So Solano has a low ceiling that he is fast approaching on offense, and his defensive value is tied to being capable at multiple positions rather than strong at any one spot. This is a perfect definition of a utility player off the bench. Solano does not share Bonifacio's speed that helps him gain value. He does not have Alfredo Amezaga's defensive prowess that allowed him to be a part-time starter. His offensive game is already hitting a limit this season; he can never be much better than this league average mark. For Solano, he does not have anywhere to go but down, so the Marlins should not depend on him on an everyday basis for the next few years. If they can find a replacement, his role is best suited for the bench.
This all remains fairly true. After Solano's 2013 line of .249/.305/.316 (.277 wOBA), I am more than convinced that he is nothing more than a bench player and solid utility man for the rest of his career. And that is perfectly fine; baseball needs utility men, and there is nothing wrong with being able to play multiple positions and hit just well enough to stay in the majors. Willie Bloomquist, Cesar Izturis, and countless other middle infielders have done that their entire career. If Solano could keep that up, he could have a fine Major League career as a journeyman.
But in the last few seasons, he has been thrust into a mostly starting role on Marlins teams that have been lacking in talent. Two years ago, I said that if Miami could find a replacement for him, they should. I stand by that statement.
But maybe 2014 is not the season in which Miami can find a replacement.
With the signing of Juan Uribe, the third baseman market has crashed. Miami's focus is still in trying to find a flexible third baseman, but their options are dwindling. The best player left on the market is Eric Chavez, and he is a left-handed hitter who would only exacerbate the Marlins' current platoon problems. The team wants to find a right-handed third baseman who can play first base to platoon with Garrett Jones versus lefties. Here are some of the options available and their numbers for the last three years.
|Player, 2011-2013||PA||AVG||OBP||SLG||wOBA||Avg WAR|
None of these names inspire much confidence for the 2014 season. Youkilis is the only former All-Star, and he missed almost all of 2013 with an injury and did not look like the same guy from 2011 for a year-plus before then anyway. Reynolds is a known commodity at third base, in that he probably cannot handle the position defensively any longer. Johnson and Turner look like utility infielders. Betemit is a defensive disaster like Reynolds but without the bat.
Casey McGehee has been the name most closely linked to the Marlins in the last few days, and it seems as though he may be the most interesting player after his successful 2013 season in Japan. Dan Szymborski of ZiPS projections system fame said he would be a 1.3-win player in 492 plate appearances at third base next season, which would be an upgrade over Donovan Solano at least.
But how much of an upgrade are we talking about here. Solano is probably a one-win player, so at best we are expecting half a win more from the McGehee signing. If it costs the Marlins nothing but a minor league contract with a Spring Training invitation, that would not be a problem. But with McGehee weighing a lucrative return to Japan versus a less guaranteed stateside payout, he may not be willing to accept that sort of deal.
That leaves Miami with a number of options that are either marginal upgrades or players on the verge of potential collapse as Major Leaguers. The best player remaining is likely Youkilis, who may be still a viable Major Leaguer but may also be busted following back surgery. He would be the best fit on the roster given the team's need for a righty who can play first base as well, but the Marlins are not likely to get the two-plus win projection per 600 plate appearances that Steamer and Oliver are boasting.
Given where Miami is on the win value curve, should the team really pursue a small one-season upgrade at this point? Donovan Solano, Ed Lucas, and Derek Dietrich may not be world-beaters, but at least one of those players could have a Major League future for the Fish, and they may benefit from a trial by fire at the plate. At worst, Solano could fill in for the entire year and provide the sort of performance he has shown over the last two seasons, and Miami would no worse for wear for it.
This is not a situation like at catcher, where the Fish needed to sign Jarrod Saltalamacchia or find a long-term option because Miami had no solution coming soon. Top prospect Colin Moran may be ready as early as the end of next season, depending on who you ask. If the team is looking to upgrade only for this year, there is no need to spend on a pricey alternative, especially if the club is considering a trade. The help at third base may come in 2015, so the team does not need the replacement player for long.
That being said, the Marlins have an ulterior motive for signing a stopgap: the midseason trade market. If the Fish go for a player like Youkilis or McGehee who may emerge as a viable player by midseason, Miami can trade him for an asset and not let the budgeted money go to waste. In that respect, the Marlins would be right to sign a player to a one-year deal at a reasonable price.
But if either of those two are looking for a longer commitment, Miami simply does not need it. The Marlins are not winning a pennant with Youkilis or McGehee at third base in 2014 or 2015, so the Fish can save that extra year's worth of money for future investments. For 2014, Donovan Solano would probably do.