The Miami Marlins were planning on contending in the 2015 season. They knew they had a weakness in the middle infield next to shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria. To that end, they pursued a player whom they liked, a 2014 All-Star who reminded them of a catalyst of a more successful time long ago. The Marlins pursued and eventually acquired Los Angeles Dodgers second baseman Dee Gordon, along with starting pitcher Dan Haren, for a package of four players, all of whom could have played a role in future seasons.
This trade was monumental for a number of reasons and could end up changing the course of the Marlins forever.
The 27-year-old Gordon came to the Marlins off of by far his best campaign in his relatively young career. He had just finished a season having batted .289/.326/.378 (.312 wOBA), a batting line that was about league average. He also finished the 2014 season with 64 stolen bases, a count that would have been one shy of the Marlins' all-time single-season record. That record, of course, is held by Juan Pierre, a player the Marlins organization adore after his role as a catalyst in the 2003 World Series champion squad. In Gordon, the Marlins saw Pierre's successor at the top of the lineup, a speedy contact hitter who could make things happen on the bases and solidify the middle infield.
The Marlins also failed to see that Gordon had just finished a relatively ugly second half in 2014, hitting just .284/.300/.348 (.287 wOBA). He walked just four times in 258 plate appearances and, after a hot start with 43 stolen bases in 52 attempts, he stole just 21 bags in 31 tries in the latter half. Gordon was a pretty flawed player coming into this season, and it is not as though he had a long track record of success; he essentially had only one half of a season in which he hit any better than his established career baseline. At the time of the trade, the Marlins had apparently paid a hefty sum to improve at second base with a guy who did not have much upside.
That hefty sum was in the form of four players, headline by top pitching prospect Andrew Heaney. Heaney was a college starter and a lefty, exactly the sort of pitcher for whom the Marlins had been asking for years. The Fish saw him briefly in 2014 and saw mostly negative results, and the rumors began swirling that Heaney was seen as expendable in favor of fellow lefty Justin Nicolino. Of course, Heaney had just tore through the minors pretty convincingly and probably could have had a starting role on the Fish in 2015. But the Fish instead opted to trade him along with infield prospect Enrique Hernandez, catcher/infielder prospect Austin Barnes, and reliever Chris Hatcher.
Losing six years of team control of Heaney was bad enough at the time. However, the Fish also dealt a promising minor leaguer who had done nothing but succeed at lower levels in Barnes, who was also a unique utility talent who could back up catcher and second base. They also dealt another utility infielder in Hernandez, whom they never gave a chance after acquiring him in the deal for Jarred Cosart. Both players could have helped to fill out the second base position, but Miami opted for more "proven" talent, even if that talent had only proven himself for parts of one season.
The Marlins traded a lot of future value in Heaney, Hernandez, and Barnes for current value in Gordon, who was under control for four seasons. They acquired Dan Haren to be a short-term rotation solution. These moves were all aimed at improving the present chances for a playoff spot, even if it meant likely hampering the future. They dumped a significant part of the Marlins' already-barren minor league system on the Dodgers.
What happened in 2015? On the plus side, Gordon flourished in Miami. He exceeded every expectation and his batting line actually got better instead of regressing, as he hit .333/.359/.418 (.337 wOBA) and led the National League in batting average. Gordon was the first man in a Marlins uniform since Juan Pierre to notch 200 hits in a single season. He even improved defensively, having put up an above-average campaign in his second full year at the keystone. Overall, Gordon was a major success for this squad, as he put up about a 4.6-win campaign for Miami, depending on the Wins Above Replacement source you use. Haren also tacked on a mostly meaningless win for Miami this year given their eventual circumstances.
The downside? The minor leaguers the Fish traded already established themselves as Major Leaguers in 2015. Heaney was dealt to the Los Angeles Angels, and he established himself in the second half as a strong starter with a future in the bigs. He threw 105 2/3 innings and put up a 3.49 ERA and 3.73 FIP, good for almost two wins in that short time period. Heaney still has a long ways to go to establish himself, and his ceiling at this point may still be a third starter, but he looks as though he is a ready contributor who would have been a welcome sight in the Marlins' rotation this year.
Enrique Hernandez was not a touted prospect, but his 2014 season showed some promise. The Marlins never gave him a chance to establish himself at second base, instead opting to let Donovan Solano continue to not play well for the remainder of that year. Hernandez did not have that problem in Los Angeles. The Dodgers utilized Hernandez to fill in various gaps throughout the season, and during his time off the bench, he did not disappoint. The Dodgers afforded him just 218 plate appearances spread out between primarily second base, center field, and shortstop, and Hernandez hit an impressive .307/.346/.490 (.354 wOBA) with seven home runs. In his limited playing time, Hernandez actually hit better than Gordon! He was a net positive defender as well and put up somewhere between 1.5 to two wins in a small amount of time!
Austin Barnes ended up raking in Triple-A for the Dodgers organization. He hit .315/.389/.479 (.389 wOBA) with nine homers in 335 plate appearances, continuing his string of solid play at every minor league level. His line ended up being 33 percent better than the Triple-A league average, and he earned a brief promotion and time on the bench for the Dodgers. Barnes is neither a star in the making at the plate nor a particularly great defender, but his combination of skills is unique and could have lent itself to depth for the Marlins, the exact thing that the Fish seem to be hungry for now.
The only component who struggled post-trade was Chris Hatcher, who had a rough start to the season before rebounding with a year akin to his 2014 campaign. He is now the primary setup man for the Dodgers as well. Overall, the contributors from this trade were surprisingly even in their results.
|Player||Playing Time (PA/IP)||Avg WAR|
|Dee Gordon||653 PA||4.6|
|Dan Haren||129 IP||1.2|
|Miguel Rojas||157 IP||0.9|
|Andrew Heaney||109 2/3 IP||1.6|
|Enrique Hernandez||218 PA||1.7|
|Austin Barnes||37 PA||0.1|
|Chris Hatcher||39 IP||0.2|
The Marlins got the better end of the deal in 2015, as they ended up with about three more wins than the other crew. For a competing team, this would have been reasonable, especially with Gordon under control for another three seasons beyond this. But consider that Hernandez only notched 218 plate appearances, and that the overall position player group for the Marlins notched 810 plate appearances compared to the 255 from the Dodgers' crew. The comparison might have been a little closer had Hernandez gotten more playing time on a deep Dodgers squad.
More importantly, the advantage was based primarily on Gordon, and the only remaining advantage is Gordon's three years of team control time. Rojas is a defensive wiz but unlikely to hit well enough to stick at the big league level beyond backup status. Haren was traded and was always a one-year rental. In return, the Marlins gave up six years of Heaney, Barnes, and Hernanez along with whatever value Hatcher provided. That kind of cost is steep to pay for the upgrade of Gordon, especially as it remains questionable that he can stay at a four-win level. Even if Gordon and Rojas contribute in the next three years, the Marlins may still lose out in future wins from the three players they gave up.
For now, the Marlins have to be happy with their return. Gordon succeeded expectations and played like a star this year. But if he is not a star and guys like Heaney and Hernandez become solid average regulars, the team could have still given up a lot of talent for that significant upgrade.