A couple of interesting tidbits came out of the latest Joe Frisaro mailbag regarding the Miami Marlins and several middle infield players. Rather than do our usual mailbag shtick, I figured we should address these two questions in a little more depth. The first interesting discussion was about Martin Prado. The red-hot infielder is still hitting well, batting .371/.408/.443 (.370 wOBA), doing his best early-season 2015 Dee Gordon impression at the plate. The Marlins have to be happy about that, but that does not mean the team is planning on changing anything with regards to a contract extension.
This seems par for the course heading into the 2016 season. Prado was always a short-term consideration for the Marlins. The versatile infielder was acquired from the New York Yankees to play third base in large part because the team had not at the time figured out any decent long-term plans at the position. However, the idea was always that Prado would be a stopgap at the position rather than a longer-term solution, especially for an otherwise young team and one that is not as willing to spend free agent money.
This should not really change as 2016 progresses. Prado has been a good player for the Marlins; he posted a three-win season by every Wins Above Replacement metric in 2015, with a strong second half leading to a league average batting line. He provided great third base defense that should have at least gotten some Gold Glove consideration. But he is also not a spring chicken; he would be 33 years old in 2017, and while his contact-hitting skills are not something that will age quickly, defense can go down the drain fairly quickly as athleticism saps with age.
Ultimately, the Marlins will have to determine if they have a replacement ready for Prado. If they do, there would be little need for the veteran to return, especially if he is looking to be on a true contending ballclub rather than a fringe player like the Fish likely are. So far this season, Derek Dietrich has appeared ready at the plate to be the heir apparent, as he is hitting .290/.393/.495 (.380 wOBA) so far this campaign and is getting an extended look in the starting lineup due to Dee Gordon's suspension. However, Joe Frisaro says there are still questions about that.
Obviously, Prado is a big part of this team, and he is very comfortable playing in Miami. The Marlins also don't have an obvious replacement at third. Derek Dietrich is a possibility, but right now, he is playing mostly second with Dee Gordon serving his suspension.
This is exactly the reason why the Marlins should have at least considered shifting Prado to second base and playing Dietrich at third. While the current alignment is likely better for the Marlins' performance in 2016, putting Dietrich at third would have given the Fish an extended trial of the position he would actually play in the future, as Gordon is likely to keep second base for a longer period of time with his five-year extension.
Frisaro does believe that the Marlins could extend Prado ultimately.
If this Marlins core shows it can contend, I think the chances are strong Prado could sign with Miami in the offseason -- probably a two-year deal. But if the club falls off the pace and looks like it will go in a different direction, then perhaps the veteran third baseman will sign elsewhere.
Anything can change, but this comment seems a little disappointing. Prado re-signing would be a risky proposition to bet on a 33-year-old player, especially with an interesting soon-to-be 27-year-old with better hitting skills being relegated again to bench status. Furthermore, depending on how much Prado inevitably cools down, this may be a problem of signing a player at high value rather than signing him for future performance. If Prado maintains a strong batting line over the course of the year like Gordon did last season, then the Marlins would be attempting to sign a player at a player with high-variance skills at a bad age. If the Marlins had no replacement, that would be a different story, but with Dietrich on board, Prado would seem to be an extra name who could command a decent amount, especially after a good season. It is at least wise for Miami to allow the season to play out before making any decisions.
The team has signed a player like Prado to a two-year deal before. Another former Atlanta Braves utility man, Omar Infante, once signed a two-year deal with the Fish after having been acquired in the Dan Uggla trade before 2011. Infante too depended on low strikeout rates and contact with mediocre power and defense to provide value, and he was valuable during the season and a half he spent with the Fish. The difference was that Infante signed a two-year, $8 million deal that was extremely favorable to the team and he signed that contract at age 30. Miami would be several seasons late on a deal with Prado, and Infante himself proved to be a bad example of a contact player like Prado. By age 33, Infante had already put up a sub-replacement level season with the Kansas City Royals, just one year after signing a four-year, $30 million deal.
Prado has been a strong contributor for Miami so far, but they have enough tools and there is enough risk that they should replace him rather than re-sign him. Unless he signs a very team-friendly cheap deal, this should be his last year in Miami.