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The reason behind the 2014 Marlins patchwork offseason

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The Miami Marlins did a patchwork job on their infield this offseason. Was it the right idea, or could they have done more?

Rafael Furcal is part of the band-aid the Marlins placed on the infield for 2014.
Rafael Furcal is part of the band-aid the Marlins placed on the infield for 2014.
Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports

Last week, we discussed Giancarlo Stanton's inevitable departure from the Miami Marlins thanks in part to the latest Freddie Freeman extension. Mike Petriello of FanGraphs pointed out the inevitable future of Stanton in an article today, and he makes the same basic point: with prices shooting sky-high for young talent, the Marlins have no chance of retaining Stanton, and the difficult discussion about a trade will have to come about soon.

Petriello starts the article by discussing the Marlins' offseason moves this season.

So if in October, you’d have heard that the Marlins were going to sign six major league free agents, add two more via trade, and almost entirely blow up their under-performing infield, you might have thought that Miami was working to reinforce their young core. You might not have expected this collection of assorted parts from the island of misfit veterans:

Right. That’s two guys in their thirties who didn’t play in the bigs last year (Furcal & McGehee), and one who was outrighted off the 40-man roster by the Astros just last winter (Bogusevic). The two-year deals went to a pair of 32-year-olds, one of whom was a non-roster invite last season (Baker), the other below replacement-level (Jones). One was, is, and continues to be Carlos Marmol.

The assumption here was that the team's signings were at best bandages and at worst going sideways when compared to the veteran pickups they made last season. In addition, the Marlins made errors in committing to players for multiple years who were not great options to begin with. Overall, the offseason was filled not with real change, but with five-cent pieces of cloth being placed on a hemorrhaging offense.

And you know what, he's right.

Aside from the Jarrod Saltalamacchia move, every single roster move was a questionable play. Here's what I said about Rafael Furcal:

The Marlins spent more or less $3.5 million (presuming the playing time incentives are unlikely to vest) on a player who does not appear to be a major upgrade over who they had in-house. Sure, the Fish could snag a small asset if Furcal runs into some good luck early, but the team just as well could get nothing out of him if injuries roll over his season or if he is ineffective. Of course, at the small sum of $3.5 million, it hardly affects Miami. The move is a classic stopgap move in that it is low-risk and low-reward. But you still get the feeling like Miami could have done more and that there is a lost opportunity with this $3.5 million.

And here's what I mentioned about Garrett Jones.

Like the Furcal signing yesterday, Miami's deal with Jones is low-risk and low-reward. Unfortunately, the contract's second year ups the risk more than the reward given Jones's age, and the production is can barely be discerned from Miami's in-house option.

How about for the recently-signed Jeff Baker?

The signing of Baker seemed unnecessary more than anything else. Solano probably could have managed to play very similarly as essentially Jones's platoon partner without the team investing almost $4 million and two years on a strict bench/platoon option.

The trend that can be seen is that Miami chose players who were no better than their alternatives. The club could have looked internally to fill many of these spots without spending a total of $15 million in payroll commitments over the next two seasons on these guys. That kind of money could have been used on one outside option of legitimate worth, while the rest of the team's spots could have been filled by similar-caliber talent like Donovan Solano or Derek Dietrich. In each of the three above moves, one could easily say that the Marlins passed up on in-house options who would have done just as well.

So why did the Fish go out and spend the $15 million on minor upgrades at best? What would have been the better alternative?

Let's consider an alternative 2014 offseason that nixed these three moves and instead used the team's available players to their disposal. The Marlins could have opted against replacing Logan Morrison at first base and tried him for another season at just under $2 million, or about $1 million less than the team is paying Jones this season. They could have used Solano instead of Furcal at second base. They could have opted not to sign a platoon partner or used Casey McGehee, who at least has some upside in my view, as an occasional first baseman for a platoon with Morrison, using Dietrich or Ed Lucas at third base.

How well would this team have played? Let's look at the comparisons in projections by the Oliver and Steamer systems available on FanGraphs. We'll use Steamer's projected batting lines.

2014 Marlins, Actual Roster

Garrett Jones 450 .239 .302 .414 .313 -0.1
Jeff Baker 150 .247 .309 .405 .312 0.0
Rafael Furcal 600 .256 .321 .353 .304 1.4

2014 Marlins, Hypothetical Roster

Logan Morrison 500 .250 .342 .429 .337 1.2
Donovan Solano 600 .261 .310 .351 .293 1.5
Ed Lucas 100 .244 .297 .349 .287 0.1

My hypothetical roster is not only younger but better, by two times the wins of the actual roster as projected. And aside from maybe Solano being closer to a one-win player, I see no objections for each of the projections listed. Maybe Jones and Baker are better when played more strictly in a platoon. Maybe Morrison is somehow worse than a one-win player. But the overall results are probably in favor of the latter roster over the former, and that club is younger by a significant amount. Solano is 26 years old and Morrison is 27 years old by midseason. Yet somehow Miami passed up this option.

Consider the savings Miami would have made had they gone to this play. The Marlins could have paid about $6.85 million less for the latter roster than the former with more "established" players. That kind of money could have gone to fortifying another position with more cash or pocketing the cash for future extensions. The club could have tried for a better third baseman than McGehee, or even attempted to make the Morrison trade for Carter Capps and given this money to a veteran like James Loney if they were so inclined. The team's patchwork approach did not work, even if the platoon idea itself was a good call. They simply spent too much on nothing.

Miami would point to the additions of veteran players being a good influence on the younger players. It would say that these minor improvements were still "improvements," and that winning more games would have instilled a better winning culture than the team would otherwise have seen. But the truth is that Miami would have won more games without installing mediocre veterans, just by means of regression to the mean. The club is going to be bad in 2014, with or without these veteran players. Miami deluded itself into thinking that replacing the players on that awful 2013 team would make it better, but finding older guys who are just as bad makes the situation a sideways move.

The alternative was to turn to the team's youth and give it another try, and owner Jeffrey Loria has often been charged as someone who too quickly gives up on a paradigm for this team. But let's not go overboard in saying that even the alternative roster above would have been much better. Miami would have still been terrible; it was the nature of the 2014 season. And in surveying the landscape of Major League Baseball, there was no in-budget move that could have improved the infield significantly without giving up talent on the pitching staff or trading Giancarlo Stanton. The Marlins opted for pitching depth this year, and since they weren't winning either way, they cannot be blamed that badly for the decision. Miami did not do a good job in fixing the infield, but there was not a significantly better option, so the overall loss is not as bad as it looks on paper.