The Miami Marlins are rumored to have considered trading Adeiny Hechavarria in a move that would net them an elite pitching option like Chris Archer. The Tampa Bay Rays righty has not had a good year under his belt, but the upside is obviously there and Miami would be taking on a guy relatively cheaply and who is under team control through potential 2021. Archer is the perfect type of pitcher for Miami’s desired goal of acquiring a cost-controlled starter.
Never mind the fact that Hechavarria does not appear to be an attractive-enough asset to entice a team like the Rays to give up on five season of Chris Archer after just one bad year. The Marlins are a little on the delusional side if they think Hechavarria, who is only under team control through 2018, would actually fetch that kind of return. Even with a strong season last year and a repeat strong defensive campaign in 2016, there is no chance Hechavarria is worth that much to any team but Miami.
The Marlins would then use Miguel Rojas as their regular shortstop.
The interesting part of this idea is replacing Hechavarria with Miguel Rojas, the team’s current backup utility infielder. Rojas was acquired by the Marlins in the infamous Dee Gordon trade as an additional piece who likely would serve as a backup and defensive replacement. Last year, however, Rojas hit pretty passably, batting .282/.329/.366 (.308 wOBA) with no altogether surprising strikeout or walk numbers. This year, he is hitting worse again, and for his Major League career he is only a .239/.287/.299 hitter (.259 wOBA). He is by no means a legitimate Major League bat.
Hechavarria, however, is not a whole lot better. He is a career .257/.292/.343 (.276 wOBA) hitter, so it is not like he is a world-beater either. There comes a certain point, of course, where it no longer becomes acceptable to hit badly unless you are Ozzie Smith reincarnate, and both players toe that line pretty strongly.
This is not to say that Hechavarria and Rojas are of equal quality, because they are not. It is clear Hechavarria is the better player. However, the question really is not between Hechavarria and Rojas, but rather between Hechavarria and his expected salary over the next two years versus Rojas and his expected salaries going forward. Hechavarria made $2.6 million this season and will probably make along the lines of $5 million next year. Even if he only ends up making something like $12 million over the next two years, that kind of money could potentially go towards paying other players their expected arbitration raises. For a cheap team like the Marlins, every small bit of dollar counts, and the dilemma becomes whether Hechavarria is worth the price if the team has a replacement in Rojas on the cheap.
Rojas may not be Hechavarria, but he also will not come close in terms of cost. He is arbitration eligible in 2018, meaning he has another season of pre-arbitration payment before finally earning a real salary. This also means he has two times more team control than Hechavarria does. How much worse could Rojas have to be for Miami to still consider it worth a change to save some of that cash or, better yet, trade Hechavarria as part of a move to improve another part of the roster?
Let’s start with the bats. FanGraphs uses projections that are an aggregate of both ZiPS and Steamer projections, and they have the two players stacking up like this:
|Player, 2016 Proj||K%||BB%||AVG||OBP||SLG||wOBA|
The ten-point difference in wOBA is equivalent to approximately five runs a season in a full year. Neither guy is a good hitter, but that difference is worth half a win, and that could be important.
This is especially notable when you consider the defensive side of the spectrum. It is likely that Hechavarria has worked himself into being one of the better defenders in the game at shortstop. Rojas would be hard-pressed to match Hechavarria in his defensive prowess, but it is not as though he does not come without his own credentials. Here is Baseball Prospectus’s Handbook bit on Rojas heading into 2016.
Sometimes in life, being really good at just one thing can be enough. One of the premier glove men around town, Rojas slotted in as an adequate utility infielder after a midseason recall. His bat will never strike more than mild awareness into any pitcher's heart, though his offense was pleasantly tolerable in a limited sample of at-bats last season. The leather and rock-bottom price will keep him gainfully employed for the foreseeable future, though his limitations with the stick are such that he's likely to rack up all the frequent flyer points he needs along the way to publish a travelogue of Triple-A ballparks.
Rojas is a "premier glove" man, a guy who is very skilled defensively and has handled shortstop in the past. So far, the defensive metrics have Rojas logging 625 innings and about seven to nine runs above average, though most of that occurred in 2014. Based on Hechavarria’s numbers, he has become more of a guy who makes the plays in his area of work rather than straying out to make the rangy, splashy pickups. Rojas’s defensive numbers as judged by the fans were pretty similar to that of Hechavarria’s. According to the Fans Scouting Report, in 2014 Rojas rated as a 73-defender on a 1-100 scale rating all defenders in all of baseball as a whole. Overall, he is rated as a 70-defender. That ranks at around the same level as guys like Hechavarria, J.J. Hardy, and Didi Gregorius rated last season.
Could Rojas come close to replicating Hechavarria’s skill given their similar defensive mettle? Even if Rojas currently is not as good defensively as Hechavarria, there is one factor that Miami has on their side that can help with this: Perry Hill. The team’s legendary infield coach is likely the one who coaxed the great play of the middle infield of Dee Gordon and Hechavarria last season. Rojas already has the skill, much like Hechavarria did when he first got into the league. What he may need is the refining and positional assistance that comes with working daily as the starter with Hill. If he could match that defensive ability, those five offensive runs, that half-win, may not be worth the extra $5 million that it will cost the Marlins to keep Hechavarria.
If the team can get some value for Hechavarria, it may be worth doing, even if it is not a direct benefit to the 2016 or 2017 seasons. The difference between these players are present, but they are not large, and in the right move, it could be a wise play for the Fish to replace one glove-only guy with the other.