The Miami Marlins have been big fans of Martin Prado since he arrived in Miami in the trade for Nathan Eovaldi. There is no reason not to. Prado has been a part of the team’s fantastic infield defense, and his bat has played well enough to be an average hitter for third base last season. He is similarly performing well this season. batting .314/.364/.409, a .334 wOBA that is eight percent better than the league average line. The Marlins have to be pretty happy with that performance, which is right on par with the average batting line by a third baseman in this surprisingly-increased run-scoring environment.
Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald mentioned this week that the Marlins are happy enough with Prado to strongly consider offering him a contract, though not during the season.
• The Marlins haven’t approached impending free agent Martin Prado about a new contract and could delay that decision until the offseason, knowing they have three legitimate starters to play second and third (Dee Gordon, Derek Dietrich, Prado).
If Prado is re-signed (and I would expect the Marlins to make an attempt to keep him), Gordon or Dietrich could be dealt for pitching this winter.
Prado is a team luxury on a roster that has him, a vastly improved Derek Dietrich, and Dee Gordon, who is currently in the minors serving a rehab stint before returning from his 80-game suspension for PED use. Whereas before the Marlins may not have had a successor at the third base position, the team could presumably hand that job to a team-controlled Dietrich, who has three seasons of arbitration left before free agency. The Marlins have Gordon locked up to a long-term deal as well, having signed him to a five-year, $50 million deal with a team option for a sixth campaign.
However, there are still question marks about each of these guys. Gordon is returning from a PED suspension, and guessing his production after a rough start to the year is going to be difficult, especially with his variable, BABIP-dependent skillset. Dietrich is hitting well this year, batting .289/.378/.418 (.348 wOBA), but he has traded his power game (.129 ISO in 2016) for contact (18.1 percent strikeout rate, lower than his career mark) and a BABIP spike and more softly-hit balls (24.6 percent soft-hit ball rate, 29.1 percent hard-hit ball rate, worst in his career). Can the offensive profile that has impressed Miami this season last without more of his power swing?
In some ways, Prado is the marker of consistency on this team. Before 2016, he had spent each of the last three years batting just a bit above the league average. This year, he is a bit above the league average. He has also improved a core skill this season by improving his dwindling contact rates; after spending two years with a contact rate around 89 percent, his rate bumped back up to career-highs at almost 92 percent this season. Subsequently, his strikeout rate has fallen as well to just 10.8 percent. He is still one of the best defenders on the team at third base, where he has really excelled after years of switching between various positions. He ranks seventh in baseball in UZR among third basemen and ninth in DRS. This season, he has been worth two wins alone by all Wins Above Replacement metrics.
And yet, questions about him are also present. Prado is old compared to the other two players, who are in their 20’s. He will be 33 years old by next season, meaning that his decline will occur at any point. While Prado’s skills are likely to age a little more gracefully than other players, you have to figure that if he hits the wall, it will happen in a hurry. He does not have the power to fall back on like another contact-oriented older player in Adrian Beltre, and Prado’s primary means of getting on base is hits rather than walks. The marginal power he once had has vanished; he is averaging extra base hits on only 23 percent of his total hits, and a smaller and smaller share of those extra-base knocks are homers. Prado is projected to finish the year with six home runs, which would be a career low for him since he became a full-time starter.
Offensively, Prado has yet to show a drop of skill, and defensively he is still a strong player. This renewed strong play is a good reason for him to earn a significant contract next season. At 33 years of age and with potentially a second three-win season under his belt, he could earn a look a final three- or four-year contract for his career before he hits the twilight of his seasons. Chase Headley was 30 years old when he signed a four-year, $52 million deal as a similarly-inclined defense-first player with questionable but average offensive capabilities. Ben Zobrist was another player known for his versatility and an above average bat, and he was slightly older at 34 yars old when he signed his four-year, $56 million deal with the Cubs. Prado is definitely between these two players, both in age and in skill, but he could potentially earn something like a three-year, $36 million contract as a middle infielder/third baseman with a strong track record and a history of positional flexibility.
This is especially given the market for third basemen next year. Luis Valbuena may earn a nice paycheck thanks to a resurgent performance for the Houston Astros. Justin Turner may eventually get paid, by the Dodgers or someone else. David Freese will be out and available again. However, none of these players carried strong track records with the exception of perhaps Turner. Furthermore, the second base market is not strong either, with Neil Walker being the most appealing choice. There should be some suitors for either of those two positions who may be interested in signing Prado to a three- or four-year deal.
Prado would probably be worth that type of deal, but perhaps it should not be the Marlins to offer that. The counterpoint is that there are no strong available replacements in the free agent market next year, which figures to be the weakest in some time. If Miami wants to improve its stock via free agency, re-signing Prado and then finding a pitcher with a trade of either Dietrich or Gordon may be the best option. All we can say now is that Prado is still a valuable Major Leaguer worthy of another contract, but the decision to sign him at age 33 is still a tough one.