The Miami Marlins are light on talent, so they are scouring their roster for anyone with reasonable talent levels and considering them for longer deals to remain on the roster around Giancarlo Stanton. For a guy like Christian Yelich, an extension was an excellent idea. He is young, under team control for several seasons, and likely to receive contract during arbitration tenders anyway. The Marlins gave up very little in providing Yelich a seven-year, $51 million extension and, in return, received additional free agent years at reduced costs.
However, the Fish are now also considering contracts for their up-the-middle duo of Dee Gordon and Adeiny Hechavarria, according to Jon Heyman of CBS Sports.
The Marlins are expected to try to lock up their double play combo of shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria and second baseman Dee Gordon over the winter. They tried with Hechavarria last winter, but there was no traction.
On the surface, it appears obvious why the Marlins would want to do this. The team barely has any minor league talent after making a slew of deals for Mat Latos, Gordon, and Martin Prado last winter. It has very little in the way of young talent coming up as backup for departing players, so even considering guys like Hechavarria and Gordon, who have been 2.5-win players or better so far this season according to FanGraphs, would be odd. The team can barely afford to let go of guys who profile as average or worse like Prado. This season was the prime example of the team's lack of depth in the minors coming back to haunt it, so why would the club risk having to play more of its dreary farm system by letting Hechavarria and Gordon walk?
Well, that last point actually is not the dichotomy here. Gordon is under team control for another three seasons, as is Hechavarria. Both players are set to earn decent salaries in those arbitration years as well. Gordon is entering his second season of arbitration, while Hechavarria is entering his first but has earned around $2 million in each of the last three seasons of pre-arbitration with Miami. However, even with those costs, the choice is not to either sign an extension or release them; it is to sign a deal with a structured salary scale or let them go through arbitration.
The Marlins could, of course, purchase free agent seasons in the distant future for 2020 and beyond if they sign an extension, and it is possible they may get a discount on those years. However, Gordon and Hechavarria are not in the same situation as Yelich or Marcell Ozuna were this past offseason. Yelich will be 30 years old by the time the team considers exercising his 2022 option for just $15 million. In comparison, Gordon will be 34 years old at that same year, and Hechavarria will be 33. Yelich started off playing at a higher level than both players, while the other two will be years older than him and have started with worse skillsets as of right now.
There are cautionary tales for players like Gordon in terms of their performance in the coming years. Juan Pierre is functionally the best version of Gordon, as they are both slap-hitting speedsters but Pierre strikes out half as much as Gordon does. Pierre's peak came at age 27 in 2004, and that would represent the same age Gordon is in 2015. During the five years after his peak season, Pierre hit .289/.334/.364, good for a .315 wOBA that was 15 percent worse than the league average at the time. He also put up something between five and nine Wins Above Replacement (WAR) depending on your source. That averages out to around one to 1.8 wins per year. At best, Pierre was a player just a bit below average over the five-year period that would represent Gordon through 2021.
The Marlins were smart to eventually let Pierre go before free agency rather than risk signing him long-term and see him struggle in the coming years. They did something similar to a second baseman of recent memory, one who was also an older player once he reached arbitration. Dan Uggla hit arbitration at age 29 rather than Gordon's 27, and the two players are not similar in terms of skill level. However, Uggla was an All-Star in his rookie year at age 26, and he reached that status one more time as a Marlin. He put up four win seasons two or three times for the Fish, depending on the source you ask. However, the Marlins anticipated that Uggla was not a candidate for long-term success, and they chose to go year-to-year with him in arbitration before dealing him in his final arbitration campaign. Uggla had one more All-Star year left in him after age 31, but three years later, he is essentially out of the league.
Gordon and Hechavarria are different players than Uggla, but they represent the same potential problem. For the Marlins to commit to free agent years, they have to accurately value a second baseman (a position notorious for early aging) with only two tools in his arsenal and a shortstop who has not shown concrete, numerical proof of his only tool until this year, and they have to make that assessment for four and five years from now. That simply may be too difficult to do in order to risk buying those years.
The usual reason for an extension is to buy out free agent years on the cheap, but that may not be worth it for volatile, unknown commodities like Gordon and Hechavarria. But if the Marlins can get a reasonable discount on arbitration seasons, they might consider a shorter, arbitration-only extension that just guarantees those prices. However, the Fish would have no reason to do this for Hechavarria, whose arbitration salaries are probably going to be lower in rise due to his defense-dependent value. It may benefit to lock Gordon's values up because of the artificial inflation from his batting average.
The key is not that the Marlins should not sign any extensions. If they can get either Hechavarria or Gordon at below-market values, it is worthwhile. But given the fact that the team sees them as "building blocks" rather than (good) support players for the true cornerstones of the team, it may get into an unnecessary bidding war for players who are still under team control. Miami needs to be careful in doling out future money to these volatile, older assets, as that value can evaporate pretty quickly.