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The Dee Gordon trade and the Marlins quiet offseason alternative

What would the Marlins look like had they not made the trades of the offseason?

Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

In the offseason, the Miami Marlins were looking to improve on their roster, but they were working from a poor position. First off, the Fish were always reluctant to spend money and increase their payroll, which is par for the course for the team's actions since being acquired by Jeffrey Loria in 2002. Despite the move to the new stadium, the Marlins still consistently boast one of the lowest payrolls in baseball, as they did this season.

The lack of desire to spend made it difficult for them to trade effectively as well. The team paid more in terms of prospects in the offseason in order to acquire money to use on those salaries. Combine that with the fact that the team had very little talent depth in the minors to begin with and the Fish were struggling to come up with good packages that met all of their trade demands.

The most important deal that the team made was the Dee Gordon trade with the Los Angeles Dodgers, in which they sent four players, including top prospect Andrew Heaney, to the Dodgers in return for Gordon and Dan Haren, both whom came free of charge for the 2015 season. The Marlins had to trade a tremendous amount of talent, in particular dealing their best prospect, to get a questionable hitter and a pitcher who had seen his best days long since pass. The team later made a deal to send off Nathan Eovaldi, Garrett Jones, and pitching prospect Domingo German in order to acquire David Phelps and Martin Prado in a deal with the Yankees. They also traded pitching prospect Anthony DeSclafani along with catcher Chad Wallach to get a year of Mat Latos.

Not all of those trades were seemingly worthwhile at the start. Here at Fish Stripes, I had concerns about two of those deals. Regarding the Gordon deal:

The Marlins simply took on too much risk here. They sent away a guy who will not be an ace but will almost certainly at least fill the back of a rotation for years to come, and they acquired a guy who could not get on base just two seasons ago and derives way too much value from one tool. Not only that, but they also sent three other somewhat interesting players. In return, the Fish mostly received financial benefit for those guys, as the team picked up the salaries of Gordon and Haren, who may retire and only become money to Miami.

And regarding the Eovaldi trade:

Miami did not want that kind of variance, especially on the low end, and they turned to a more "consistent" player with known production. For that, they gave up a lot of future value and a promising player, in the hopes that Eovaldi does not develop. I would not have made that bet for a one-win upgrade, but it is a reasonable thought.

The prevailing thought I had for both deals is that the Marlins underestimated the players they traded away and were too willing to deal them. This was probably the case regarding both Heaney and Eovaldi. The Marlins seemingly soured on Heaney after 24 poor innings in the majors, and internally there was an ongoing thought that they preferred Justin Nicolino over Heaney despite the latter's better pedigree and better tools. As for Eovaldi, the Marlins do not prescribe to the theory of defense-independent pitching it seems, as Eovaldi outperformed his peripherals last year and struggled with a mediocre ERA thanks to a high BABIP. He was most likely bound for regression, but the Fish figured it would not be worth waiting for him to recover after just one bad season.

Keep that in mind when you look at the early returns for the players involved in those two trades.

Acquisitions

Player Level AVG OBP SLG wOBA fWAR
Dee Gordon Majors .326 .347 .399 .325 2.5
Martin Prado Majors .268 .310 .351 .297 1.1
Miguel Rojas* Majors .300 .341 .425 .330 0.3

*43 PA in the majors

Player Level K% BB% ERA FIP Avg WAR*
Dan Haren Majors 16.8 4.8 3.42 4.60 0.8
David Phelps Majors 15.5 6.8 4.35 3.82 0.4

*Denotes average of Baseball Prospectus, FanGraphs, and Baseball-Reference WAR

Cast-offs

Player Level AVG OBP SLG wOBA fWAR
Garrett Jones Majors .215 .257 .361 .270 -0.4
Enrique Hernandez Majors .291 .338 .520 .366 1.3
Austin Barnes* Triple-A .312 .386 .494 .387 ---

*Only 18 PA in majors

Player Level K% BB% ERA FIP Avg WAR*
Nathan Eovaldi Majors 16.4 6.5 4.15 3.62 2.0
Andrew Heaney^ Majors 17.8 4.0 2.45 3.55 0.9
Chris Hatcher Majors 22.1 8.1 6.38 3.21 -0.2

*Denotes average of Baseball Prospectus, FanGraphs, and Baseball-Reference WAR
^Only 51 1/3 IP in majors

The Marlins still received the best player in the deal obviously, as Gordon has had a strong season despite the more recent struggles in the past few months. Still, the pieces traded away were almost as good overall, with Nathan Eovaldi playing well despite similar problems to last year. He has essentially kept his peripherals and ERA at similar levels to last year's model, except that he is now pitching in front of the Yankees' terrible defense and in a tough stadium in Yankee Stadium. Enrique Hernandez and Andrew Heaney have also outperformed the majority of the Marlins' other contributors, which is especially surprising given that Hernandez has only 130 plate appearances in the bigs and Heaney has only logged 51 innings.

The overall tally is at least comparable between the two sides. The players the Marlins dealt were worth 3.6 Wins Above Replacement, versus the team's acquisitions totaling 5.1 wins. Certainly, the Marlins wanted to contend in 2015, so those 1.5 wins would have made a difference. If the only goal was to contend this year and this year alone, this trade's early results would have been justified.

However, the problem with these two deals was not the improvement in 2015, but the subsequent years of lost cost-controlled talent. Gordon and Phelps are here for another three years, but Haren was a one-year rental only and Rojas is an expendable player. Meanwhile, the Marlins dealt seven players in total, five of whom had five or six years of team control remaining. Heaney, Barnes, Hatcher, German, and Hernandez barely had any time to prove themselves to the Marlins before being dealt, thereby crippling the team's already barren farm system. Even Eovaldi had three more years of team control. The only player dealt whom the Marlins had no interest in keeping long-term was Garrett Jones, who was traded mostly to dump his $5 million salary and likely cost the Fish German along the way.

Imagine where the Marlins would be now had they not made both of these trades. The Fish would be sporting Barnes, Hernandez, Donovan Solano, and Derek Dietrich in some combination between second and third base. Barnes could also be serving as an additional backup catcher and could take over that role for the Fish once Jeff Mathis left next season. The team would have a rotation that still was injury-racked, but rather than having a poor one-year veteran rental, the Marlins could have had a league-average, cost-controlled starter in Eovaldi. They would still have lost that one win and change this year, but they would have more than gained that back in future seasons while only slightly lowering their odds at the playoffs to start the year. The Fish would have been set at pitcher and likely at least one of the middle infield spots for years to come without these deals while losing only a little in the present time.

This is not to say that the Marlins improving this past offseason was a bad idea. But the Fish were poorly equipped to undergo their exact style of improvement, which hinged on acquiring rental pieces and trading whatever limited minor league talent they had, especially in trying to acquire money with those deals. The Marlins needed to either pay for free agent talent directly or allow their limited minor talent to develop further. The team would not be searching for pitching now had they not traded Heaney, Eovaldi, and DeSclafani, worth a combined 15 years of team control, for rental players. Once again, a lack of foresight by the front office and ownership, in a haste to contend without the willingness to spend appropriately for this team, has cost them in the long run.