The Dee Gordon suspension leaves a Miami Marlins roster already thin on players even thinner. Miami was already aching for depth given the fact that the club employs a mostly stars-and-scrubs team build approach. An injury or, in this case, suspension to any major player would have left the club scrambling for options. One need look no further than last year when Giancarlo Stanton got hurt and Miami replaced him with a lot of bad Ichiro Suzuki plate appearances.
Luckily for Miami, this unfortunate incident does have a silver lining, in that Gordon plays one of only two positions in which the Fish have a ready and indeed interesting replacement candidate. Say hello to this guy
Earlier this week, we implored Miami to find a way to get more chances for Dietrich, because it serve a large amount of importance to this baseball team. Martin Prado is on fire right now, and he should hold onto his job as long as either he is playing well or is still on the team. Gordon would never have lost his job even if he struggled all season long as he was doing during this first month, when he hit .266/.289/.340 (.276 wOBA). Dietrich would not have received an opportunity for regular chances at the plate until either an injury occurred or Prado was dealt.
However, it is imperative that the Marlins figure out who they have in Dietrich, who is a player with an interesting bat and currently no long-term position. We do not know if Dietrich can handle defense at second or third base, and his outfield defense last season in a new trial was difficult to watch. At the same time, his bat has been above-average for the parts of one-plus seasons that he has played. Miami owed it to themselves to find out who Dietrich is and what position he could potentially play.
Now the Marlins have to play Dietrich with Gordon sitting out the next 80 games. The first inclination is to move Dietrich to second base and leave things well off, but in less than a full season there, Dietirch has been a disaster at the position. In 878 innings, he has been worth 14 runs below average by DRS and 11 runs by UZR, calculating out to a horrific 17 runs worse than average in a full season if he continued playing that way. He has had a series of botched errors and poor decisions that made it prudent for Miami to not only demote him a few years ago for poor defensive play but to consider shifting him down the spectrum defensively to left field.
The more useful option for Miami would be to switch Martin Prado to second base from third base and put Dietrich in Prado's old position. The advantage here is in training; Dietrich would be given the opportunity to work for half a season at third base to hone his defensive skills while getting regular plate appearances. Prado, the player the Marlins are not likely to keep going forward, would then play second base, where the team has a full-time player currently only under suspension and not some career-threatening injury.
The problem with this is that not only do we not know how well Dietrich will handle third base, but we also do not know how well Prado will handle second base. The last time he played second regularly was late in 2014, when he was traded to the New York Yankees. He handled himself well at the time, and there is some precedent to the idea that Prado has figured out infield defense a little better after being shifted all around the diamond during his earlier career with the Atlanta Braves, but he still owns average to below-average ratings defensively at the position.
This is going to be compared to Dee Gordon, who was a Gold Glove performer last year and who appears to be an overall positive defender at second base. Let's make some modest assumptions defensively and presume Gordon to be five runs better than average over a full season at second and Prado to be five runs better than average at third over a full year. Assuming Prado now knows something more about playing the infield, maybe he is an average defender at second base. Now let's assume Dietrich is, over a full season, five runs worse than average at third base, which is not a terrible assumption given his bad defense everywhere else. The total difference is worth about 7.5 runs in half a season.
However, if you looked at our more conservative estimates from our season previews, we were looking at both Gordon and Prado being worth two runs above average over a full season. In that more conservative guess, that puts us closer to almost five runs in half a season lost on defense in this alignment.
The offense is where Dietrich has the edge, presumably. However, depending on your guess for Gordon this season, it would be difficult to find a major difference in their production. After all, DIetrich has a career wRC+ of 107, and Gordon had to come close to being projected at league average after his strong year in 2015. FanGraphs had Gordon projected at a .304 wOBA, versus Dietrich at a .324 wOBA mark. That is a five-run difference on offense in Dietrich's advantage.
But we also have to account the difference in baserunning, where Gordon is among the best baserunners in the game. The projected value of Gordon's steals and other base advancements in half a season was about 2.5 runs, which fits what he did last season in putting up five runs above average in a full season. If we take out Dietrich's projected contributions on the bases (remember, even being average is better than being Prince Fielder!) and we are at a two-plus run difference in Gordon's favor. That knocks the overall difference in value to three runs better with Dietrich at the plate over Gordon.
So let's add the numbers up. With Gordon out and the worst-case scenario (Gordon and Prado are significantly better defenders at second and third respectively), we would expect Dietrich to be almost half a win worse than Gordon in half a season. That does not sound terribly surprising, though it does come with a fair number of assumptions. With the more conservative defensive guesses, we are looking at Dietrich being about two runs worse than Gordon, or essentially a wash over half a year.
Essentially, if Dietrich can manage being a non-disaster on defense, his offense should help mitigate some of the loss, to the point where it would not be inconceivable for this to be close to a wash. The likely result is about half a win lost over the course of the year, meaning Gordon is probably a win better in a full season, and that sounds about right to me. However, if Dietrich continues to struggle defensively, it could be a tough half-season in the infield for Miami.