We'll start with this: prior to 2014, Dee Gordon was not an especially valuable commodity. Young? Yes. Talented? Sure. Fast as all hell? Absolutely. But he was ostensibly blocked at shortstop by Hanley Ramirez, ostensibly blocked at second by new acquisition Alex Guerrero and, oh yeah, ostensibly not a very good hitter. At all.
Gordon had an excellent first half of the season, earning him an All-Star nod among a weak second base crowd, followed by a pretty good second half. To put it in a little statistical perspective, he hit .289/.326/.378 over the whole season, which ends up as a 101 wRC+, which is plenty good for a middle infielder. That's very nice, and it was a small blessing for the Dodgers.
New President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman, GM Farhan Zaidi, and the Dodgers front office, somehow, transformed a pretty good year of Gordon into what I'd consider a very strong haul from the Marlins on Wednesday. He packaged up Gordon [editor note: also Enrique Rojas, I guess!] and a free Dan Haren (more on him later) for four young Marlins: utility player Enrique Hernandez, reliever Chris Hatcher, catcher/second baseman Austin Barnes, and -- oh yeah -- the top prospect in Miami's system, starter Andrew Heaney.
While Gordon fills a need for the Marlins -- their second base situation can be described without much hyperbole as a toilet fire -- this is a classic example of a team overpaying for talent based on one good season. And, mark my words, this will come back to haunt the Miami front office for years to come.
Okay, let me back up for a second here. I'm not one for useless exaggerations. If you read my writing (you know, every few months when I actually write something), I'm fairly balanced. I don't like to post immediate trade reactions describing a winner or loser. And I certainly don't want to be a talking-head pundit with nothing but venom to spit. But this trade is kind of ridiculous.
We have to start the discussion of this trade with Dee Gordon, because one way or another, he's the most important player in the trade. And he's important because he may or may not be the best player in this deal. I'll start here: Steamer projects Dee Gordon to be worth approximately 1.1 wins in 2015. The last run of PECOTA available via Baseball Prospectus has him at 1.2 WARP. That's not an average ballplayer. That's a slightly-below average ballplayer. Gordon has exactly half of one season "proving" he can hit -- after the All-Star break of last year, he decided to stop walking entirely, posting a hellacious 1.6% walk rate and watching his OBP drop to .300.
When you don't have any power to speak of, and your calling card is really, really great speed, you have to reach base at an expert clip. And Gordon doesn't show any indication that he can do that.
How about the other stuff? The non-hitting stuff?
more simply: He messed up the simple ones enough to drag down his numbers, but if you think that's fixable, it's a fairly big deal
— Craig Goldstein (@cdgoldstein) December 11, 2014
Craig's a smart guy, and a Dodgers fan, and I actually buy this. But most of the time, I tend to assume that the current state isn't going to change dramatically. The defensive metrics don't give a whole lot of credit to Dee -- he earned a total of -5 runs via DRS, -3.4 runs by UZR, and FRAA had him at -2.8. He's not yet a good defensive second baseman. This is interesting, because the Marlins sure could use a good defensive second baseman. They're a team that focuses on ground-ball starting pitchers in their rotation, with guys like Henderson Alvarez and Jarred Cosart anchoring their staff.
Gordon's running is truly great, almost a win of value in 2014 from his legs alone. And that's a great skill, but it's one that's prone to diminish over time. While D.G. should continue to carry the skill for a few more years, his defense (which is only pretty good due to his range) and his speed-based offense could slow as well. But for the time being, he's a player who could be average, he's cheap, and he fills a need. That's okay, right?
The problem is in the guy the Marlins gave up, the other centerpiece of the deal. Andrew Heaney is the team's top prospect, a left-handed starter with a relatively high floor, if not a super-high ceiling. He had a bad first run of things in his MLB debut, but that's hardly a death sentence. There's no such thing as a pitching prospect, but there's also no such thing as a telling 30-inning sample.
From FishStripes' Scott Gelman, here's a little bit on Heaney:
Heaney is just 23-years old, and when he gets another major league opportunity, should find more success. Much more promising was the 3.87 and 3.89 ERA and FIP he posted in 83.2 Triple-A innings, respectively. Heaney appeared to have deserved a promotion after posting a 2.35 ERA and 2.46 FIP in eight Double-A starts, and if he isn't traded, could have a chance to win a rotation spot this spring.
