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Nothing to Lose: Díaz Deserves 1B Job in ‘22

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The 24-year-old is hitting .221 in 86 at-bats this season.

MLB: Miami Marlins at Washington Nationals Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

The Miami Marlins crashed and burned following a playoff appearance no one around baseball would have envisioned, even in a COVID-stricken 60-game sprint of a season in 2020. Regardless of that on-field success, this was clearly a team in the midst of a rebuild with several key questions to address about its future. As the 2021 regular season nears its conclusion (the Marlins play their final game of the year against the Phillies at home on October 3), those questions still linger.

For the majority of this, the team’s 29th season of play, manager Don Mattingly has looked to Jesús Aguilar to man the ship at first base, a name he’s penciled in 112 times at the position this year. In 131 games in total, Aguilar owns a modest .261/.329/.459 batting line. According to FanGraphs, the team’s 109 wRC+ at that position ranks 18th in all of baseball.

Team wRC+ leaders at 1B through 9/22/21
Team wRC+ leaders at 1B through 9/22/21
FanGraphs

Unfortunately, Aguilar is expected to miss the remainder of the season with reported left knee inflammation. Had he gone into the winter at the peak of his powers, it’d still be fair to wonder whether the team’s long-term answer at first base may lie elsewhere.

The mere thought of Freddie Freeman wearing a uniform other than that of the Atlanta Braves is nearly impossible to fathom. The remainder of the free-agent first base market is almost entirely composed—minus the once-promising Greg Bird—of players in their 30’s.

The primary candidate to be Aguilar’s successor may have already arrived in the form of Lewin Díaz.

Aguilar’s injury, age (31) and the possibility of a designated hitter will factor into the Marlins’ decision to either extend or cut ties with him via a non-tender. Should you want to build a sustainable winner, the presence of youth is a vital factor, which is why Díaz’s place in the organization seems far more secure.

A 24-year-old native of the Dominican Republic acquired in the trade that sent Sergio Romo to Minnesota in 2019, Díaz owns a career .629 OPS in 125 plate appearances. A number like that doesn’t scream “everyday player,” particularly at a position whose reputation precedes itself more with the wood than with the leather, but to be fair, what else does Miami, an organization with more questions than answers at this stage of their rebuild, have to lose at this point?

Giving Díaz an extensive look at first base can do the team more good than bad, regardless of the on-field results.

While we’ve seen the emergence of Trevor Rogers and Sixto Sánchez in the last two calendar years, as well as the continued ascendance of Sandy Alcantara and Pablo López in the starting rotation, questions surrounding the rotation aren’t worth ignoring.

How will López and Sánchez fare in 2022 coming off shoulder injuries? Will Alcantara continue to improve his ability to generate swings and misses while consistently working deep into ballgames? Can Rogers avoid the commonly seen sophomore slump?

Beyond the four of them, the question of the team’s fifth starter, whether that be Elieser Hernández, Nick Neidert, Zach Thompson, Braxton Garrett, or the newly debuted Edward Cabrera, remains to be seen.

Beyond the rubber, though, across the diamond, concerns regarding third baseman Brian Anderson’s long-term health and place with this team are warranted, as is the viability of Jazz Chisholm’s continued development as a hitter in year two for him, and the assumed adjustments opposing teams will make on the likes of Bryan De La Cruz and Jesús Sánchez.