The Miami Marlins signed Rafael Furcal to a one-year contract now worth a reported $3 million with playing time incentives attached. The playing time incentives are carrots for Furcal to gain more salary if he can remain healthy and on the field, but given his checkered history with injuries, that seems unlikely.
For the Marlins, Furcal's ability to stay on the field is not necessarily too important, because the team actually has some ready replacements who could play at close to his level. Prior to the signing, the Fish were likely to slot either utility man Donovan Solano or prospect Derek Dietrich over at second base, depending on their Spring Training competition. Neither player is a world beater at this point, but according to their Steamer projections, they were not too far away from Furcal's level.
|Player, 2014 Steamer Proj||AVG||OBP||SLG||wOBA||WAR/600 PA|
The differences in these players, using what appears to be a fairly rosy projection from Steamer, point to a one-win difference in a full season between the team's internal options and Furcal. But Miami is highly unlikely to get a full season from Furcal, and the difference would more than likely amount to closer to maybe two-thirds of a win. For that two-thirds of a win, Miami is paying $3.5 million and forgoing to opportunity cost of using that money as part of a larger signing or a different signing. It seems like a lost opportunity for the Fish.
Where does that leave the series of incumbent middle infielders? Solano, Dietrich, and Ed Lucas all figured to play roles in the second base / third base conundrum in Miami, but now that Furcal has signed on to be the team's everyday second baseman, many of those players will get shifted to the third base side. Dietrich has the safety and comfort of Triple-A New Orleans (more on him later), but the Marlins have no use for Solano or Lucas to be percolating in the minors. Their only remaining everyday spot is third base.
So the Marlins, provided they do not sign a stopgap for third base as well, have opened the competition between two right-handed batters who have little minor league history to suggest they are Major League players. At their best, both Lucas and Solano are one-win type players best served as backups. Solano is the younger of the two at age 26 next season, so he should have a leg up on the competition. He is also likely the better player at this point, though Lucas has the advantage of having played shortstop more regularly recently. Solano has a longer and better track record of hitting in the majors thanks to his extended playing time in 2012, and Lucas did not exactly wow folks with his performance in 2013.
Solano appears to be the man for the job at the moment, with Lucas taking on a utility bench role. Solano is still miscast as a starter, but Miami can play him there in 2014 if necessary because his development is unnecessary. While Dietrich still has youth and a prospect sheen on him, Miami should have little hope for improvement from Solano. Thus, moving him around from position to position, while hurting his long-term prospects at any one spot, is of no consequence. Solano's future with the Fish lies on the bench as a utility player, not as a starter at a position.
Ed Lucas will take on a utility role, but he should receive a decent chunk of playing time as well this season. Not only will he back up Solano and shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria, but he is first in line for playing time when Furcal inevitably suffers an injury. In our recent analysis, we expected Furcal to accrue just 450 plate appearances next season, meaning he may miss about 70 games. In those cases, Solano could slide to second and allow Lucas to play third, as he did comfortably for much of last year. The Fish could also ask Dietrich to step in Furcal is out for an extended period of time. Either way, expect at least 150 extra plate appearances to come to Miami's backup infielders even with the signing.
What do you Marlins fans think? Any loss with Furcal stealing playing time away from the team's utility guys? Would you rather have Solano or Lucas at third base? Let us know!
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