Miami Marlins: The Successful Dee Gordon Trade


While Giancarlo Stanton‘s contract made the biggest headlines, the biggest splash made by the Miami Marlins in the 2014 offseason might well have been reeling in second baseman Dee Gordon.

From day one however, the debate seems to have been whether or not that splash should be viewed as a prize-winning catch, or a sobering blast of cold water to the face considering the talent given up in the deal.  Given the organization’s uneven track record with trades, as well as the dashed expectations of the 2015 season, it’s certainly fair to see how any move might be viewed with skepticism.

But given the recent history at the position, and the staggering success of Dee’s 2015 campaign, it would seem that while there is plenty to find fault with when it comes to the Marlins’ front office, this trade shouldn’t even come close to making the list.

Along with winning the 2015 NL batting title and earning a second consecutive All-Star nomination, the last 72 hours have seen Gordon pull down a Gold Glove, a Silver Slugger, and a Wilson Defensive Award.  He led all of baseball in stolen bases, was voted in as a starter in that second All-Star appearance, and posted the best fielding percentage at his position.

After four years of average to substandard production from their second basemen, the Marlins traded for the player that by any measure was the best at his position in the entire National League (and no worse than second best in all of baseball behind the Astros’ Jose Altuve), both at the plate and on the diamond.  

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But again, as is perhaps only fitting when it comes to this franchise, this is a move that- in light of modern sabermetrics and the surrendering of a top prospect at a position of current need- has drawn a level of criticism nearly as staggering as his actual performance.

As indicated earlier, an excellent full breakdown of that argument can be found here.  And there are certainly plenty of numbers backing that up.  Gordon should walk more, does rely very heavily on contact, and will very likely never match his 2015 level of offensive success.

But there are three key points to keep in mind when assessing the wisdom of this trade.  Firstly, despite that over-reliance on contact, he does seem ridiculously good at it.  Sometimes things just work in baseball.

Mike Redmond was a lovably average player…unless he was playing against one of the greatest pitchers in the modern era; there was nothing sensible about that plus .430 mark against Tom Glavine.

Crash Davis says it best when explaining batting averages, but it’s an argument that cuts both ways.  For right now, Gordon’s approach works- that’s all that matters between now and his free agency.  Secondly, this is now a dramatically different defensive player than the Marlins were bargaining for when they pulled the trigger on the deal.

In 2014, Gordon earned that first All-Star nod much more on account of his offense, not even ranking amongst the finalists for the Gold Glove.

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One year later, he’s the NL defensive darling, a figure that is backed up by modern metrics.  And even if a lot of that success can be credited to Perry Hill and Adeiny Hechavarria (who thanks to this bit of news will win the 2016 Gold Glove for his position), it’s not like those two are going anywhere anytime soon.  Defensive excellence, which is just as important and has been missed just as much these past few years, should last longer than his offensive tool.

That funnels well into the final point, which is that the swap did result in filling a long-standing hole in the club’s lineup.

Out of the organization’s six winning seasons, four of them came in a year in which the starting second baseman earned either an All-Star nod, a Gold Glove, or both.  The two exceptions- 1997 and 2009- still saw above average production at the position, between Craig Counsell‘s .299 mark in his half a season audition and Dan Uggla‘s 31 HRs.

From 2002-2008, only one year (2007) saw a Marlins second baseman fail to win an award or make an All-Star roster, and from 2000-2010, the organization only had one season with a record that was worse than five games under .500.

In short, all the relative success this team has enjoyed has come when it enjoyed a talented tandem in the middle infield.  After four years of Omar Infante (who never came close to replicating his 2010 level of play as a Marlin)/Donovan Solano/Derek Dietrich roulette, the team decided it was time to return to the formula that had worked relatively well for them in the past. Second base had been a big hole in the lineup since Uggla was shipped away after the 2010 season, and only stood out all the more following a 2014 campaign that saw five of eight position players put up seasons worthy of awards consideration and/or All-Star recognition.

If that’s weighed alongside the fact that two SPs under club control had earned All-Star nods in the past two seasons, as well as Jarred Cosart‘s resume following his deadline acquisition, dealing pitching prospect depth to secure a position regular doesn’t seem so out-of-place.  Capable of contributing for as many as 162 games, an All-Star regular is immensely more valuable than all but the elite pitchers.  

At best, the club’s offense would improve; at worst, the defense behind the pitching would improve significantly.  Even if the defensive season Gordon did go on to produce wasn’t the primary motivation, it was certainly believed he’d be a dramatic improvement over the cavalcade of errors and mediocrity that defined 2014.

In the end, as covered here when looking back at the 2015 emergence of J.T. Realmuto, the Marlins did an admirable job of addressing some of the holes in their lineup heading into this past season.  Obviously, plenty of issues remain.  And yes, a big one is at pitcher, following a seriously disappointing 2015 contribution from All-Star Henderson Alvarez, and a comeback year from Jose Fernandez that saw a comparatively minor, but still concerning, injury cost him significant time.

But make no mistake- the problems of 2015 stem far more from their ranking 29th in runs than their ranking 15th in team ERA.

Worry about Giancarlo Stanton missing half a season, worry about Marcell Ozuna‘s regression, lament Christian Yelich‘s disastrous first half and Michael Morse‘s disastrous existence.

Next: Reviewing the Dee Gordon trade

But the guy who just won almost every single honor he possible could have? Might just want to be happy he’s here.