Martin Prado was acquired before last season in order to take over the third base position for the Miami Marlins. He was a veteran of the Atlanta Braves organization and was well-known to the Fish, but his reputation as a solid average player and his versatility were the first things that likely caught Miami’s eye. Since arriving in Miami, however, Prado has made himself known for another reason, and that is his leadership qualities, and it is likely a combination of that and his production in the last two seasons which has bought him a three-year, $40 million extension from the Marlins taking him through the 2019 campaign.
Despite some discussion about Prado here in this community, his production is hard to argue against. Yes, Prado leads the National League in grounding into double-play balls, and over the course of his career, he has been worth something like 10 to 12 runs worse than average on double-play opportunities. Yes, he is not a power hitter, nor is he a speedster, and no, neither of those things are really required of position players. Rather than focus on what Prado is not, Marlins fans should focus on what he is, or as an estimate, what he has done. Since 2014, Prado is hitting .292/.341/.408, a batting line that is four percent better than the league average. That is neither impressive nor anything to scoff at; Major Leaguers who are established average hitters are worth a decent amount in the free agent market. That is especially true when you consider that Prado is an above-average third baseman by most accounts; since 2013 when he first took over that position full-time, he has been anywhere between two and nine runs above average playing the hot corner. What he lacks in range, especially this season, he has at least made up for in sure-handedness; Prado has committed just nine errors this year and is among the best third basemen in terms of error runs above average according to UZR.
The overall production of Prado is that of an above-average player. Since 2014, the three main Wins Above Replacement systems (FanGraphs, Baseball-Reference, and Baseball Prospectus) credit him for an average of nine wins, or about three wins per season. An average player logging 600 plate appearances would be about a two-win player, so Prado has been a good deal better than that, though not an All-Star level player. Similar third basemen in terms of value according to FanGraphs include Josh Harrison and Chase Headley. A little ahead of Prado is someone like Todd Frazier.
Prado also has some extra value in terms of positional flexibility. Many guys are forced to over time move down the positional spectrum, never to return to their more athletic days. Prado, on the other hand, has long shown his ability to fluidly switch between several positions as a former utility man. Most notably, he can play both second and third base well, though he seems to be a better third basemen over his career. He has also spent parts of two seasons playing the corner outfield and could probably still do that in a pinch, giving the Marlins options in the future if other players are traded or otherwise moved.
Most notably, however, is Prado’s leadership role in the clubhouse. The Fish may not have been so willing to fork over free agent money to this level of player were it not for his contributions in the clubhouse. Prado has been well-regarded by all teammates and is considered one of the team’s vocal leaders. In a time like this, with the passing of Jose Fernandez in a tragic boating accident, the club needs strong vocal presences in the locker room to help stabilize and recover. Prado can provide that aspect of the team and serve as another coach and counselor on the roster in addition to his on-field performance. There is an intangible but likely present value to that service.
All told, the Marlins signed a clubhouse leader and infielder type with average offensive play, probable defensive value, and positional flexibility. That fits the picture of many recent free agents who signed similar or bigger deals. We explored this the last time we discussed a Prado extension, and the points remain the same.
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.
Headley made $13 million per year coming off a season in which most of his value was defensive in nature. Ben Zobrist came off an injury-plagued season that was the worst of his recent career, though it would be hard to ignore his prior track record for success, even if you did not subscribe to WAR as a strong method of evaluation. Neither guy had been putting up great offensive years for a good amount of time, though their seasons were solidly above average. Prado can never claim to be either guy in terms of potential at the plate, but he was younger than Zobrist when he signed his Cubs contract and probably looked better overall than Headley did after 2014 when he signed his deal with the Yankees. Figuring that Prado would get something in between these two players makes a lot of sense, and that is exactly what he got.
Prado is being paid about $13.3 million per year until 2019. Given that the win market last year was about $7 million per win, the Marlins are expecting him to be worth a little less than two wins per year over the next three seasons. He probably figures to be worth around 2.5 wins next season based on a league-average batting line and a bit of defensive value over a full year. If he declines half a win per season, he would essentially match the value of his contract. Even if that goes up to more like 0.7 wins per year, it would cut close enough to not make a significant difference. If you believe that things like his leadership also help to contribute, you have to figure this is a net positive move.
The only potential downside to this deal is the opportunity cost of spending this money elsewhere and running with the team’s other infielders in Derek Dietrich and Dee Gordon as the primary second and third basemen on the team. This signing could signal that Miami plans on using either of those guys as trade bait to help improve a rotation that now needs even more assistance. This may be a smarter move than spending on a free agent pitching market that is extremely depressed; maybe the Marlins preferred to bet on Prado rather than the paltry market this year. In terms of pure monetary value, however, Prado is likely to be worth this contract, and this is the type of small-market deal that teams like the Marlins can afford to make to bolster their roster.