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2012 Winter Meetings Miami Marlins Day 3 Recap: Third Base a Priority

With the Miami Marlins trading Yunel Escobar to the Tampa Bay Rays, their focus now shifts to trying to fill the third base position vacated by the move. The team is interested in players like Mark Reynolds, Ian Stewart, and Juan Francisco.

Could Mark Reynolds be the next Miami Marlins third baseman?
Could Mark Reynolds be the next Miami Marlins third baseman?

The Miami Marlins' primary objective in the 2012 winter meetings was to trade Yunel Escobar, who was apparently never going to be a part of the Marlins' plans (more on that later today). The team accomplished that last night by sending him off to the Tampa Bay Rays, but now the club once again is faced with a gaping hole at the third base position, a spot they have failed to fill with a permanent solution for the better part of six seasons. The team is once again bereft of options and will look to either trades or free agency to fill that position, and that is what most of the rumors on the third day of the winter meetings were about.

Reynolds an Option

As we mentioned in yesterday's recap, Mark Reynolds is still an option for the Marlins as the former Arizona Diamondbacks and Baltimore Orioles corner infielder remains an intriguing option. Any team signing Reynolds would likely be giving him a one- or two-year deal that would allow the soon-to-be 30 year-old get a chance for a real free agent contract by rebuilding his value. If that is the case, the Marlins would certainly be interested, but the team still has to be concerned about his issues on the defensive end. Given the club's constant talk about "pitching and defense" and returning to the so-called "roots" of the Marlins, a Reynolds signing would be a direct counterpoint to that strategy.

Keppinger Slipped Away

Originally, the Marlins were thinking about acquiring Jeff Keppinger, the free agent middle infielder formerly of the Rays who had a great season at age 32 and would have been attractive as a player who could play either second or third base easily. Keppinger would have likely been one of the best bargain options for the team, and indeed he ended up being a bargain in 2013 - just for another team. The Chicago White Sox signed Keppinger to a three-year contract worth $12 million total, which was a steal given Keppinger's ability to be a decent (if a bit below average) starter in the majors. For the Fish, this was a missed opportunity for a minor, but at least cheap upgrade in a player with an under-appreciated skillset.

Hannahan and Defense

The exact opposite of the Mark Reynolds situation could very well occur if the Fish chase down yet another third base candidate in the perennially available Jack Hannahan. Hannahan represents a polar opposite of Reynolds in that he is a career .234/.316/.355 (.292 wOBA) hitter with one of the strongest defensive reputations in the game. If the Fish were to go in his direction, they would boast a very defensively formidable left side of the infield with Hannahan and Adeiny Hechavarria on board.

Thus, the Marlins could look to Hannahan at around $2 million a season on a one- or two-year contract and utilize his defensive prowess to provide value. Like Reynolds, he would not be an upgrade over Escobar, but unlike Reynolds, he would be a really cheap option compared to the power hitter with more obvious value.

Stewart and Potential

Another candidate available for the Fish at a cheap price would be Ian Stewart, the former Colorado Rockies and Chicago Cubs third baseman. Stewart would be available on the cheap because he has had a recent bout of terrible seasons, as he is coming off of a .201/.292/.335 season (.273 wOBA) at the plate with the Cubs. We are a few seasons removed from Stewart being a viable hitter, and even in his Colorado days, he was only once a better than league average hitter by wRC+.

If the Marlins sign Stewart, it will be for his potential, but there is very little potential left to mine. Surprisingly, Stewart will be 28 years old in 2013, and his peak is coinciding with some awful numbers in the last few years. He is a bouce back candidate, but one wonders just how much he can climb back given how little he has performed in the past.

Trade Candidates

Another name that has surfaced around the Marlins is 25 year-old Atlanta Braves third baseman Juan Francisco. Francisco hit .234/.278/.432 in 205 PA for the Braves last season, and prior to that he had a stint with the Cincinnati Reds. All throughout his time in the majors and minors, he was well-known for carrying a heavy bat in terms of power but also swinging and missing rather indiscriminately. Francisco has walked more than 100 times in 2554 minor league PA in his career, but at the same time he posted a .286/.317/.502 line and averaged 26 homers per 600 PA in the minors.

Francisco appeals to the Fish for the same reason why Reynolds does, but the problem with this situation is that he would require a trade acquisition. The advantage is that the Marlins could fill third base for at least a few seasons with Francisco, who is relatively young and would be cost-controlled for at least another five years. If the team can find a decent price for his services, even a trade within the division should not affect their plan. I would be in favor of a move to acquire Francisco more than any free agent addition.

Stay tuned to Fish Stripes for all of the offseason coverage of the Miami Marlins as the team continues its post-2012 rebuilding efforts.