In the end, the Marlins’ decision to designate Derek Dietrich for assignment last week, rather than wait to non-tender him this coming Friday, proved to be a non-event. He cleared waivers and today became a free agent in any case. The 29-year-old utility man was set to make about $4.8 million in arbitration, and if you’ve got any questions about his defensive ability (clearly, teams do), then there’s no justification in picking him up at full freight. Thus, he cleared waivers.
Now that he’s a free agent, though, I sure do think he’s worth a look as a complementary/bench piece for the Cubs.
There was some rumored Cubs interest in Dietrich back in July, though that doesn’t necessarily guarantee they’re still interested now in free agency. If the Cubs do still have interest, though, nothing he did offensively this past year should dissuade them. The 29-year-old lefty hit .265/.330/.421 (109 wRC+), which more or less matched his career numbers (.254/.335/.422, 109 wRC+). He has strong splits in his career, faring far better against righties (.259/.343/.434, 114 wRC+) than fellow lefties (.232/.299/.373, 86), but that’s not necessarily a problem for a guy who is more a “piece of the puzzle” than an everyday starter.
He’s also been a downright very good hitter away from Marlins Park in his career (.271/.351/.462, 120 wRC+), which I point out because Marlins Park has been to pitchers what Coors Field is to hitters – it was 25% harder on hitters last year than average, while Coors Field was 27% better for hitters than average. It’s been one of the four most pitcher-friendly parks each of the last three seasons, in fact. Dietrich’s ISO is nearly 50(!) points higher on the road in his career than at spacious Marlins Park (where, until this past season, baseballs were also subjected to high humidity in storage, which reduces their springiness).
That is all to say, Dietrich has been a good hitter in his career, especially against righties, and he could probably be even better if he weren’t playing half his games in Miami.
So how is a versatile guy with that kind of bat not worth $4.8 million and another year of control after that?
Well, the only conclusion, shy of teams thinking he’s totally toast for some currently-hidden reason (he fell way off in the second half, for what that’s worth), is that he’s only defensively versatile in the sense that he can’t really play well enough anywhere to stick. In the infield, he’s generally rated below average, but not egregiously so. In the outfield, however, he’s always rated very poorly. Worse, the Marlins almost exclusively decided to use him in the outfield last year – knowing these trends – which strongly suggests their internal evaluations indicated he really couldn’t hack it regularly in the infield, so they were tolerating the bad outfield defense to keep his bat in the outfield. Of course, the big caveat there is that second base is probably Dietrich’s best position, and the Marlins added Starlin Castro in the Giancarlo Stanton trade, he was the everyday starter at second base.
So, then, if Dietrich is playable at second base – a position where the Cubs may have platoon-level starts available next year – and can chip in at other positions if there’s a need, and if he comes very cheap and offers what might be a very nice lefty bat? Hey, why not give him a look?
The Cubs’ insistence on an eight-man bullpen limits the bench to four players, and that complicates things here. One of those spots will be the back-up catcher, and, presently, the Cubs also have a large group of young players who are not necessarily everyday starters who factor into the bench picture (Albert Almora, Ian Happ, Kyle Schwarber, David Bote). There’s also Ben Zobrist, who, even without counting Addison Russell in all this, factors into the sometimes-starter-sometimes-bench mix. Put another way, the Cubs have like five guys for three starting positions on a given day before making any other additions this offseason, and adding Dietrich would almost mathematically have to come at the expense of someone like Tommy La Stella. I don’t know that I’m ready to say that’s something the Cubs should definitely do (though even the best pinch hitter available has his value limited dramatically if that’s literally the only way his team is willing to use him).
I’m not going to dig too much more deeply into the roster machinations here because you can sort of let these guys at the periphery sort themselves out in the Spring (especially because, if you signed Dietrich, he would almost certainly get the same type of arbitration-level contract that is not fully guaranteed). The point here is simply: hey, that guy looks kind of interest for the Cubs.
Also: when you write about a guy twice in a couple weeks, you run the risk of folks thinking you’re more into him as a Cubs target than you are. To be sure, I’m not saying the Cubs would be better served going after Derek Dietrich than Manny Machado, a guy we haven’t written about much lately at all. I’m not even saying Dietrich is obviously a perfect fit. I’m just saying, if the Cubs want to add a semi-versatile piece that comes with significant offensive upside out of Miami – for cheap! – then Dietrich should be a target.