On Wednesday, Miguel Rojas and the Miami Marlins agreed on a two-year extension, covering Rojas’s final year of salary arbitration and a year of free agent eligibility. The exact financial terms are undisclosed, but it appears that the contract’s guarantee is roughly in the $10-million range. The Marlins also get an option to get a third year from Rojas in 2022.
Miami currently stands in last place in the National League in WAR for hitters at 2.3. Your offense doesn’t reach those depths of sadness without being able to point your fingers at a lot of players, but Rojas is one of the few in the lineup who doesn’t shoulder a share of the blame. As of Thursday morning, Rojas has hit .285/.335/.383 in 2019, good for 1.9 WAR. He hasn’t been able to leverage the hitter-friendly environment for a boost in home runs — at five homers, he looks an easy bet to miss 2018’s total of 11 — but he has established himself as a top-tier defender this season.
Defensive numbers can break your heart due to the large sample sizes needed and the potential disagreement among the multiple advanced defensive stats. While that’s always less than ideal, it’s also natural given the difficult nature of evaluating defensive performance. You can count errors a player makes, but errors are a small source of ineffectiveness, and the differences among players are small enough that if fielding percentage were the primary way to measure defense, defense would be almost irrelevant in evaluating players.
To count range, you essentially need to tally events that did not happen. I can easily track that I ate four tacos this week, all on Monday. Estimating the number of tacos I didn’t eat on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday is a much less certain task. Measuring plays not made on defense is a dirty job and requires some framework for objective guesswork, but it’s not a task that can be avoided.
(Incidentally, I kind of want tacos now. That’s what Dan gets for wrapping up an article near lunchtime.)
Moving past this delicious intermission, Rojas has added nearly 1,000 more innings of quality defense in 2019. Another thousand innings at shortstop gets Rojas to the 3,000 mark, giving the Marlins a lot more certainty as to his defensive value at shortstop. This is obviously important given that Rojas’s bat isn’t enough to make him a league-average player on its own. He’s now at +10.2 runs per 150 games in UZR and well into the teens per Baseball Info Solutions. Essentially, Rojas has firmly established himself in the top-tier of defensive shortstops. He is not a young player, but he should maintain this defensive value for the years this contract covers. Rojas’s extension likely guarantees that he’s defeated his roster nemesis, the currently injured JT Riddle, in their bid for shortstop supremacy.
While a 30-year-old shortstop may be an odd choice for the Marlins to extend, I’m not sure the Marlins have the luxury of being able to act exactly like a traditional rebuilding team. Miami has to rebuild a fan base as much as it has to rebuild a roster, and given how the team has treated their fans during the organization’s nearly three-decade existence, the former might be the more daunting challenge. One could rightly argue that it would have been far better for the Marlins to draw the line at keeping Giancarlo Stanton’s contract or extending Christian Yelich or J.T. Realmuto or Marcell Ozuna, and I would agree.
That being said, signing Rojas to an extension is better than not doing so, and the real test will come when the Marlins have the decision to pay or trade any franchise players they may develop over the next five years. This signing is a milestone on the right track for the Marlins, but there’s a long, long way to go.
Dan Szymborski is a senior writer for FanGraphs and the developer of the ZiPS projection system. He was a writer for ESPN.com from 2010-2018, a regular guest on a number of radio shows and podcasts, and a voting BBWAA member. He also maintains a terrible Twitter account at @DSzymborski.