Fun fact: Martin Prado was one of only 10 MLB players with qualified seasons every year from 2009 through 2016. He’s in impressive company (via Baseball-Reference).
Not as fun: Prado ranked 13th on his own team in plate appearances this past season. His absence opened the door for younger but less capable alternatives at third base, and the Miami Marlins suffered in the standings without his steady production.
In a final tune-up before the 2017 campaign, Prado represented his native Venezuela in the World Baseball Classic. It was going great! His countrymen advanced to the second round, thanks in large part to the 33-year-old’s production (.368/.429/.526, team-leading 5 RBI).
But on March 15, Prado pounded a Sam Dyson sinker straight into the ground and pulled up lame trying to turn it into an infield hit:
Venezuela lost that night, then was eliminated from the tournament a few days later. Upon returning to major league camp, the Marlins examined the injury and ruled him out for Opening Day.
The setback initially didn’t seem too costly. The club started the regular season with a 7-5 record prior to activating Prado from the disabled list. He batted .290/.315/.406 during the next three weeks, unspectacular yet consistent (reached base in 16 of 17 games).
Fast-forward to May 7. In an otherwise uneventful blowout win over the New York Mets, Captain Pratt’s season officially derailed. Look familiar?
It was actually worse this time:
Prado says he'll likely have MRI done in Miami on hamstring. Walking is difficult, unlike precious hamstring injury in WBC— clarkspencer (@clarkspencer) May 7, 2017
There was another act to his season—from late June through mid-July—surrounding the MLB All-Star Week festivities, but Prado had the look and results of a diminished player. He underwent arthroscopic knee surgery on that troublesome right leg and simply ran out of time to make an impact down the stretch.
Any way you slice it, the first year of Prado’s new $40 million contract was a disappointment considering the high standard of performance he established over the previous decade.
Martin Prado, MLB Stats
He can still cherry-pick a few highlights to pass the time during this offseason. For example, the Marlins dubbed him an All-Star “ambassador,” a distinction only shared with Giancarlo Stanton, Christian Yelich, Jeff Conine and Tony Perez.
Perhaps it gives Prado some professional satisfaction knowing that one of his two home runs went a long way toward pushing Jered Weaver into retirement. The accomplished right-hander was closing in on his first victory of 2017 until hanging a breaking ball in the sixth inning. The San Diego Padres would go on to lose that game, plus the eight other times he took the mound for them, and he called it quits later in the summer. If Weaver gets away with that mistake, who knows what it does to his confidence and the trajectory of his season.
Prado’s aforementioned contract is actually backloaded—the Marlins owe him $28.5 million over the next two seasons. It’s honestly not a bad value if he rediscovers his 2015-16 form. Unfortunately, there are reasons to be skeptical.
According to Statcast, his Sprint Speed is in decline, from 26.9 ft/sec as a 31-year-old to 26.8 ft/sec the following season and now 26.1 ft/sec. Prado has always struck the ball at a low launch angle, but it will be difficult for him to continue succeeding with that approach as a below-average runner. A few tenths of a second can turn routine ground outs into singles and line drive singles into hustle doubles.
There’s also the question of how much defensive versatility he offers heading into his age-34 campaign. During the regular season, it has become commonplace for teams to reserve 13 of 25 active roster spots for pitchers. Because of that imbalance, there need to be position players capable of moving around the field in the event of substitutions or injuries.
Prado used to be one of those guys. He has accumulated at least 2,000 innings of experience at second base, third base and left field. However, the Marlins haven’t been treating him like a utility man—his most recent start anyplace other than third came in July 2015. A potential contender probably wants proof that he still has the skills to handle a variety of positions before considering a trade.
There are real doubts about what Prado can contribute in between the foul lines, but strong intangibles would make him a viable fit for all 30 MLB clubhouses. Holdovers from the previous Marlins regime understand that, and most importantly, so does Derek Jeter. The new boss witnessed Prado’s influence first-hand when they were New York Yankees teammates for the final couple months of 2014.
Even as a bit player, Prado was one of Miami’s leaders in 2017. Rebuilding teams need leaders, too. Weighing his overall impact on the Marlins versus his value as a trade chip ranks among Jeter’s trickiest assignments heading into next season.