they chose was a near-perfect choice, as Jones has a wide career platoon split that makes him intriguing versus righties at least. The second part of that plan involved finding someone who mashed lefties and could play multiple positions, including first base. The multi-positional requirement was important because Miami would have to drop a bench player, presumably a multi-positional utility man, for the platoon partner. That platoon player has to be able to serve a secondary utility role. The Marins picked the best option available in Jeff Baker, who has experience playing first base and also began his big league career in the middle infield.
So Miami got the right players, but at the wrong price. Both Jones and Baker would have been infinitely better fits on one-year deals, and Jones in particular probably did not deserve a two-year deal worth almost $4 million annually. But did the team have any better options on the free agent market? Ignoring the possibility of keeping Logan Morrison or even signing a platoon partner for him (Morrison avoided arbitration with the Seattle Mariners for $1.75 million), the club could have gone a cheaper route on the left-handed hitter side. Former Marlin Casey Kotchman made the team amid injury last year but has struggled since his strong single season with the Tampa Bay Rays. For his career, he is a .262/.330/.401 hitter (.320 wOBA) versus lefties, but he would be projected to hit a paltry .303 wOBA versus righties this season, so he does not seem like a strong option. Many of the other left-handed first base options would not have considered Miami for a platoon situation.
So it appears Miami had few other choices to go to if this was the route they were taking. While the preferred plan would have obviously been to keep Morrison and maybe sign Baker as a platoon partner, the Fish had the right approach to the first base situation once the Morrison decision was made. The only disappointing thing was that Miami did not shave $2 million or $3 million off of the two contracts in total in order to avoid paying almost the same amount for two players as it would have cost to get one of the more premium free agent talents. Still, the thought was appreciated, and it shows that Miami is adapting to a smart approach while building a team on the cheap.