The Miami Marlins paid a hefty cost to acquire former top-100 prospect Jarred Cosart from the Houston Astros in yesterday's multi-player trade. One of those hefty prices is the loss of top prospect Colin Moran, who was the team's 2013 first-round draft pick and presumed third baseman of the future. Miami sent Moran along with Jake Marisnick, Francis Martes, and the team's 2015 Competitive Balance draft pick for Cosart, Enrique Hernandez, and minor league outfielder Austin Wates.
The trade left an immediate hole in the third base spot, a hole Miami has been trying to fill for a very long period of time. The last time Miami has had a long-term option at third base was in 2007 with Miguel Cabrera, and since that trade, the Fish have rotated multiple players at the position. In each season since that year, a different player has started on Opening Day at third base in every year except 2010. The names include luminaries like Jorge Cantu (twice!), Emilio Bonifacio, Donnie Murphy, Hanley Ramirez, Placido Polanco, and now Casey McGehee. The future of third base now seems unsure once again now that the team's third-best prospect has been dealt away.
What are the options that the Marlins face now that they cashed the Moran chip for Cosart? Here are a few potential plans for the next few years.
Extend Casey McGehee
This seems like the most likely scenario given the discussion around the Marlins. McGehee has been a revelation this year, but a good amount of his production cannot be expected to continue. He is still hitting .353 on balls in play, which is more than likely to fall in the months to come. His power still has not emerged from its deep sleep; he only has two home runs so far this year. Miami is foolishly batting him cleanup because of his hits with runners in scoring position, but the team should probably take advantage of someone else's power in that spot rather than let baserunners advance solely on singles.
But McGehee has played well, at just over two Wins Above Replacement (WAR) so far this year. He is also under team control next year in his final year of arbitration eligibility. For most teams, that would be good enough, because McGehee will be 33 years old in 2016, when he would be signing a free agent contract. But the Marlins like McGehee thanks to half a season of success and are thinking about offering him a contract extension to stick around beyond the 2015 season. This might be a bad idea given McGehee's age, but the Fish want to impress upon Giancarlo Stanton that they are not a rebuilding team and that they are serious about contending. Stanton is friends with McGehee and would like him to stay, and the Marlins want Stanton to sign a long-term extension. Keeping McGehee may go a ways towards doing that.
But how good will McGehee be in 2016 and 2017? Oliver's five-year projections expect a 1.6-win player, which probably would not be bad for Miami. But guys can fall off the map at age 33 with great ease; the example of Dan Uggla hits home rather hard.
The Derek Dietrich Position Switch
If Miami chooses to just hold McGehee through 2015, they could switch any number of middle infield players to third base. The big name you might expect is Derek Dietrich, who has worked at third base before but has primarily played second base so far in Miami. Dietrich famously struggled defensively at second in 2014 and was demoted to the minors to work on his defense before injuries to others and eventually himself shuffled him around. If the Marlins do not feel confident in Dietrich's chances of developing at second, he could be moved to third base.
Dietrich is not particularly well-suited for either position, but it has been thought in the past that he was better for third base than second. He would have to range a little bit less at third and depend on his throwing arm, but as a former shortstop, he should have the ability to make the across-the-diamond throws. And in parts of two seasons, Dietrich's bat is still an intriguing mystery. His ability to get on base thanks to increased patience this year is something to continue to follow, but will his hit-by-pitch run actually hold in the bigs? And can Dietrich continue to show off that pop that made him an intriguing middle infielder?
What About Kike?
Enrique Hernandez was never a well-known prospect, but all of a sudden he ripped a .337/.380/.508 batting line (.388 wOBA) in Triple-A and found himself hitting .284/.348/.420 (.340 wOBA) in 86 respectable plate appearances thus far in the bigs. He shot himself up the charts of interest, enough so to make him an important name in the Jarred Cosart deal. His importance is in his utiltiy, as he spent a lot of games in different positions in the infield and outfield in the minors. Most of his time was spent at second base, and the Marlins need help at that position (along with shortstop) critically.
The Fish could turn to Hernandez at third base as well. He does not have the typical profile of a power-hitting third baseman, but he has decent middle infield pop, and that has shown through particularly in the last two seasons. He hit 13 homers in Double-A Corpus Christi last season before banging out seven in Triple-A Oklahoma City this season. Anyone can hit well in the Pacific Coast League, but Hernandez's like was 34 percent better than league average at least. His bat has perked up and stayed strong in the majors, so Miami should give him reps and chances to play regular time with him on board.
If Miami does not want to subject Dietrich to another position change, the 22-year-old Hernandez could play time at third base. Miami could shift McGehee to first and play Hernandez against lefties when they bench Garrett Jones, though they also have a platoon partner in Jeff Baker. Jordany Valdespin, who has played the majority of the games at second base in the last two weeks, and Hernandez could split time in a platoon at second as well. Miami can shift Hernandez around to see if he is someone who might stick in this ugly infield situation.
Whatever pathway the Marlins choose, the Fish made a bet on the future of Cosart over their long-term situation at third base. Now they have to figure out a plan at the position as the clock ticks down on their time with Stanton and their future contention status.