The Miami Marlins plan on welcoming back suspended second baseman Dee Gordon to their fold when he is eligible to return to the lineup tonight in their game against the St. Louis Cardinals. The Fish are expected to welcome him back with open arms as well, including putting him back into the starting lineup. From MLB.com’s Joe Frisaro:
"It is the end of his suspension. He has served it," Marlins president David Samson said. "He will be welcomed back into the clubhouse."
When Gordon returns, he is expected to be blended back into action. He likely will start and lead off, freeing up Dietrich to give third baseman Martin Prado occasional days off. And first base has some injury issues, as Justin Bour is on the disabled list with a right ankle sprain.
Gordon was not necessarily playing well when his season abruptly stopped on May 18, when he was finally suspended 80 games for a substance abuse violation under the league’s PED policy. Gordon was banned for two illegal anabolic steroid substances, and given that he just earned a contract off a career year, the natural inclination was to link his stellar 2015 season with steroid use. So far in 2016, he had been hitting .266/.289/.340 (.273 wOBA), a very unimpressive batting line.
However, Miami has no plans on leaving Gordon permanently on the bench in favor of Derek Dietrich, his second base replacement who has played well overall in 2016. Dietrich is batting .272/.363/.393 (.333 wOBA) so far this year, and while it is a far cry from where he was just a month and change ago, it is still a solid batting line for the year. Thanks to an ugly .175/.254/.238 line in July, Dietrich appears to be in a slump, which conveniently was timed around the arrival of Gordon. The Marlins have a built-in reason to shake up the lineup and leave the forever-shunned Dietrich, who has still been worth somewhere between one and 1.5 wins this season, back on the pine.
This does not mean Dietrich will get no playing time, however. Ichiro Suzuki has been the team’s fourth outfielder and none of their primary starters have been injured or lost their jobs, yet Miami has still fit Ichiro in for 217 plate appearances so far in 2016. You have to figure with Gordon’s significant question marks and Martin Prado’s age, Dietrich will get plenty of time to play out the 2016 campaign and contribute. Dietrich can spell Gordon and Prado rather frequently during the week, providing them rest in two or three games per week. This will help ease Gordon back into the lineup. There is also the platoon bonus of having Dietrich bat against select righties in place of Prado.
Replacing good baseball players is not necessarily a benefit, but rest is always a helpful marker. However, the current situation at first base also gives the Marlins the chance to use Dietrich. Justin Bour remains on the disabled list with a sprained right ankle, and Don Kelly is not the picture of confidence for anyone. Dietrich can replace Kelly at first base, where he has spent a small amount of time this past offseason and camp working, until Bour returns. He can be a part of a platoon with Chris Johnson batting against lefties. This puts Dietrich in the lineup even more often, making him close to an everyday player while Gordon remains the nominal starter.
Gordon should by all means be provided time to be a contributor on the roster. Fans have noted that the team has missed his basestealing prowess and his running game, and while the Marlins are more or less league average at baserunning runs this year, adding the speedster would help if he gets on base. Gordon is signed to a long-term contract, making him an important player for the future of the organization, whether as the team’s long-term second baseman or as possible trade bait. Even in the midst of a playoff race, the Marlins need to let him readjust and rebuild his value.
At the same time, Dietrich will ultimately be more valuable to the Marlins this season. He is the second baseman who is qualified to play in the playoffs this season if the Fish make the Wild Card. The club is making an honest effort at the postseason, and if it gets beyond that (the club is currently projected to have a 21 percent chance to make the divisional playoff round), it will need a regular second baseman. The team cannot afford to leave Dietrich rusty on the bench.
There was some concern early in the suspension time period that the Marlins would have a tough choice. Dietrich at the time was hitting lights out, batting .318/.406/.508 by the end of May. Two months of .229/.321/.286 hitting has brought Dietrich back to earth, but he still has been a valuable player overall. He has shown he can competently handle second base and if his power swing returns, Miami would be thrilled to have someone who depends less on batting average to succeed. At the same time, worries about this decision are a lot easier to make once we know how the players involved have been performing. Dietrich was not the guy he was by the end of May, nor was Bour hurt at the time. These circumstances have lessened the difficulty in this decision.