The Miami Marlins signed Placido Polanco to a one-year deal worth $2.75 million, and for the most part, it was a very reasonable and understandable move from all perspectives. Polanco has had multiple seasons in which he could not stay healthy, and the last year was the worst, as he only participated in 90 games and logged just 328 PA. This is part of the reason why, despite what could have been construed as a successful time with the Philadelphia Phillies, especially given the cheap nature of his contract, the Phillies still let Polanco go by not picking up his option for 2013. Given all of that, this is likely the best deal Polanco had available to him.
For the Marlins, this was the best move available to them because the other options, as discussed yesterday, were far inferior. Polanco may have had a poor year at the plate, but the same could easily be said of Brandon Inge and Miguel Tejada. The difference is that, just a season ago, Polanco hit an underwhelming .277/.335/.339 (.303 wOBA) that still remains a better batting line than what Inge and Tejada put up since 2010. As of right now, it is a decent bet that Polanco is a better hitter than either of those players, and given his past history of defensive excellence, evidenced by three Gold Glove awards including one 2011, he is very easily the best player of the three options the Fish were considering.
So what can we expect out of Polanco in 2013? Any discussion regarding Polanco typically begins with his glove, which remains stellar. Over the last three seasons, he has posted an average Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) of 12.6 runs above average per full season of play. Polanco passed the eye test as well, at least when it came to the Fans Scouting Report. He was rated ninth among third basemen in the FSR, behind a number of good rookie shortstops who were shifted to third base (Manny Machado, Adeiny Hechavarria) and other elite third basemen (Evan Longoria, Scott Rolen, Ryan Zimmerman).
With his continued aging, we would expect that to drop, but even if it falls down to eight or 10 runs above average, the Marlins would still be receiving the best defensive third baseman the club has likely ever had. Assuming eight runs above average per full year, it will not take much more to make Polanco close to a league-average player.
As far as his offense, there is much to be desired. Polanco is coming off of his worst offensive campaign since the start of his career, Over the last three years, he has hit a respectable but still very light .281/.330/.356, and his power will not be returning now that he has left Citizens Bank Ballpark and entered Marlins Park. However, last year his performance was brought down by his lowest BABIP of his career as well, and if he can drag that BABIP back up to something less than his career norm, the Marlins should at least see a repeat of his 2011 batting line. Indeed, Bill James projects a .279/,331/.368 line (.303 wOBA) that is very similar to that 2011 mark.
Assuming that projection sticks, the only thing left to consider Polanco's playing time. He logged an average of 484 PA per season over the last three years, and I would be comfortable guessing about the same number for him in 2013. Giving him 480 PA for the year, the Marlins could expect a below-average hitter who makes up for it by being an excellent third baseman, much in the way Omar Infante did in 2011 and 2012. In that small amount of time, Polanco may be worth 1.9 Wins Above Replacement (WAR), which would make him a stellar investment for the Fish.
Of course, adding almost two wins to the ledger means nothing to a team well out of contention like the Marlins. But if Polanco catches fire early in the year like Infante did in 2012, the Marlins may be able to ship him to a contending club that is in need of a third baseman. Essentially, this is the only real potential benefit of the signing for the Marlins, because the on-field performance will barely matter in the long run. The hope is that Polanco can show just enough at the plate so that a team may bite knowing his excellent defensive reputation.
For the Marlins, this is a move with a small upside but essentially no downside, as the team's remaining options were weak aside from testing out Chris Coghlan in the infield. Consider this the final nail in the Coghlan coffin, as he has no remaining places to play in the majors and will likely occupy a bench spot. The Marlins were rumored to be pursuing young prospects at third base, and the team should continue to do so, because Polanco is a second baseman by trade, and acquiring a player like Mike Olt or Nick Castellanos would allow the Fish to move Donovan Solano to a more proper bench role. Overall, this is not a bad signing, but its effect will likely be small in the big picture.