What Could The Marlins Possibly Want With Alex Rodriguez?

With 117 games in the books, the Miami Marlins are one measly half-game out of wild card position. Considering they’re just five games over .500 and four teams are within 2 1/2 games of that final wild card spot, I wouldn’t exactly go printing Marlins playoff tickets yet, but it’s impossible to deny that the theoretical scenario in which they reach the postseason is becoming increasingly possible. As a result, they are now reasonably in a position where it’s in their best interest to make decisions over the next 45 games that best give their current team a chance to win. Yesterday’s announcement that Giancarlo Stanton’s season is over naturally raised the following question: “Who should the Marlins add to help replace that production?” The initial rumored answer is the hilariously unsatisfying solution of newly minted free agent, Alex Rodriguez. On a visceral, gut level, this is a horrendous idea, but let’s move beyond that immediate reaction and take stock of the pros and the cons of this pairing.

Let’s start with the most obvious way in which this pairing doesn’t work: defense. The Marlins don’t play under rules that would allow Rodriguez to play his current most natural defensive position, designated hitter. Additionally, Stanton is an outfielder and, ideally, an outfielder’s roster replacement would also be an outfielder. Not only can Rodriguez not play outfield, there’s no compelling evidence that he can adequately play any position on the field. Since being sidelined for the entire 2014 season with his PED suspension, he’s played all of 27.2 innings in the field. As a slow 41-year-old, the only position he could conceivably handle is first base, but his one full game at the position came last April and brought this moment with it:

I’m not going to be the one to say it’s impossible for a former Gold Glove caliber shortstop to get to a point where he can be a non-disaster at first base, but given the realities of his situation, it’s something that’s only possible with a ton of work. Unless Rodriguez has been putting in hours and hours of fielding practice without anyone noticing, there’s no way he’s going to get his first base defense in decent shape in time to benefit the Marlins this season.

For the sake of argument, however, let’s say there is a decision maker in the Marlins front office who just read Moneyball and came away convinced that first base defense doesn’t matter and the should-be-DH-only Alex Rodriguez can be the 2016 Marlins’ version of Scott Hatteberg. Well, Scott Hatteberg without the on-base percentage, I suppose. If the Marlins are truly considering Rodriguez, there can be no question that the only positive in-game contributions expected of him will come offensively.

Now we get into the next most obvious con to signing Alex Rodriguez, which is that he’s not very good anymore offensively. One might even say he’s bad, 55 wRC+ bad. However, Craig Edwards did recently provide a hint of optimism in noting that Rodriguez was among the biggest underperformers in expected wOBA by exit velocity. Edwards followed up that initial observation with the following analysis:

Rodriguez’s .240 BABIP could be an indication that he is done as a useful hitter, but some bad luck could also be sprinkled in there. One way to underperform exit velocity is to have a high strikeout rate and a low walk rate, which Rodriguez certainly does have, but if he had been allowed more plate appearances, it is possible that he might have hit much closer to his 96 wRC+ ZiPS projection.

Really though, a hint of optimism is the most that can be expected for a 41-year-old whose rolling wOBA chart looks like this:

arod rolling woba

The trajectory of Rodriguez’s career is undeniable at this point. However, there still is the fact that he was a relatively productive player just one year ago and is likely to be available at the reasonable cost of a league-minimum salary. It’s not inconceivable that he could provide an adequate return for the minimal financial layout; which brings us around to why in the world are the Marlins even considering this.

For starters, the Marlins are lacking for internal options to promote to the big league club for the stretch run. Last year, National League playoff teams were powered by mid-to-late season prospect call-ups like Kyle Schwarber, Corey Seager, and Michael Conforto, but the Marlins have no comparable major league ready prospect depth to turn to in order to fill Stanton’s roster spot. Now that the non-waiver trade deadline is in the rearview mirror, the Marlins are left with suboptimal options. There are potential waiver-wire-trade acquisitions who could fit the teams needs, including Melky Cabrera, Peter Bourjos, and Jon Jay. None of these players are ideal fits and, as waiver wire candidates, their actual availability is beyond the Marlins’ control. Another option could be another new free agent, Carlos Gomez. According to Joe Frisaro of MLB.com, the Marlins are reportedly considering Gomez, but it’s not as though he’s an extraordinarily appealing option.

The one reinforcement the Marlins do hope to get before the end of the season is their first baseman, Justin Bour. The left-handed slugger has been sidelined with an ankle injury and the return of his power bat will be particularly welcome in Stanton’s absence. However, one of the weaknesses in Bour’s profile is that he struggles against left-handed pitching. As a result, having the right-handed Alex Rodriguez around as a platoon mate for Bour could be a workable plan, even if it’s less than ideal.

The other key thing to consider with Rodriguez are the soft factors. He is a guy who grew up in Miami and currently sits four home runs shy of the 700 home run club, which could conceivably mean that a team acquiring Rodriguez could benefit financially from a chase to 700. On the other hand, the Marlins recently completed a 10-game homestand with Ichiro Suzuki at 2,996 hits and only started him in two games. This, you may recall, led to him reaching both 2,999 and 3,000 hits on the road, where Marlins Park attendance stood to benefit not at all. Would the Marlins handle Rodriguez’s run for 700 any differently?

Despite the fact that Giancarlo Stanton has struggled this season by his normal standards, his loss from the roster for the rest of the way puts the Marlins in an unenviable position. The fact that rosters expand in just over two weeks, however, does give them a bit of flexibility to throw things at the wall and see what sticks and Alex Rodriguez could conceivably be one of those things. At a league minimum salary where he won’t be blocking anyone on the roster, he’s about as low-risk as the Marlins can get. It’s a move of desperation that’s unlikely to pay dividends, but it’s also unlikely to do actual harm. The visceral, gut reaction that this is not a good idea is probably true, but it’s probably not the literal worst idea in the world and, given the desperate circumstances in which the Marlins find themselves, “not the literal worst idea in the world” might just be enough for them to pull the trigger on an acquisition.

Corinne Landrey writes for FanGraphs and MLB.com's Cut4 site. Follow her on Twitter @crashlandrey.

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Viva Montenegromember
5 years ago

The A-Rod to the Marlins rumor feels 100% ESPN-manufactured. I’ve yet to see a convincing quote from a Miami official that suggests they’re seriously considering him.

Viva Montenegromember
5 years ago

I should note that I have very much enjoyed Corinne’s contributions and look forward to more.