The Miami Marlins are continuing to discuss the possibility of a contract extension with second baseman Dee Gordon. Gordon's deal could not come at a better time for the 27-year-old second baseman. He is coming off of his best season ever, a four-plus win season in which he put up career-best numbers at the plate and on the field. His value on the bases is already well-established, and even though he was worse at running this year, he was still a fantastic player for the Marlins in 2015.
However, the projection systems may not be so keen on whether that will continue in 2016. Steamer projects just a two-win season from Gordon in 2016, in large part due to regression in his significantly inflated batting line. Last season, Gordon hit .333/.359/.418, good for a .337 wOBA that was 13 percent better than league average. However, that occurred with only a small difference in plate approach that may not fully explain all of his success. He hit .383 on balls in play after hitting .346 the year before. That .383 mark was the third-highest in baseball behind Odubel Herrera and Miguel Cabrera. Cabrera has the track record of doing this in the past, but Gordon has just one year of this level under his belt. Behind that, there is little offensively that supports his game.
Still, Gordon has plenty of value under arbitration heading into the 2016 season. Even if he were just a two-win player next year, he would still have been worth around $16 million in the free agent market, meaning that the Fish would still have $10 million more in value if they gave him his estimated $6 million arbitration salary. The question, however, is whether the Marlins can find an appropriate deal that would keep Gordon in Miami at a reasonable price without committing too many years.
The years are an important consideration in a Gordon extension. Most arbitration and pre-arbitration contracts attempt to buy out free agent years at a cheaper price; such is the reasoning for guaranteeing those otherwise non-guaranteed arbitration years. The player gets a known money value while the team locks in affordable prices and buys out years at cheap rates.
In Gordon's case, this may not be as valuable an incentive. He has three years left in team control under arbitration, after which he is set to become a free agent in his age-31 season. With a player with as many question marks as Gordon, it is extremely difficult to tell how well he will play in those years. Juan Pierre was 31 years old in the final year of a pretty disastrous five-year, $45 million contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers at one point. Four seasons after that, he was retired. If the Marlins were to sign the similarly talented Gordon, they would be taking on one or two extra years of his play. Are the Fish that confident in his game?
The team could try to tack on options onto the contract as an attempt to get out of a potentially bad deal. However, Gordon likely would not accept a deal with two back-end team options on the cheap, if only because it limits his options. Like any player, he is probably more willing to bet on himself being another Brandon Phillips or Jeff Kent in terms of durability rather than a Juan Pierre.
The middle ground is to just sign a deal that guarantees the arbitration years. The Marlins could lock in Gordon without risk of him pricing himself out of their range. Gordon can safeguard himself from bad seasons in the future without risking a potential big free agent payday. This benefits the Marlins more than Gordon, but if he does indeed like being in Miami, it may not be a bad idea.
If the Marlins are just planning on going for three years, the prices should be easy to predict. The team is expected to have to pay $6 million this year, and from that base the team can estimate future costs for the following two seasons. If you expect a typical arbitration price progression, you might expect Gordon to make $9 million to $10 million and $13 million to $15 million in his final season.
With those three seasons, we can guess a low estimate of a three-year, $28 million and a high value of a three-year, $31 million. Neither deal is terrible for Miami, and if Gordon remains an All-Star level performer, the team would still get lots of value from either deal.
This extends even to the concept of trade value. If the Marlins feel the need after one or two seasons to deal Gordon for added young talent, the club would still get plenty of value from an extension. Even in that final year, $15 million would still be a fair cost for a two-win player, and that does not consider the possibility that Gordon is closer to a perennial three-win player or borderline All-Star. And if he loses value and regresses, the Marlins are not losing money for long, because the team is still committing for a small period of time.
Will the Fish get a deal done? I think if the Marlins are determined, a deal could be inked this offseason. Both sides are currently enamored with each other, and this may be the height of their relationship. If owner Jeffrey Loria is willing, the team could keep Gordon around for at least a few more years.