The Miami Marlins decided to demote Donovan Solano after he was reactivated from the disabled list with an intercostal strain. The move was an interesting one because, prior to the regular season, the Marlins were all but committed to Solano playing second base for the foreseeable future, or at least until Derek Dietrich, the team's only middle infield prospect, could be ready to take the position (assuming he was not slated for third base). After Dietrich already took over second base with his passable play so far, Solano was deemed expendable.
But don't fret, Marlins fans! The Marlins only deemed Solano to be expendable because they already have his replacement ready! Donovan Solano started off last season getting some playing time because of injuries and capitalizing on an early hot streak. He was promoted in late May and, by the end of June, he had made seven starts and was hitting .364/.421/.455 in a whopping 39 plate appearances. That, combined with the injuries and later trades, was enough to earn Solano a starting job by the middle of July.
Veteran minor leaguer Ed Lucas has racked up 39 plate appearances through Monday and has made quite a few starts due to nagging injuries to third baseman Placido Polanco. Lucas is a well-traveled career .278/.350/.399 hitter in the minors. But for these 39 plate appearances with the Fish, he has hit .355/.444/.387 (.376 wOBA) and has done enough, thanks to the latest wound to Polanco, to earn himself playing time.
The premise between the two is very similar. While the Marlins may have done the right thing by demoting Solano, they also went with the wrong move by keeping a red-hot (thus far) Lucas in the majors when he represents the exact same problem Solano provided last season.
The Marlins kept Lucas in the majors over Solano simply because Lucas had a hot start to his major league career. From the end of June through the rest of the 2012 season, Solano hit a respectable .286/.331/.365. If Lucas could pull that off, the Marlins would be happy, but the problem is that expecting this from a career minor leaguer is very difficult. Solano this season showed that he was not capable of keeping pace, having hit .278/.333/.324 thus far. After that hot start, Solano has hit just .283/.332/.353 for the rest of his time in the majors. To get a sense of how good that batting line is, batters with similar lines since 2010 include Emilio Bonifacio (.269/.330/.355, .306 wOBA), Nate McLouth (.235/.329/.360, .307 wOBA), and Skip Schumaker (.273/.334/.347, .304 wOBA). None of those players could be considered talented hitters, and they totaled 4.4 FanGraphs Wins Above Replacement (fWAR) in those three-plus seasons.
Donovan Solano gives us an idea of what to expect if the Marlins continue to go to the well of Ed Lucas all too often. Since Monday, his batting line has already fallen to .333/.409/.359 (.348 wOBA), which shows you how fast a 2-for-10 slump can sink 39 previous plate appearances. So why have the Marlins so eagerly allowed Lucas, who would have otherwise been demoted the second Solano got off of the disabled list, to stay?
The reason could be that Lucas can provide a utility infielder role, including the ability to play shortstop in a pinch. That reasoning would fly well except that Solano has played shortstop fairly consistently as late as 2010 in the minors, and even last season he split his Triple-A New Orleans time between shortstop and second base. Nope, that reasoning does not explain it.
The more likely explanation is that the Marlins saw Lucas batting .364/.421/.455 and thought that he could keep up a reasonable facsimile of that performance, thus becoming a hidden gem from the deep minors. But as we saw last year, players like him and Solano simply do not keep up performances like that, and it would be foolish to expect them to do so. Yet here is Ed Lucas, 10-year minor league veteran, making starts and batting second for the Marlins. The Fish may expect good things from him, but it is not difficult to see that those things are unlikely to happen.
Demoting Solano in favor of Lucas does not even make sense from a developmental standpoint. At least Solano is 25 years old and still capable of maybe developing into something more. Bonifacio surprised everyone when he began developing some useful plate discipline starting in 2011, when he was 26. It is unlikely that Solano will grow as a player significantly, but it is still a possibility.
On the other hand, the chances of a 31-year-old Ed Lucas growing into anything more than what he was in the minors seems highly unlikely. He is simply at too far an advanced age to expect a better performance.
Nothing really explains the move to keep Lucas and demote Solano. Lucas had a nice start, and maybe he earned a bench role on the team in the future. But the Fish should not have sent Solano to the minors just to keep the exact same player. but older around in the big leagues. The Fish are once again following small sample quirks, and while the significance of this move is small, the reasoning behind it once again shows that the team is behind on the times.