The Miami Marlins felt that they did not receive enough offensive production from a variety of positions in 2013. One of those spots was at second base, where Donovan Solano and Derek Dietrich combined to hit just .234/.291/.348 (.283 wOBA). Hey, at least they cracked a .300 slugging percentage!
Clearly Miami did not think this sort of production was enough, even if it came from two young-ish players who were making the league minimum. With budget room in tow, the Fish thought that they could resolve last year's problem with the first in a series of short-term stopgap solutions by signing Rafael Furcal to a one-year contract. Furcal will serve as the team's second baseman after having spent almost the entirety of his career at shortstop, but he will also return to the field for the first time since he was sidelined with an elbow injury that eventually required Tommy John surgery. The Marlins will depend on him to bounce back and perform decently after a full year of age and time on the shelf.
Depth Chart: Second Base
1. Rafael Furcal
2. Donovan Solano
Minor League Depth: Derek Dietrich, Ed Lucas
Furcal returns to the field one year removed from surgery, and expecting him to be at 100 percent of what he was before is a fool's errand. In the past, his best defensive asset was his powerful arm, but it is clear at this point that the Marlins are not going to expect much in that department. Miami moved Furcal to second base in part to mitigate the likely loss of arm strength, but after a year spent mostly off the field, you can expect there to be problems in adjusting to a new defensive position. Before he missed all of 2013, the defensive metrics began to see a decline in his play already. The fans of the Fan Scouting Report also agreed, meaning that most signs point to a natural defensive decline for Furcal.
The defensive decline is important because, even before the injury, Furcal was an empty lineup slot on offense. His last strong offensive campaign was in 2010, when he hit .300/.366/.460. In his following two seasons, he hit .251/.314/.347 (.295 wOBA), or the approximate performance Solano has put up over the last two seasons. Furcal still avoids the strikeout and walks at an acceptable pace, but he does not come close to hitting the ball hard anymore (.096 ISO in the last two years), which deflates a lot of his value. Because Furcal does not have elite walking skills to get on base and compensate for the lack of power, any stroke of bad luck could easily sink his season.
That was the prognosis before the season-ending elbow injury and subsequent surgery. The Marlins are asking a lot for a player whose offensive contributions are down to essentially singles to help carry an important role like leadoff hitter. Furcal is no longer an elite basestealer (21 steals in two seasons), though he still is a savvy baserunner based on the runs above average he posted since 2011. But that may be the only other part of his offense that he still has, and that may take time to recover.
And there is no guarantee that Furcal will even get that kind of time because he might injure himself again. He is a notoriously unhealthy player, having missed 152 games in three seasons before the missed season. If Furcal misses 50 games again this season, he may lose around 200 plate appearances and fail to reach 500 once again, prompting the Marlins to still use Solano or Dietrich for a significant amount of time while paying Furcal $3.5 million.
To be fair, the projection systems seem to think Furcal is not a terrible player when healthy.
The three systems each generally agree on Furcal's production, and the two systems that are attempting to project playing time believe Furcal will miss out on 500 plate appearances. As an honest effort to average all of the numbers out, we here at Fish Stripes will project 416 plate appearances for Furcal, with a significant chunk of time missed due to injury, In other words, he was expected to miss 50 games per year before a year-long injury, meaning the Fish should not expect to see him for closer to 60 or 70 games.
As for his production, most systems still see him as at least average defensively, and that has been his only saving grace. Marlins fans can expect a line of around .250/.320/.340 and a .300 wOBA and 0.9 Wins Above Replacement. That means that the Fish paid $3.5 million of their limited budget on an oft-injured player who is just about a one-win guy in the amount of time he may be on the field. It makes you wonder if the team could not have thrown that money at a more legitimate player on the market or a potential trade, as the Marlins will still likely feature either Solano or Dietrich for a decent stretch of time this season.