The Miami Marlins are essentially out of options in the third base department. The team's best option after the fire sale trade was to play Yunel Escobar there, but the club was concerned enough about his "change of heart" regarding a position change that they traded him away for minor leaguer Derek Dietrich. Once that happened, the club's third base plans were thrown into disarray, and they have yet to resolve those issues deep into the offseason.
With options dwindling, the Marlins are left looking at the most inferior options remaining. The team is considering a number of players, including journeymen Brandon Inge, Miguel Tejada, and Placido Polanco, according to Jayson Stark of ESPN.com.
Hearing Marlins so unhappy with 3B options, they've been checking out Miguel Tejada in winter ball. Also kicked tires on Polanco & Inge.— Jayson Stark (@jaysonst) December 19, 2012
One look at these names and you are left completely uninspired by any of this. When I questioned earlier why the Marlins would even bother with veteran options at the position, this was the primary problem I had with the options remaining. Of the three, only Polanco really has the best chance of being passable, and even his odds are a little weak; consider that the third baseman-less Philadelphia Phillies declined a very affordable $5.5 million option on the oft-injured Polanco.
Still, as Bryan Grosnick points out in this piece highlighting the Marlins' best remaining options, Polanco seems to be at the top of the list for a pure third baseman.
Polanco, over his career, has been as effective a defensive third baseman as nearly anyone in baseball. UZR, an advanced defensive metric used at FanGraphs, regularly grades Polanco as worth a win or more each season, just based on his defensive efficiency. Even in limited action with the Phillies last year, Polanco was worth about half a win with the leather. When you combine that with a bat that is below league average, but not painfully so, you've got an okay stopgap 3B who can do the job while the team hopes Zack Cox develops. And he and Juan Pierre played together last year for Philadelphia, so that's something, right?
Essentially, the argument for Polanco is that he is still a superior defensive third baseman, such that even his poor offense can be offset. Combined with the fact that his poor offense is not that bad (Bill James projects a .279/.331/.368 batting line good for a .303 wOBA in 2013) and you have he makings of a potentially league-average player. Essentially, what Omar Infante did in 2011 is a little better than what one might expect Polanco to do in 2013.
The problem with signing Polanco is that he would have little trade value for the Fish because his value is so tied to defense. Teams may not evaluate his defense as elite enough to compensate for a below-average bat, and thus a playoff team looking for a third baseman may look somewhere else before circling over to the Marlins for a potential trade.
Unfortunately for the Marlins, the remaining options look a lot worse. Brandon Inge is the same as Polanco in that he is a potentially elite defender at the position, but he has the peripherals of an awful hitter (career 23.1 percent strikeout rate and 8.0 percent walk rate, and both are declining) and would be awkwardly placed in a park where his only batting value, his home run power, would be diminished. As for Tejada, when we last saw him in the majors, he was hitting .239/.270/.326 for the San Francisco Giants in 2011, so it is fairly certain that a few extra years on his resume have not helped.
Of the options remaining, Grosnick did bring up one more of at least passable interest: Ryan Raburn.
While Raburn's 2012 was an unmitigated disaster, his bat has played at least at league-average (or close to it) in every season but his last. Raburn has a career .345 wOBA when hitting against left-handed pitchers, and he has to be due to regress a little back to his true talent level, even if his skills are declining. While Raburn is not a good defensive second baseman, perhaps he could be paired with incumbent pivot Donovan Solano in a defense-offense platoon, given that Solano pretty much can't hit anything, but would be better defensively.
Raburn's 2012 season was awful, but he is younger than all the other options at 32 years old in 2013. In addition, he has the best chance of being a decent bat in the Marlins lineup, and it seems the Fish are unsurprisingly once again focusing on offense rather than defense. Playing Raburn at second base is a sub-optimal defensive alignment, but with the team more interested in finding "protection" for Giancarlo Stanton, they may be willing to forego that problem.
But with all of these inferior options, one wonders why the team should even bother when it could potentially attempt converting Chris Coghlan back to third base or rushing Zack Cox or Derek Dietrich to the big leagues. Admittedly, however, if the team is not going to try and give Coghlan one last opportunity, signing a player like Polanco or Raburn to attempt third base would not harm the club any more than this offseason's trades have done.