Yesterday evening was the deadline for teams to state their intent to tender an arbitration offer for players who are arbitration-eligible and still under team control. The Marlins themselves chose to non-tender two players from the 2010 team, reliever Jose Veras and catcher Ronny Paulino. Neither name was surprising for the Fish to let go, as their roles were more or less replaced by the latest offseason acquisitions.
No, in terms of the Marlins, the non-tender deadline was not important with regards to whom they let go. Rather, the importance to the Fish lies in the new names that found themselves without guaranteed jobs in 2011. Sure, among them are bigger names like Russell Martin and Bobby Jenks, but the Marlins are unlikely to be in the bidding for those bigger names. It is in the small names that the Marlins can really benefit, making buy-low options on guys in whom teams are not interested in paying arbitration.
What do the Marlins want
MLB.com’s Joe Frisaro covers what the Marlins are looking for in this article. The available openings that were mentioned were in the bullpen, center field, and left-handed bench spot. Luckily for the Marlins, there are a few players from the recently released names that could fit those very needs. If the Marlins can get any one of these following names on the cheap, it might be worth a flier.
I already talked about Hairston yesterday, but it bears repeating. He seems like a slightly below average option for the Fish in 2010, and he can play center field well enough to cover in case the Marlins cannot find another acquisition or Scott Cousins is not ready to take over. Hairston is probably close enough to an average defender that he wouldn’t kill the Fish in the outfield, but there is some concern that bringing in a below-average center fielder won’t help the team cover for the weakness that is Logan Morrison in left field.
Tony Gwynn, Jr.
Gwynn Jr. is the quintessential fourth outfielder, a player with a career .291 wOBA and 83 wRC+ but with a glove that both UZR and the Fans like as at least above average. While UZR paints a rosy picture about Gwynn’s defense, the Fans think a little less of him, though not by much. Overall, Gwynn has been worth a good deal of wins the last few seasons (4.1 fWAR since 2009), but his poor hitting has generally kept him away from a starting role. He happens to be fast, which would also serve to make Emilio Bonifacio redundant, which is always a good thing. He also is a lefty bat. However, if the Marlins feel Bonifacio can play a similar game (questionable given Gwynn’s newfound patience at the plate, but possible), Bonifacio would hold the edge by also being able to play in the infield. Still, the Marlins have previously been willing to start defensive super-sub Alfredo Amezaga in center field on a semi-permanent starting job when necessary, and Gwynn is a more natural center fielder who is likely better than Amezaga was before.
Lewis was a name I was exploring last season as someone the Marlins could get to play in the corner outfield, thus allowing them to let go of Jorge Cantu and force Chris Coghlan to a more natural infield position. Last season, the team would have had to trade for him, but this year Lewis is available this year as a non-tender following a pretty prototypical season with the Toronto Blue Jays. Lewis is a lefty and also an average hitter, as he owns a career .272/.348/.418 slash line (.339 wOBA). He has a decent approach at the plate, walking 9.4% of the time even though he has struck out at 22.7% of the time. Perhaps the best part about Lewis is his team-control; he is heading into his first season of arbitration this season, meaning he would still have two seasons of team control following a cheap contract for 2011.
The only problem may be with his defense. Though he seems solidly average for the corners, the Fans are not a big fan of his work despite his good speed. I’ve certainly heard enough about his poor instincts out in the outfield to presume he couldn’t do more than be an occasional fill-in in center field. This doesn’t fit what the team would like to see, as I am sure the Marlins would like someone who could be a more capable player in center. Nevertheless, Lewis is at least worth a lefty bench spot, if the Marlins are interested.
Howell is a former first-round pick for the Kansas City Royals who excelled when he pitched out of the pen for the Tampa Bay Rays. Howell does not have the fastball that you’d like to see in a reliever (average 85.6 MPH in 2009), but it is hard to argue with the results. In two seasons out of the pen for the Rays, Howell threw 156 innings and racked up a tiny 2.46 ERA with 171 strikeouts (26.3% of batters faced) and 72 walks (11.1% of batters faced). He also gave up just 13 homers in that span, in part because he was able to keep the ball on the ground consistently with a 51.8% GB% in those two years. All this from a lefty reliever who has done a decent job of disposing of batters from either side of the plate (career 3.69 xFIP versus lefties, 3.96 versus righties, and that includes his bad days as a starter).
The major problem with Howell is that he is coming off a shoulder surgery that kept him out of the 2010 season. The Rays did not have the confidence to pay him what he would earn in arbitration after his surgery, but teams would be foolish to look past Howell given his past record of performance. At the same time, how will shoulder surgery affect a guy who barely had any velocity to begin with? The injury risk should bring Howell’s potential price tag down, and the Marlins could certainly benefit from a guy who was that good in the past and throws from the left side.
(EDIT: Sent out a quick Tweet to DRaysBays and FanGraphs writer and friend of the Maniac R.J. Anderson regarding Howell’s recovery. He said that Howell will be back by June or later, but that he’s also likely to resign with the Rays despite the non-tender. Probably will have to scratch him off the list of targets then.)