If the Miami Marlins followed my offseason plan and acquired Howie Kendrick and Hank Conger from the Los Angeles Angels, they would still have a solid $10 million or so in their pool of money to spend on free agent signings or other acquisitions. It is just as likely that Miami would either retain some of their players in arbitration to eat up some of that salary, but the Marlins would still have the opportunity to acquire a player who could fill a position of direct need.
Enter Juan Uribe at third base.
Yes, Juan Uribe has been around forever, and it does not seem as if he has ever been a good player. A few years ago, he had two excellent, power-laden seasons with the San Francisco Giants, then the Los Angeles Dodgers ridiculously signed him to a three-year contract worth $21 million. For the first two years, it seemed as though that contract was a disaster. He hit .199/.262/.289 and looked like he was on his way out of baseball.
Then the 2013 season happened. Uribe hit 12 homers in 426 plate appearances, batted .278/.331/.438 (.334 wOBA), and had a monstrous defensive season at third base that led to a surprising four-to-five-win campaign according to most Wins Above Replacement metrics.
Now no one knows what to do with Uribe's situation. On the one hand, his offensive year is unlikely to be repeated, as he hit .322 on balls in play and outperformed his career BABIP by 40 points. His defensive year is unlikely to be repeated either, as a 20-plus run campaign in the field is essentially a career year.
At the same time, Uribe's glove was rated sixth-best in baseball last season by the Fielding Bible, and second only to NL Gold Glove winner Nolan Arenado. This likely was not just single-season error by UZR or other defensive metrics, but a legitimately strong season that displayed skill. And while the bat is clearly not going to continue to hit that well, it does not have to be great for Uribe to be a decent player. Take a look at this projection from Steamer.
This shows that Uribe has a little wiggle room for passable success in the majors. The defense and positional adjustment adds 14 runs of value to Uribe's below-average offensive production. In this case, the system is expecting him to be a +12-run defender at the position. In his career, he has averaged a whopping 10 to 20 runs per full season at third base, though admittedly that was accrued over a two-plus year sample of defensive games. Even if you expect him to be a five-run defender at the position, he would still be league average player next year.
As for the bat, the batting line above is not out of reach. It projects a BABIP four points below his career average. It expects an ISO 15 points below his average. He would be hitting one home run less 600 plate appearances under this projection. Given that he is coming off his best season at the plate, it is not surprising to expect him to do a tad below his career average in 2014.
You know who Juan Uribe is at this point? He is essentially an older Omar Infante from before last season. In his two years spent mostly with the Marlins, Infante hit .275/.308/.400 and played Gold Glove-caliber defense at second base. Teams would not pay market value for his wins because a good deal of those wins came from defense, but he would still earn a solid salary. Uribe is older and more likely to seek a one- or two-year deal, but the salary of between $5 million and $7 million is understandable. After all, Infante received $4 million per season after his 2011 campaign that played out very similarly to this year's Uribe expectation.
So would the Marlins be interested in a one- or two-year deal? The Fish have made declarations about defense for a decade now, but they finally tried to do something about it with Placido Polanco last season. Unfortunately, Polanco had already collapsed after his final Philadelphia season, and the Marlins saw nothing but replacement-level play. Uribe is coming off of a healthy year and will be three years younger than Polanco last year. It is far less likely that his defense will implode in the coming years, making him a better defensive stopgap.
As for the fit with the bat, the Marlins could at least pick up some league-average power out of Uribe, provided he plays well in the park. That may be a concern thanks to the depth at Marlins Park, but Uribe has handled two somewhat spacious NL West stadiums in Dodgers Stadium and AT&T Park in the last five years, so perhaps he can handle these dimensions. As for his projection next year, there is almost no way he could play worse than the combination of Ed Lucas, Polanco, and others at third base last year.
What would it take to get him? The most recent contract by the Phillies for Marlon Byrd may actually prove telling. The Phillies paid him $8 million per season for two years after an out-of-line four-win campaign. Uribe's defensive worth will make his deal cheaper, but the value should at least approach $6 million a season. If Uribe only wants a one-year contract, the Marlins should be happy to provide it. If a two-year deal fits him better, the Fish should still be able to weather the storm, if only because the franchise would still be able to promote Colin Moran to take over third base in the middle or latter part of 2015.
An Uribe signing is an excellent stopgap because it is unlikely to interfere with the Marlins' long-term plan at third base. Other options include Eric Chavez, who is definitely looking for a one-year contract, but possibly with a contending team, and Wilson Betemit, who spent last season in the minors. There are platoon options for all three of these players as well, with Chris Coghlan and Ed Lucas still capable of playing third base for parts of next year. But Uribe represents the team's continued desire to improve defense and matches what they tried to do last season with Polanco. I believe it would be a good fit with Miami.
What do you guys think? Is Uribe a good fit? How likely is he to be a good or great defender next year? Who else should we look into for third base? Let us know!
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