Miami Marlins Still Considering Emilio Bonifacio Outfield / Infield Conundrum

The Miami Marlins should keep Emilio Bonifacio near that infield dirt in 2013. (Photo by Sarah Glenn/Getty Images)

If you are a Miami Marlins fan, you know that the 2012 season has not gone well for the Fish and that the front office (whoever ends up in that department) has many decisions to make about the personnel the team fields in 2013.

One of the decisions that they will certainly have to make is regarding the future position of Emilio Bonifacio, who will be heading into his fifth season with the club. Bonifacio is not a long-term solution at any given position, but in terms of the team the Marlins will be fielding in the next two years, it appears he will play an important role somewhere in the lineup. As always with Bonifacio, his versatility has the Marlins wondering just where that position will be.

Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports reports that the Marlins' initial plan was to keep Bonifacio playing in center field and find a possible replacement for their current empty hole at third base, but that appears to be difficult this offseason.

The Miami Marlins’ preliminary plan for 2013 is to keep Emilio Bonifacio in center field, play Donovan Solano at second and make the acquisition of a third baseman their top priority.

So, one alternative for the Marlins is to acquire an outfielder and move Bonifacio back to third base. As I mentioned in this week’s Full Count video, B.J. Upton would be one possibility as a free agent. Upton’s brother, Justin, meanwhile, could be an option in a trade.

Clearly, the Marlins have yet to decide exactly what will happen to Bonifacio's future and just where he will end up next year, but if you are a consistent reader of Fish Stripes, you should know that the Marlins' so-called "alternative" is actually the preferred plan here on the site. Earlier this season, I implored the Marlins to consider their park dimensions before making a move, and the moves that were involved included players like Michael Bourn and Shane Victorino, outfielders who can work our center field dimensions and will not suffer severely from power outages by moving to Marlins Park.

But it seems the Marlins wanted to chase a big power bat at third base. But as Rosenthal says in the link, third base is a barren landscape this season, so the Fish might be better off playing Bonifacio in the infield and signing an outfielder. So what is the most beneficial move both for Bonifacio and for the Marlins?

Bonifacio's Defense

One aspect that gets considered the least is Bonifacio's defense at each of these positions, as it is generally assumed that he does just as well in one spot as he does in another. But as versatile as he is, it is highly unlikely that Bonifacio's skillset does not naturally lend itself to an infield or outfield position in particular.

So what do the numbers say? Well, the advanced defensive metrics do not seem to like Bonifacio anywhere in particular, rating him as an average or worse defender at each position he has attempted. Here are his career runs above average in three different advanced stats: UZR, TotalZone, and DRS.

Bonifacio, Position Innings UZR TotalZone DRS
Third Base 1000 1/3 -5 -1 1
Center Field 705 2/3 -4 -5 -6
Second Base 587 -3 -5 0

Basically, no position stands out as being outright better or worse for Bonifacio among the three positions he is most likely to inherit in 2013. But keep in mind that we are talking about the results of defensive statistics with at most 1000 innings of sample. We would not presume to judge a player on their defensive stats with a season's worth (about 1200 innings) of sample, so judging him over multiple seasons for less than that is even worse. All of this is to say that while Bonifacio does not look great in any of these positions, he may be better than these numbers suggest.

So let us use a completely different method of measuring defense: the Fans Scouting Report. Since the 2012 Fans Scouting Report is still going on (and please put in your ballots for Marlins players and help the Marlins blogging and analysis community), we will use the results of the 2011 Fans Scouting Report. Bonifacio is rated there as an above average defender overall, but how do his individual attributes rank next to players of other positions? I took his numbers and ranked him among players with at least 30 games played in the three positions.

Bonifacio, FSR Total Players Reaction/Instincts Accel/First Step Velocity/Speed Hands/Catch Throw Release Throw Strength Throw Accuracy
Third Base 56 18th 3rd 1st 34th 27th 43rd 43rd
Center Field 55 25th 16th 19th 51st 33rd 29th 37th
Second Base 52 21st 3rd 1st 38th 30th 32nd 38th

The rankings show that Bonifacio is about an average defender at each of these positions, with speed and acceleration to the ball being his best tools and his arm being among his worst. But of course, these tools are not equally important to each position, and that makes leveraging Bonifacio's best traits properly. For example, he may rank highly among third basemen in speed, but third basemen do not need great speed because their range of responsibility is small in the corners. They do, however, need a powerful arm, which Bonifacio lacks.

Estimating the relative needs for each position in terms of tools, I suspect Bonifacio's best spot is probably second base, where his speed is best leveraged in the infield but his weak arm is best hidden. Center field is his next option, but his speed in center is only top-notch rather than elite.

Free Agent Availabilities

However, the crux of Rosenthal's argument about possibly going to Bonifacio in the infield is that the Marlins would be hard-pressed to find a good third baseman in the 2013 free agent market. One look at the list of free agents and anyone would also surmise that position. When the best options are the leftovers of Kevin Youkilis and impossible reclamation projects like Mark Reynolds, the options just are not pretty.

On the other hand, the options in the outfield are significantly more plentiful. Center field in particular is very deep in mid-range prospective free agents who could make up a Marlins signing and force Bonfiacio back into the infield, where he does seem to be OK defensively. Rosenthal mentions B.J. Upton as an option, and readers of the site know that I am highly invested in the thought of signing Michael Bourn. Shane Victorino can also be a mid-range option.

So with the Marlins facing both a lack of a clear difference in Bonifacio's performance in the outfield and infield and a clear lack of infield free agent options compared to the bountiful outfield options, it seems fairly clear that while the Marlins may still debate the infield / outfield conundrum, the answer should be "infield" for Bonifacio. There is very little available talent in the infield next year, and the Marlins' deepest position in terms of available talent in the organization and in available free agents is in the outfield. Having Bonifacio grab a second base glove would be the smartest play for the team.

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