The Miami Marlins continue to make news on the acquisition front following their major trade with the Toronto Blue Jays. First off, the team made a minor signing in picking up former Marlin Juan Pierre. Then president of baseball operations Larry Beinfest declared that the team wanted a power hitter to tag team with Giancarlo Stanton.
Now, Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports has another thing to put on the Marlins' wish list: a center fielder.
Of course, Justin Ruggiano, who had a spectacular season for the Fish in 2012, had a counterpoint.
@ken_rosenthal no we don't. I got this.— Justin Ruggiano (@justinruggiano) November 29, 2012
Awesome answer aside, the Marlins did technically have a need in one of the two outfield spots given the long-awaited move of Logan Morrison back to first base where he belongs. But the Marlins' signing of Pierre, who had a resurgent 2012 season with the Philadelphia Phillies but is still nothing remotely close to a long-term solution, appeared to be the team's response to that obvious need. Now it seems the Marlins have some interest in another outfielder, with Los Angeles Angels center fielder Peter Bourjos on top of that list.
In the case of acquiring a center fielder, the benefit of the move is entirely dependent on the type of player they acquire. If the team is looking to go after Bourjos, then it would be a decent move provided the price is right. If the Fish are looking for a stopgap free agent like Nate McLouth, you have to question what their thinking process is.
Good Idea: Bourjos
In 2011, Peter Bourjos hit a surprising .271/.327/.438 with 12 home runs and 22 stolen bases in 522 PA. But if that was all he had done, he would merely be an average player. Bourjos's true edge comes on the other side of the ball, on the defensive end. He came up with an elite defensive reputation, and so far the eye test and the advance defensive statistics have both confirmed his status as one of the best defenders in center field in baseball. In 2011, he was worth between seven to 12 runs above average according to DRS and UZR (though Baseball Prospectus's FRAA had him strangely as below average). Even last season, with Bourjos only playing 40 percent of the innings he logged in 2011, he was still able to manage close to 10 runs above average from almost all the metrics.
Bourjos's defensive brilliance is currently being wasted on the bench with the Angels. Last season, he did not make one start in the outfield past August 5, with Mike Trout, Torii Hunter, Vernon Wells, and Mark Trumbo holding onto the remaining spots. Even with Hunter now playing with the Detroit Tigers, Trumbo is expected to hold down one of the two positions. There are rumors that the Angels may move Trout to left field in order to fit Bourjos in the lineup and bench the overpaid Wells, but trading Bourjos may prove to be more beneficial in filling the various holes the Angels have.
As far as Bourjos's fit in Miami, it could not be better. He is not a power hitter, though that may be his best skill at the plate, since he is an otherwise undisciplined batter. Bourjos has a career 22.1 percent strikeout rate and a 5.6 percent walk rate, but he hits home runs at a slightly below-average mark (9.5 percent career home run per fly ball rate) and one that stands out for a player who is a small, defensive-minded center fielder. These aspects are less important than how he would fit defensively on the Fish. Marlins Park has an expansive center field, and I believe it would be highly beneficial to the team for a player with the range of Bourjos to man it and snag fly balls for a young pitching staff. The more room in the outfield, the more important rangy outfielders like him become.
The problem for the Marlins is in how they could acquire Bourjos. Despite him being a bench player for the better part of 2012, he still holds significant value in the trade market thanks to team control. Bourjos has at least one more year of pre-arbitration and should not be eligible for free agency until at least 2017, giving any prospective acquiring team four years of control. Even if he were merely an average player in center field, that would still be worth $30 million in surplus value. The Fish just restocked their farm system with talent, and trading any of it, in particular on the pitching side, would seem counterintuitive to the team's future strategy.
The only way I see a move happening is if the Marlins paid for all of Ricky Nolasco's salary and sent him along with a prospect among their ten best, perhaps one of the ones acquired via the Blue Jays trade. In essence, the Marlins would simply hand Nolasco over free of charge to provide the Angels a one- to two-win starter and give them a replacement prospect who could be worth value. Nolasco's season for free would be worth $5 million to $10 million, and a prospect like Justin Nicolino could perhaps make up for the rest. Even then, this would be a highly unlikely scenario, and the Marlins should likely be content with what they have if the Angels are looking for more help.
The problem for Marlins fans is the second half of that Rosenthal Tweet, which proclaimed that the team may be interested in a stopgap free agent option like Nate McLouth to fill center field instead. In that case, I would have to agree with Justin Ruggiano's statement: the Marlins already have a center fielder if the alternative is Nate McLouth or another short-term solution.
As mentioned yesterday in brief by Fish Stripes author Conor Dorney, the Marlins do not really need another center fielder, particularly if that player is not an upgrade over their current option and is not a part of the long-term future of the team. One can argue that Bourjos is a better player than Ruggiano, particularly for this roster and this ballpark, but it would be extremely difficult to make that argument for McLouth, Rick Ankiel, or any of the other bargain-bin, low-upside free agents available. Why would they make a signing to push Ruggiano to the bench after a strong rookie year?
If the Marlins are not going to acquire a starting center fielder for the future, they should at least allow themselves the opportunity to evaluate their current roster, Let Ruggiano play out the 2013 year and prove himself in a full year at a tougher defensive position. If he succeeds, the Marlins have a short-term stopgap without having to make another acquisition or a potential trade piece when the team is ready. There are decent parallels between Ruggiano and his skill set versus that of Cody Ross, the last passable Marlins center fielder. If Ruggiano fails, the team loses nothing in a lost 2013 season anyway.
But if Peter Bourjos or another piece who can stay for the long haul may be on the way for an acceptable price, the Marlins should go for the outfield depth and not worry about Ruggiano's 2013 status.