How will the Miami Marlins fill the gap at second base left by the defensively talented Omar Infante? Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-US PRESSWIRE
The question for the rest of 2012 following the Miami Marlins trade with the Detroit Tigers that sent Omar Infante and Anibal Sanchez to Detroit for top prospect Jacob Turner and two other minor leaguers is how the Marlins will handle their lineup for the remainder of the season. While the starting pitching situation will be mostly resolved by next year (with the presumption that Turner will be ready to step into the rotation in 2013), the resulting windfall from the second base gap that has been opened could have an effect heading into 2013.
So how will the Marlins handle their newfound positional gaps?
When I arrived at the game, I found it odd that Emilio Bonifacio was starting at second base and Austin Kearns was starting in the outfield, and that tipped me off to a potential trade that may have happened as I was heading towards the stadium. Sure enough, Infante had been dealt and pulled from the game. The fix that they had last night may have been temporary, but I could see it as a legitimate change the Fish will make going forward to fill the hole at second base.
The reasoning behind this is simple: the Marlins have a lot of outfielders.Consider the team's various outfielders that they have stockpiled from the beginning of the season. Aside from the starting lineup consisting of Bonifacio, Giancarlo Stanton, and Logan Morrison, the Marlins also signed Austin Kearns to serve as a bench bat and Chris Coghlan to back up center field. The team brought up the duo of prospect outfielders in Scott Cousins and Bryan Petersen when Coghlan struggled. The Fish then acquired Justin Ruggiano from the Houston Astros to add depth following Bonifacio's injury.
In essence, the Fish can run an outfield that they had been running since Bonifacio's injury now that Bonifacio has been moved to second base. Because the team has depth (not necessarily quality, but depth), it can afford to play a few more outfielders and move the versatile Bonifacio back into the infield rather than continue to keep their logjam on the bench and in Triple-A. By running a number of guys like Cousins, Coghlan, Kearns, and Petersen out there, the team can also find which ones are interesting options for future seasons and which ones are Quad-A or worse outfielders.
The additional benefit of moving Bonifacio back into the infield to replace Infante comes when Giancarlo Stanton returns from the disabled list following his knee surgery. When Stanton returns, he will retake his position in right field, and with Bonifacio in center field, that would have forced Justin Ruggiano back to the bench. But with Ruggiano playing so well and earning his playing time with good hitting, moving Bonifacio allows Ruggiano a permanent spot in center field for the rest of 2012. This will give the Marlins the best chance to figure out whether he is legitimate or whether the team needs to look elsewhere for outfield help. Giving Ruggiano more playing time is of the utmost importance for the Fish right now.
Another option occasionally brought up is Donovan Solano, but he really is a non-option at this point. Unlike Ruggiano, Solano does not have a solid minor league track record to fall back on when proving his worth as a starting position player. Though he certainly has hit well in 66 PA, the lack of a track record along with the lack of middle infield depth in the team's organization leaves Solano playing the multi-position utility role off the bench.
This role has a more obvious and immediate answer. The Marlins have Wade Leblanc, the team's "sixth starter" who started the year in Triple-A following a spectacular Spring Training, ready to start again for the Fish at the big league level. Leblanc was never good when he was with the San Diego Padres, but he certainly stepped up his game in spring and looked good in 16 starts and almost 99 innings in Triple-A New Orleans this season; Leblanc posted a 3.74 ERA and 3.31 FIP as a 28 year-old this year in Triple-A. He is not a great pitcher, but you do not need to be one to be a fifth starter in baseball, and that is what the Marlins will ask of him.
This allows Jacob Turner to continue to mold himself in Triple-A and avoids the always difficult "rushing Detroit Tigers pitching prospects" problem that the Marlins had with Andrew Miller all those years ago. Giving Turner another month in the minors cannot do him harm, and the team can test what he can do later in the year during September call-ups.
For next season, the choice will be easier, as both Turner and one of the variety of Marlins Triple-A choices can potentially fill out the rotation. The Fish can choose between Leblanc, Alex Sanabia, and Brad Hand among others to choose from for the fifth spot in the rotation behind Turner and the three remaining Marlins starters. They can use September and this late-season run to figure out which pitcher is the best fit, or the team could simply turn to free agency to find another starter. Either way, the acquisition of Turner, barring some injury or collapse in Triple-A, should leave the Fish with most of their rotation slots filled in 2013.