Winter Meetings: Did the Marlins actually improve?

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As the last day of the 2014 Winter Meetings begins to wind down, there is no question that the Miami Marlins were among the biggest movers and shakers of the week in San Diego.

After quietly puttering around and leaving fans in a virtual limbo the first two days, the Marlins made waves on Wednesday when they sent top prospect Andrew Heaney and three other players to the Los Angeles Dodgers for Dee Gordon and Dan Haren. Then, they bolstered the starting rotation by acquiring local product Mat Latos in exchange for Anthony DeSclafani and minor league catcher Chad Wallach. They followed that up by swapping fringe bullpen arms with the Chicago White Sox, sending lefty Dan Jennings to the South Side for righty Andre Rienzo.

That’s a flurry of moves that seemed to transpire in a hurry. But did those moves necessarily make the Marlins a better team, in 2015 and in the foreseeable future?

First, the headline move of snagging Gordon and Haren from LA gives the Marlins their everyday second baseman and a speed threat at the top of the lineup (Gordon led the National League with 64 stolen bases in 2014.) That’s shades of Emilio Bonifacio right there! Except that Gordon should settle down at one position and play every day, whether it be at his normal home at second or at shortstop to replace Adeiny Hechavarria. Gordon had a career year in 2014, slashing .289/.326/.378 — all career-highs — while enjoying a 3.46 BABIP, which probably won’t happen again. He figures to slot right between Christian Yelich and Giancarlo Stanton in the lineup or even lead off next year, giving the Marlins a very formidable and versatile top three.

The consensus around the Marlins Twitterverse is that they vastly overpaid for Gordon, and I’m having a hard time arguing with that. Fangraphs projects Gordon to be worth -0.1 WAR next year. That is actually the worst projection of any of the team’s internal second base candidates. That includes Derek Dietrich, Jeff Baker and, yes, even Donovan Solano.

By contrast, Enrique Hernandez, who went to the Dodgers in the deal after the Marlins acquired him from the Astros at last year’s trade deadline, was worth 1.6 WAR last year in just 134 plate appearances. And he was by no means a lock for the second base job next year. Hernandez can play all over the place, infield or outfield, and it’s absolutely puzzling that the Marlins gave him up that easily.

It could be argued, then, that Gordon wasn’t even worth giving up Hernandez alone. But the Marlins also gave up their top pitching prospect, a serviceable bullpen arm in Chris Hatcher, and minor league catcher Austin Barnes (the team is horribly thin at catcher, and in the past week has parted with three of their prospects at the position.) To say this trade is a head-scratcher is a massive understatement.

The Marlins gave up their best pitching prospect, Andrew Heaney, in the Dee Gordon/Dan Haren deal.

Dan Haren probably won’t pitch an inning for the Marlins. He has openly threatened to retire if he were traded away from Southern California, and has apparently even specifically cited Miami as a location in which he refuses to play. The good news is the Dodgers are covering Haren’s salary and the Marlins would receive $10 million in compensation should Haren retire, and the team has already pledged to use that money on a first baseman or front line starting pitcher.

Then, the win-now Marlins parted ways with another of their regarded pitching prospects, Anthony DeSclafani. Part of the 2012 trade with the Toronto Blue Jays, DeSclafani had his first cup of coffee at the big league level last year and saw mixed results, but is still obviously a prospect with great potential. The Marlins are clearly in win-now mode, as arguably their two best minor league hurlers have brought in MLB-ready talent in the form of Mat Latos.

This is the best trade the Marlins made at the Winter Meetings, if the team truly plans to win now. Latos owns a career 113 ERA+ and a 3.34 ERA over his six years in the league. With the Reds, he has thrown 952 innings and averages 8.1 K/9. His season was cut short by injury in 2014, but should he stay healthy the Marlins seem to have found their top of the rotation guy to hold down the fort while Jose Fernandez rehabs.

Latos is actually projected to regress in 2015 according to Fangraphs; they give him a 4.21 ERA/4.34 FIP/1.1 WAR prediction. Personally, I think he will thrive in Marlins Park. He doesn’t allow many base runners, as evidenced by a 1.168 WHIP, and Marlins Park suppresses power so home runs shouldn’t be much of a problem. Factor in his solid strikeout rate, and you might have another dominant pitcher in Miami next year.

Finally, in a lesser move the Marlins and White Sox swapped bullpen arms on Thursday. Miami gave up Dan Jennings and gained Andre Rienzo. This move is another head-scratcher to me. The difference between the two players is that Jennings is a replacement level big leaguer, while Rienzo still holds borderline-prospect status but has been pretty abysmal in parts of two seasons with the White Sox. Last year in 18 appearances (11 starts) Rienzo had a 6.82 ERA and 5.73 FIP, a 4.6 BB/9 and 11.4 H/9. Those are awful, awful numbers.

Jennings settled in to a second-lefty-out-of-the-pen role with the Marlins, and was fine there. At 26 years-old, Andre Rienzo is getting close to a finished product, so what you see is probably what you’ll get. And what I see is a pitcher who provides AAA depth and has started in the past so might be an emergency spot starter, but not much else. Plus, the Marlins lost an ever-important lefty arm, and those aren’t easy to come by.

More from Marlin Maniac

As the sun begins to set in San Diego, the Marlins now look like a very different team. However, change is not always for the better. The rotation got better, and they still desperately need another infield bat to make the jump to contender status. Fangraphs now projects the Marlins to finish 78-84 next year. That’s just a one-game improvement over the 77-85 mark they posted in 2014. The farm system is now looking alarmingly dry, and there is still ample time for the front office to pull the trigger on more deals before Spring Training.

We’ll see what the Marlins do moving forward. They now have the money to lure one of the remaining free agents to South Beach (Michael Morse, please.) but I’m not sure they own the minor league ammunition to strike a deal for an impact bat like Justin Morneau, who they have been connected to all week.

What do you think of the moves the Fish have made this week? Marlins fans, let us know in the comments below.

Next: Marlins Gain Four, Lose Four, In Today's Rule V Drafy

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