His calling cards are a deceptive delivery, a loose, easy fastball, an improving slider, and solid control. And this entire package comes from the left side. Heaney graded out as the top prospect in the Marlins system by almost every ranking organization, and usually slots in somewhere between a top-25 prospect in all of baseball, to about a top-50 arm. He's likely to stick in a big league rotation.
Heaney is projected to be about as valuable as Dee Gordon in 2015 -- actually more so. Steamer gives Heaney one run of value in 10 innings, which would project out to be something close to a win and a half in 150 of those innings. Sure, Heaney isn't a given to throw more than 150 in this upcoming season, but he's already projected to be a solid major-league starter, and he carries even more team control than Dee Gordon.
If Gordon regresses toward the mean, and Heaney regresses toward the mean, then we're looking at something that would be a swap of like-for-like, with perhaps a little nudge in favour of Heaney because of his upside. Gordon isn't much of an upside play, unless you're thinking he can repeat his 2014 first-half performance. If he does that, this certainly won't look that bad from the Marlins perspective.
Editor's Note: Or, perhaps Heaney will end up being traded to the Angels for Howie Kendrick. Whoops. Deals!
The Other Guys
Along with Gordon, Dan Haren is heading to Miami. Haren, if he were to show up, would probably offset some of the loss of Andrew Heaney, whom you could pencil in as the Marlins' #4 starter in 2015. Haren was worth about a win in 2014, but his greatest skill might be reliability at this point, as it's easy to pencil him in for 180+ innings. And with the Dodgers paying all of his salary, he'd be cheap too.
The punchline? Haren may retire in the offseason, and never suit up for Miami.
If that happens, the Dodgers save a boatload of money, and replace him with a better, cost-controlled starter in Heaney. If Haren does show up, well, the Dodgers are out $10 million, which is basically a rounding error in L.A. Reports have indicated now that the Dodgers are sending $12.5 million to Miami, which covers the costs of both Haren's 2015 (whether Haren plays next year or not) and Dee Gordon's $2.5 million arbitration tag. Cash is a rounding error for the Dodgers, and a factor in the Marlins attempt to either (1) attract a big-name first baseman or pitcher or (2) pocket a bunch of cash and stick their tongues out at their fans.
Meanwhile, the Dodgers didn't just get
Heaney Howie Kendrick. They added Enrique Hernandez, a non-prospect utility guy who's been pretty decent since coming up with Houston and Miami. He probably doesn't have a huge amount of upside, but there's an off chance he could be worth a win in limited duty. Could that be a Dee Gordon replacement right there? Perhaps. But he doesn't have a carrying tool, save his utility.
Speaking of utility, I'm a big fan of Austin Barnes, another Dodgers pickup in the deal, who flashes passable-to-good defense at two useful positions: second base and catcher. Barnes hit the cover off the ball in High-A and Double-A in 2014, and has a serious propensity to walk. Like many successful hitters at the lower levels, he doesn't have any carrying tools and it's an open question whether or not he can catch up with big-league pitching. But if he could be a hitter near league-average, Austin Barnes could be just the type of flexible, useful piece that Andrew Friedman coveted back in Tampa.
Finally, Chris Hatcher is a reliever with a little bit of age on him, as he was a late conversion to the mound. His strikeout rate in 2014 was pretty sharp (25.9%), and could slot in the middle of a Dodger bullpen. There's not a crazy upside here, but -- again -- he's a useful cost-controlled piece.
The Dodgers added a good share of potential, at the cost of just one player who had a career year, and another who may not play in 2015. While it's possible that Gordon could go crazy and repeat his 2014 performance for a couple of years, his inability to get on base at a reasonable clip, and the question mark about his glove make that unlikely. With Heaney involved, I'm not sure the Marlins got any better for 2015, and Heaney is talented enough to make the Marlins really regret this in the future. If any of the other three players in the deal becomes a useful major leaguer, then the deal might really look great for L.A. With Heaney moving to the Angels, the Dodgers ended up with an improvement over Gordon at second (albeit a more expensive one), and a handful of lottery tickets.
It's very early to pass judgment, but this looks like a classic overpay at the jump. The Marlins may not have improved enough to move the needle. If Heaney pans out, the Marlins may want to take this one back in a couple of years.
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Bryan Grosnick is the Managing Editor of Beyond the Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter at @bgrosnick.