The Miami Marlins knew going into the 2013 season that the club had a gap at the third base position. After the Fish traded Hanley Ramirez in the middle of 2012, they were left once again empty at third base, as they have been since the departure of Miguel Cabrera after 2007.
This past season, the team tried to fill that gap temporarily with a one-year contract for Placido Polanco, who was let go by the Philadelphia Phillies after a difficult 2012 season. The Fish were looking for a potential bounce back from the veteran defensive ace, but instead the opposite happened, as age caught up with Polanco in a major way.
Polanco batted .257/.302/.327 (.277 wOBA) the previous year with the Phillies, but that was an injury-riddled year that saw his BABIP fall to a career-low .274. While Polanco was 37 years old in 2013, there was still a chance he would at least bounce back up to an acceptable level like he saw in 2011, when he hit .292 on balls in play and batted a slightly better .277/.335/.339 (.303 wOBA) and contributed a 2.5-win season for Philadelphia.
The Marlins instead got an almost exact repeat of the 2012 season from Polanco, minus the injury problems that could have served as an excuse. Instead, it was age that seemed to have sapped Polanco's poor bat to unacceptable levels. He was always a player who depended on contact and "hitting them where they ain't" to succeed at the plate, and the BABIP portion faltered this year. He hit .278 on balls in play this season, and that was enough to sink his batting average and OBP (hey, a reoccurring theme with the Marlins!) even with a good 7.8 percent strikeout rate.
Polanco never had power in his career, having only hit double-digit home run totals in three seasons in his career. However, his power this season was at all-time low, culminating in a career-low .042 ISO. Only 14 of Polanco's 98 hits this year went for extra bases, with just one leaving the yard for a home run. That was the second-lowest ISO in all of baseball this season among players with at least 200 plate appearances, as Polanco only outslugged singles-monster Jamey Carroll. Polanco may have been known as a powerless hitter, but before he was mostly below average to bad. This year he reached unplayable levels.
None of this would have mattered had Polanco provided his trademark defense at third base, as he has delivered for years both for the Detroit Tigers and Philadelphia Phillies. Remember, Omar Infante had a terrible offensive year in 2011 but was still a valuable player thanks to his glove. Unfortunately, Polanco left his glove in Philadelphia, as he was not any better than average at third this season. The defensive statistics had him between two runs worse and three runs better than average. In his last few years in Philadelphia, his defense helped to buoy his value, but the Marlins saw very little of the athleticism that helped Polanco make a career; he cost the team the most number of runs of range in his career according to UZR, though he maintained his sure-handedness in preventing errors.
Polanco cost the Marlins runs in many different ways, and he was a disaster all around for Miami in 2013. By midyear, the team had begun turning to another option, but that option was not great either.