The Miami Marlins accomplished their goal of trading Hanley Ramirez for some value without paying any of his remaining contract. For the Los Angeles Dodgers, the question for them will be where Hanley will play for the next few seasons, and it is a difficult question to answer given his defensive struggles in the past. For the Marlins, the question now once again falls to a familiar position: third base. What will the Marlins do at the position?
For years, the Marlins have struggled to find anyone to play third base for the team. After Miguel Cabrera was traded, the pickings were slim. Jorge Cantu had one good year for the team at the position, but he was an awful third baseman and was rightfully moved to first base the following year before again being forced into the hot corner because of the Marlins' lack of available options. In 2009, the Fish went with Emilio Bonifacio and he was an epic flop; he has not seen much of the position since. In 2011, the Fish went in there with essentially no one in mind, because the team wanted prospect Matt Dominguez to win the job outright. When he failed to do so, a contingent of Greg Dobbs, Wes Helms, and Donnie Murphy created a poor offensive showing at the position.
So this year, when the Fish signed Jose Reyes to play shortstop and got Hanley Ramirez to commit to move to third base, it seemed the Marlins had resolved their long-standing third base problem for at least three seasons, as Ramirez was under contract through 2014. But with the Fish now dealing Ramirez and Dominguez hitting surprisingly well in the Houston Astros' Triple-A affiliate, the Marlins are once again left without a real third baseman.The Current Options
At this stage, the Marlins are almost certain to send out Greg Dobbs on a daily basis now that his typical position of third base is open. A lot has been made about Dobbs hitting .300 at the moment, but it is an empty, Juan Pierre-esque .300 at .300/.328/.375. Dobbs's wOBA of .300 and his wRC+ (park-adjusted wOBA scaled against a league average mark of 100) of 84 show that he has been a poor performer at the plate this season. But with Ozzie Guillen's infatuation with veteran hitters and the shiny appearance of .300 batting average, you can be sure to see Dobbs batting second or fifth in the lineup on a daily basis for as long as the Marlins have no long-term options at third base.
Dobbs has been a below-replacement level player this season given his poor defense all across the diamond and outfield. In 174 PA, Dobbs has put up -0.2 Wins Above Replacement, and ZiPS does not see a bright future ahead, as they are projecting him a .261/.294/.360 batting line going forward and a resulting -0.3 WAR in 117 PA the rest of the way. As of right now, the Marlins are likely to give him more than 117 PA the rest of the way, so expect terrible things to come.
Donovan Solano has lit it up in his first 60 PA, and he could be an option to consider, even as a small half of a platoon. Of course Solano's .328/.388/.448 batting line (.369 wOBA) is a mirage right now and does not even come close to matching his career minor league line of .269/.314/.319 (!). ZiPS sees a .259/.299/.356 hitter going forward, and that would not surprise me at all. He is probably a better defender at third base than Dobbs is, as Solano is a career infielder and has played second base regularly, but because he also the team's primary backup middle infielder, the club is unlikely to go to him full-time, but rather in a platoon with Dobbs.
While Giancarlo Stanton has been out with his knee injury, Dobbs has been filling in in right field and doing a terrible job of it (his missed catch last night that helped lead to the eventual game-winning run in the 4-3 loss to the Atlanta Braves is a good example). The advantage now is that Dobbs is playing full-time at third base, and that allows the Fish to run out Scott Cousins or Bryan Petersen in the role of center fielder against right-handed pitchers. Previously, both Cousins and Petersen have been demoted at various times due to poor performance, but the Fish were not running particularly impressive options out in their stead either. Now, the team can use this broken 2012 season to evaluate the players and see if either one is worth a fourth outfielder role next year. This also further necessitates Justin Ruggiano to play full-time, which is what the Marlins should be doing anyway.
One aspect about the future of the third base position that still needs to be considered is that potential future trades may bring in players to fill that gap. Already, the Marlins are fielding offers for Josh Johnson, and the Texas Rangers appear to be very interested. The Rangers can offer an array of players in one of the deeper minor league systems in baseball, but one player's name that seems to be floating around is third base prospect Mike Olt. Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News has said that the Rangers have yet to agree to send Olt for Johnson, but his name must be invovled for the Marlins to be interested now that the Fish lack a clear solution at third base.
If Olt is to come, he would be an excellent addition. He was the 43rd best prospect in baseball coming into 2012 according to Baseball America, and he is having a dominant season in Double-A right now. Olt is hitting .291/.402/.588 in Double-A Frisco and is sure to climb the ranks next year if he remains a prospect. The Rangers are willing to deal him because Adrian Beltre is under contract for the next three years and is still hitting very well, so the fit is certainly there.
Will the Marlins opt for this plan, or will we have to wait for free agency to find out just how the Fish will fill this hole? As of right now, there is no one in the pipeline at this position, and tossing Ramirez has left that gap wide open. Looking at the upcoming free agents in 2013, there is no one who is a long-term fit for this team like Reyes was last season. How they resolve this issue will go a long way towards how competitive the team is in 2013 and beyond.