How Would Jose Reyes Fit on the Marlins?

In thinking of the likely landing spots for Jose Reyes, few, if any, would have guessed the Florida… er, Miami Marlins. But with multiple reports speculating on such a possibility, it’s worth taking a look at how exactly Reyes would fit in with the Fish.

The biggest question of course, is what do with incumbent shortstop Hanley Ramirez (for this exercise, let’s assume that he will not be traded). It’s no secret that Ramirez isn’t a great defensive shortstop. Over the past three seasons, only Asdrubal Cabrera and Yuniesky Betancourt have worse UZR/150 marks at shortstop than does Ramirez, and only Betancourt, Orlando Cabrera and Derek Jeter have a lower combined DRS. But interestingly, Reyes is not all that much better statistically. Over the same three year span, Reyes’ -4.6 UZR/150 is only marginally better than Ramirez’s -7.3 mark. The same goes for DRS — Ramirez is worse (-20), but the margin for error between him and Reyes (-12) is within a win.

So can it all be so simple as just leaving Ramirez at third and finding a new position for Reyes? No, it really can’t. If that was the end of the evaluation, you could make a case for leaving Hanley at shortstop out of respect for the fact that the Marlins are his team. But it’s not. Ramirez no longer has a prototypical shortstop body, and it shows in the 2011 Fans Scouting Report. While Ramirez had an average 53 rating this season, Reyes’ 76 tied for 19th best in the game. Reyes has both the statistical and subjective edge.

If you did leave Ramirez alone though, you would probably move Reyes to second base, where he played some in 2004 during the great Kaz Matsui experiment, but that seems silly. You would still have a subpar shortstop, and Reyes couldn’t be expected to play any better than Omar Infante does at the keystone. Moving Ramirez is the better strategy.

So, again, what do you do with Ramirez? From a filling holes perspective, the easy answer is to move him to third base. While you could move him to center field, the Marlins already have two guys who can play out there in Bryan Petersen and Emilio Bonifacio. You’ll notice I didn’t say Chris Coghlan. To refresh your memory, Coghlan had both knee and shoulder trouble last year, and kept the knee injury hidden until the Marlins were ready to send him to the Minors. In a related story, Coghlan is no longer central to the Marlins’ plans, and very well may be out of a job. So for now, let’s just consider Bonaficio and Petersen.

Bonaficio isn’t any great shakes, as his .372 BABIP probably isn’t sustainable, and if that regresses he will likely be below average both offensively and defensively. Petersen on the other hand has a chance to be at least league average. Across the past two seasons, spent cumulatively at Triple-A and the Majors, Petersen has walked 10.5% of the time. Combine that with what has been good defensive play to date and you have a pretty decent player (which isn’t to say he will wrest playing time from Bonaficio immediately — Emilio’s 40-steal campaign is shiny enough that he will probably have to play his way out of a job).

On the flip side, there is little indication that Matt Dominguez is ever going to be ready to hit at the Major League level. After putting up some respectable numbers at Double-A in 2010, it was thought that Dominguez would be given the starting nod at third base out of the gate last year, but the Marlins wanted to see him handle Triple-A pitching, and he never really did that. And while it’s usually best to ignore gaudy stats put up by hitters in the Arizona Fall League, it’s never a good sign if a hitter flops there. And unfortunately, that’s exactly what Dominguez is doing, as he has hit just .216 with a .272 on-base percentage in his 18 games there thus far.

Now, I know what you’re saying — Ramirez didn’t exactly hit well last season either, and then he needed shoulder surgery in September. But since I am not a doctor, nor do I converse with them, I tend to leave the medical evaluations to my good friend Will Carroll. Here’s what Carroll had to say about Ramirez in September:

Ramirez’s shoulder will be tightened up and he should be back in plenty of time for spring training. Players have come back from this type of surgery well, with B.J. Upton the best example.

Now, I am not saying Ramirez is going to suddenly start producing like he did from 2007-2009. But if he can replicate his 2010 numbers — and I think there is a good chance that he can since none of his ratios really took a turn for the worse last season — he is probably going to be in the neighborhood of four wins better than Dominguez, unless he falls apart defensively. Which he shouldn’t.

Third base is not only the best place for Ramirez from a lineup hole perspective, it also fits his game best. One of the main benefits of sliding from shortstop to third base is that generally speaking, you don’t need as much range to handle third. Sure, you have to charge on bunts, but by and large, it’s a reaction position, there isn’t nearly as much running involved as there is at short (or in center). And that might be just what the doctor ordered for Ramirez. Both for his career and across the past three seasons, his bugaboo has been range. His RngR is easily the worst piece of his UZR puzzle, as he compiled a -11.1 RngR the past three seasons, compared to a much more palatable -3.1 DPR and -0.8 ErrR. And since Ramirez has the arm strength to handle third, it becomes clear that third base, and not center (or second), will be his best bet.

Getting back to Reyes, if he hits the way he did in 2011, he would be an upgrade over Ramirez not just defensively, but offensively as well. Again, though, let’s be conservative and say instead of a 149 wRC+ he comes down to the 130-135 wRC+ range. This is likely to be slightly better than what Ramirez puts up as well. As an added bonus though, Reyes would help better align the batting order. Bonaficio/Petersen could be slid to the number two slot, and Infante and his .311 career wOBA (.305 last year) could be moved to the bottom of the lineup where it belongs. Here’s what a Reyes-filled would probably look like:

SS Reyes
CF Bonaficio/Petersen
3B Ramirez
RF Mike Stanton
LF Logan Morrison
1B Gaby Sanchez
C John Buck
2B Infante

Now, if I was going to construct a more optimal lineup, I would probably hit Morrison second, slide Bonaficio/Petersen down to seventh and move Sanchez up a spot. This would keep a mostly left-right balance and stack the team’s best hitters at the top of the order. But new Marlins skipper Ozzie Guillen is fresh off a season where he hit Juan Pierre leadoff 154 times, so I’m trying to be as realistic as I can be.

So let’s tally this up. Conservatively speaking, Reyes figures to upgrade shortstop by about a win, and Ramirez figures to upgrade third base by about four. In case you’re having trouble adding that up, that’s a five-win upgrade for the Fish, and it could be even better than that. Last season, the Marlins finished in last place for the first time since 2007, but if they are successful in bringing Jose Reyes into the fold — no matter how they shift their currently rostered players to accommodate him — it will probably be their last trip to the basement for a few more years.

Paul Swydan used to be the managing editor of The Hardball Times, a writer and editor for FanGraphs and a writer for and The Boston Globe. Now, he owns The Silver Unicorn Bookstore, an independent bookstore in Acton, Mass. Follow him on Twitter @Swydan. Follow the store @SilUnicornActon.

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have an all-star shortstop with poor fielding metrics.
get an all-star shortstop with better fielding abilities.
move better fielder to third base anyway.