Marlins trust Coghlan, but does anyone else?

Even though many fans of the Florida Marlins have made it known that Chris Coghlan should not be the first choice for center field for the Fish, it seems VP of Baseball Operations Larry Beinfest disagrees.

“We like Chris Coghlan. We like him in this lineup,” Beinfest said. “The way he adapted to left field — he developed into a pretty good left fielder in a short period of time. We feel he can do that in center field. As long as the knee is healthy, and there is no reason to believe it is not going to be, he has good instincts on the baseball field. We think he’s going to be a good center fielder.”

Now, I’ve never done a snarky Fire Joe Morgan post before, at least I don’t recall doing one in the past. And while this post won’t be snarky, it certainly won’t be a pleasant one with regards to this thought process. I flat out disagree with this sentiment by Beinfest, and I’ll quote and react to the article as I see fit. Let’s get to it.

The decision to play the 25-year-old in center came several months after the Marlins had asked him to move from the outfield to third base. The fact that Coghlan has never played a game at the professional level in center field raises questions about whether the club is setting itself up for another move.

I’ve been harsh on MLB.com beat writer Joe Frisaro before, primarily because he doesn’t ask any tough questions, even though those questions deserve asking. Yes, I know he is a beat writer on the team’s flagship site, meaning much of what he says must necessarily be spun in a positive light. Still, I expect something questioning the decisions of the front office, just so that we can get some insight into how they think. Fans deserve to know how the Marlins front office is handling their team.

In this case, I applaud Frisaro for at least asking the question. This is a topic that is well deserving of discussion, and it would be a shame if it went under the radar and without analysis opinion from the front office. Kudos to you, Mr. Frisaro.

President of baseball operations Larry Beinfest said on Friday that isn’t the case.

“We like Chris Coghlan. We like him in this lineup,” Beinfest said…

Again, it’s an interview, I understand. People usually say banal things off the top of their head. But what does Coghlan’s bat in the lineup have to do with defense? His defense is what we are discussing. And the Marlins have three positions that Coghlan could potentially man, so it isn’t as if fitting him at center field is the only option for getting his bat in the lineup.

…[Beinfest said.] “The way he adapted to left field — he developed into a pretty good left fielder in a short period of time. We feel he can do that in center field…”

Beinfest comes from a scouting background, so it is difficult for me to do anything but defer to him in terms of scouting. But some statistics tend to disagree with that assessment.

Defensive Stat Coghlan career runs vs. average, LF
UZR -8
DRS -12
TotalZone -2
Fans Scouting Report +3

These are just some of the numbers on Coghlan’s defense. They range from very bad to just about average, depending on which stat you prefer. While there are definite problems in defensive statistics that I think we need to recognize, I think the Fans interpretation of Coghlan as about an average left fielder in one and a half seasons in left field makes sense. I might just be quibbling about words here, but “average” (especially with a chance to be worse than that, according to the metrics) and “pretty good left fielder” are a good deal different.

Stats, scouting, or otherwise, there is one thing we can all agree on: playing left field is much easier than playing center field. Center field, especially in Sun Life Stadium, involves covering a good deal of ground, far more than what Coghlan has been used to covering. Previously, CC made a move down the spectrum, from the infield to a corner outfield. He may have worked hard enough to become an average defender there, but what can we expect from him moving up to a more difficult position in center field? I doubt that he would take to it so quickly; the Marlins will have to experience their fair share of growing pains in terms of Coghlan’s defensive play in 2011 before Coghlan approaches being a decent center fielder.

“…As long as the knee is healthy, and there is no reason to believe it is not going to be, he has good instincts on the baseball field. We think he’s going to be a good center fielder.”

Coghlan is recovering from surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee. His recovery is on track, and he is expected to be at full strength when Spring Training opens.

