Filling the Third-Base Vacancy, Part One: Jose ReyesBy
With payroll expected to jump to around $80 million, the Marlins are now looking like serious spenders in this year’s off-season. They have been linked to some of the biggest name free agents on the market, and seem intent about signing one, if not more, to their new home in Miami. While this certainly isn’t a bad sign, whether they can turn extra payroll dollars into production on the field remains to be seen. And to do just that, the front office will have to target players who specifically fit this team’s needs. One of which, possibly the most critical of all, is at third base. Below is one of possible free agents the Marlins could realistically sign or promote to fill that void–I’ll continue with more players in ensuing posts–with the benefits and downfalls of each different route.
Jose Reyes-Any discussion of infielders in this year’s free agent class is going to begin, and end, with Jose Reyes. The four time All-Star shortstop, 2011 NL batting champ, and now former New York Met is officially a free agent. If the Marlins are able to sign him, the benefits are obvious. His 6.2 fWAR highlights his outstanding season this year, which was the result of a .337/.384/.493 triple-slash line. Reyes’ speed on the basepath would also be a welcome addition to the top of the lineup. In 2011, he barely missed the 40-steal plateau, finishing with 39. With this in mind, what makes Reyes’ value (6.2 fWAR) even more impressive is the fact he was only able to play in 126 games. Extend his pace out to a full season, and he easily could have finished with an fWAR above 8–if he did, we could easily be talking about Jose Reyes, the 2011 NL MVP.
However, Durability is a legitimate concern with Reyes. His stint on the DL this year was not the first time (it was actually his fifth, for those who are wondering) in his career. The Marlins would have to take the risk that his legs stay healthy, and that he is finally behind his past injury concerns.
If he were signed, Reyes would also create problems positionally. The Marlins would be left with two shortstops in Reyes and Hanley Ramirez, and one would be forced to move away from their natural position to third base. In this case, it would most likely be Hanley that shifts to his right to cover third, with Reyes taking over the duties at shortstop. Over the past few years, Hanley has outgrown his shortstop body, while Reyes has been the superior fielder, although neither is great. This is shown when you compare the two’s average UZR/150 score over the past three seasons-
Although it would seem logical for Ramirez, the worse fielder, to make the change to third–where his poor range would have less of an impact–here is where another problem arises. Apparently, Hanley is not exactly happy about changing positions. If he is insistent on staying at shortstop, there are still other viable ways to rearrange the infield–playing Reyes at third, or moving him to second base, and having Omar Infante move over to third–although they are less than ideal. Whatever the positioning would work out to be, its impact would likely be very minimal, possibly only a few runs over the season, and the possible defensive conflict should in no way stop the Marlins from pursuing Reyes.
One more to consider with Reyes: he is likely going to demand a big payroll and a long-term contract. The Marlins initial offer to Reyes was a 6-year deal worth $90 million, but the team will have to put more money on the table to secure Reyes. Although acquiring Reyes is definitely not be a bad thing, its worth considering that this would give the team much less flexibility in their payroll to sign other impact players this and the following off-seasons. A long-term deal is also risky in the fact that Reyes will be well into his mid-thirties by the conclusion of a 6 or 7-year contract. By then, his speed will almost assuredly be on the decline, which is a significant part of Reyes’ game. He will also be on the decline in terms of offensive production–hitters peak at around age 27, then steadily decline after that–as well as his defensive range. Granted, even if he is declining at the end of the contract, Reyes is very talented and will most likely still be a very good player at that time.
Overall, Reyes is a superb player who would greatly improve the team, possibly enough to make them serious contenders next season. Like any investment, there are risks involved with Reyes, but the idea of him and Hanley anchoring the left side of the infield is an exciting one, and it is more than enough to outweigh the concerns.
Data courtesy of Fangraphs