Monday, January 3, 2011

The Perfect Pickup: Florida Marlins

The Marlins have a great mix of up-and-coming prospects and established stars, but they do have a few positions they could certainly shore up. Like the Angels, who we looked at last time, the hot corner is foremost among them. However, the Marlins certainly don’t have the cash to go after a big name like Adrian Beltre, so they’ll have to get a little creative in filling the position. Marlins’ third basemen were the worst in the National League last season, compiling a total of 0 WAR overall. Wes Helms and Chad Tracy took the lion’s share of starts after Jorge Cantu was traded to Texas, but both ended up below replacement level and played below-average defense.

Overall, defense was a weakness for the team last year, as their -14.1 overall UZR was the 4th worst team mark in baseball. A defensive improvement would do wonders for the Marlins’ already relatively strong pitching staff, which suffered from a .310 overall BABIP against last season.

So the Marlins need a third baseman who is an upgrade over the incumbent Helms, both defensively and otherwise, and probably need to keep the payroll impact to a minimum. Though the free agent cupboard is relatively bare at the hot corner, I believe Juan Uribe could have been a great fit.

Uribe, coming off a World Championship season with San Francisco, is headed to Los Angeles on a 3-year, $21 million deal. However, he’s exactly what the Marlins need, as his wRC+ of 100 would be a huge upgrade over Helms’ 75, and also helps the Marlins on the defensive side of the ball, as he accumulated 2.6 UZR in 26 games (21 starts) for a career-high UZR/150 of 20.1. Helms put up –4.3 UZR in 90 games (50 starts) last year, and has a career UZR/150 of –9.3 at third, so he contributed to the Marlins’ defensive struggles.

Though Uribe might be a little on the expensive side for the Marlins, their pickups this offseason suggest that they could have fit him into the budget. They signed John Buck to a 3-year, $18 million deal earlier this winter, and currently only have $42,000,000 committed for 2011 after having a roughly $47.5 million team last year, so they may still have a bit of room to expand payroll. Though a catching upgrade was definitely a must for the Marlins, I believe they would have been better off taking one of the many catchers on the market that would have come at a lower cost than Buck and using the money to make a bigger improvement at third. Though last season was certainly a down year for incumbent catcher John Baker, he’s only a year removed from being a useful piece. My strategy as a Marlins exec would have been to sign a veteran on the cheap to handle catching duties (Ramon Hernandez or Yorvit Torrealba come to mind) and sign Juan Uribe, Florida’s Perfect Pickup, to upgrade what will now likely stand out as their weakest position this season.

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