The Marlins recently decided that Matt Dominguez is not ready to hold down a starting gig in the majors. By sending him back to the minor leagues for more seasoning the team explicitly acknowledged the need for an everyday corner infielder. However, finding the right player will prove to be an interesting exercise in roster management given that Dominguez is not far away from starting. Since he could conceivably be ready by the middle or end of the season, the Marlins find themselves in need of a stopgap solution–a placeholder brought in to hold down the fort until their top prospect is ready to contribute.
There are several freely available external options that fit this bill as well as a few players already at the team’s disposal. The Marlins need to stick to this group of players and resist the urge to spring for the pricier, sexier names. Perhaps that qualifier was unnecessary since the words “pricier” and “Marlins” aren’t usually found in the same sentence. Anywho, acquiring a more costly player could hamper the team’s payroll and block a future contributor for a mere marginal gain in the interim.
It is important to keep in mind that the Marlins were essentially willing to punt the position by even considering Dominguez for the starting spot. Had he been ready to shoulder the load of an everyday role, three or four wins of production would have been an unrealistic expectation. He managed just a .337 wOBA in Triple-A last season and has not raked since his 2008 stint in Single-A. His value stems primarily from his work with the glove, and while the bat may develop, it wasn’t going to do much damage this season.
This situation differs greatly from, say, the Phillies search for a second baseman, or from other teams seeking a potential long-term replacement for an injured starter, as the difference in production between Dominguez and the stopgap signee will be minimal. Under that context, virtually anybody can be considered a capable solution. Well, except Willie Bloomquist.
Internally, the Marlins could use Donnie Murphy, Emilio Bonifacio, Wes Helms, or Ruben Gotay, who was signed to a minor league deal. Murphy has been around since 2004 but is unproven with just 411 major league plate appearances to his name. ZIPS projects a .429 slugging percentage, indicative of his pop, and though he isn’t a wunderkind with the glove he also won’t embarrass the team at third base. Bonifacio has speed and, um, well, he’s fast. Did I mention that already? He also has… a fun name (I’m reaching here). Helms could helm the hot corner–say that five times fast–but he is a known commodity with absolutely zero upside. A team in their straits should look to use the open spot as an identifier of upside.
Which brings us to Gotay, who has hit .279/.419/.442 in 1,056 Triple-A plate appearances since 2009. It’s hard to tell why the Marlins consider Murphy to be a legitimate contender for the position but were quick to reassign Gotay to the minors. But they did send him down, so he appears to be out of the running. He possesses more upside than any of the other internal candidates, even at just a fraction of those minor league slash lines, and it would be foolish to ignore his skills and allow him to rack up another 400 Triple-A trips to the dish.
Externally, the most frequently discussed names are Pedro Feliz, Felipe Lopez, Garrett Atkins, and Joe Crede. All of these players would be available at the major league minimum salary but none is likely to produce at even a league average level. However, there isn’t any downside to giving any of them a little look-see since the team is devoted to giving Dominguez every opportunity to win or lose the job. A splash of Atkins won’t change their long-term plans.
What makes the situation so interesting from afar is that the Marlins are unlikely to make the playoffs, meaning that great production from any of the aforementioned players will not have a meaningful impact on their playoff position. Until they deem Dominguez ready to start, the team can actually use that vacant spot to test out different players. Maybe Murphy proves he can handle significant playing time, or Bonifacio shows his utility in a restricted role. Perhaps a player like Crede can show he belongs in the majors, even in a bench capacity.
Their decision doesn’t just boil down to external vs. internal options, but rather to who they think is worth an extended look for specific roles in the future. Obviously this isn’t the optimal situation to be in but most teams in a similar position don’t have this luxury.
They stand to lose no productivity at the position, while simultaneously being able to see if certain players can be considered assets moving forward. Assuming they handle this situation correctly–meaning they don’t work out a silly trade for Michael Young–the Marlins can really help themselves for the future by not forcing Dominguez into a starting role before he is ready, and by using that spot to determine who could contribute to the team next season, even if the end result is a revolving door of fungible talent.