There’s also this little bump in the road as well. Coghlan missed the remainder of the 2010 season with a fluke knee injury. I’m sure that Beinfest & co. know more about his progress with the injury than I do, but their information is unlikely to be complete as well. Why risk Coghlan, an important cog in the team’s plans while he remains cost-effective, by moving him to a more demanding position which can take a more serious toll on his knees and legs when he is coming off an injury serious enough to shelve him for three or four months? Even if he feels healthy, I would avoid doing this unless he was already comfortable with the position, and he certainly is not yet.

“I know there is going to be some speculation about center field,” Beinfest said. “But when we made the move for [Cameron Maybin], we had already had that internal discussion. We thought Chris could handle center field.”

I would expect that you did. I’d love to hear the reasoning behind what was actually discussed. So far, Beinfest has mostly been handing out talking points in his interview. It’s pretty frustrating.

A natural infielder, Coghlan had been bracing to move to third base since Jorge Cantu was traded to the Rangers in July. But Coghlan suffered his meniscus tear and missed the rest of the season.

Beinfest didn’t rule out the possibility of Coghlan someday returning to the infield, but the organization clearly wants his focus to be strictly on center.

“We don’t want to play pinball with Chris,” Beinfest said. “He’s an important part of this team. I don’t think anybody wants to be bounced around. I explained that to him when I spoke to him. I said, ‘You’re not going to get a call from me every couple of months with a new idea.’

Except that he has been receiving that call. Last season, the Marlins shifted him to left field just to get his bat in the lineup, even though they had a third baseman in Emilio Bonifacio who was playing terribly. Coghlan had less than ten games to prepare for the move to the outfield, and he struggled to get accustomed out there. This season, it appeared as if the Marlins were going to make the right move in shifting Coghlan back into the infield, but he tore his meniscus and missed the rest of the year before he could work on returning to his old position. Now, a few months after July, they’ve requested that he move to center field, even though he’s never played the position professionally and he has struggled to play left field at times. That is what I like to call pinballing.

“That’s part of the attraction of Chris as a player, though. He has versatility. We know he can play second, we know he can play third. We know he can play left field. We have a very good feeling that he can play center field. Those are all good attributes.”

It’s nice that “he can play” any of those positions, perhaps in the same sense that Dan Uggla “can play” second base. But how can you expect Coghlan, who projects to be an important part of this new Marlins era for the next few years, to excel at any defensive position when he is barely afforded the time to get comfortable with it? If the Marlins make this move, they have to now look at Coghlan as a center fielder for the foreseeable future, because another move, perhaps back to the infield, will hamper him defensively for another period of time that may occur during the season. Each of these moves are probably going to take some adjustment period.

With Coghlan projected in center field, the Marlins are giving prospect Matt Dominguez every chance to win the third-base job. Defensively, Dominguez draws comparisons to Mike Lowell with the way he handles the position.

How he adapts to big league pitching is the question. At Jacksonville, Dominguez batted .252 with 14 homers and 81 RBIs.

Matt Dominguez simply cannot be ready for the majors right now. He was league average in Double-A last season, and he’ll be 21 in 2011. In another year or so, this would have been something to depend on, and I’m sure the Marlins were considering this as well. The team probably was at least somewhat hesitant to move Coghlan to third, thinking that in another year’s time, Dominguez would be ready to take over the position. But 2011 is not that season.

If Dominguez isn’t considered ready, the Marlins may consider going with Wes Helms or Emilio Bonifacio at third base.

And this would be atrocious. Marlins fans should revolt if this happens. None of us want to see Bonifacio or Helms starting at third base and sucking the life out of 500+ plate appearances in 2011.

Another possibility, Beinfest said, is Omar Infante, who right now is projected at second base.

Here’s another interesting thought. If you were going to pinball a player around the infield, who would you rather do that to: one of your expected franchise mainstays that has never played the position in question, or a guy you are likely renting for a year? I’m not saying Omar Infante would be good in center field; he essentially hasn’t played much there either (183 career innings). But if you think they are similar in defensive capability (and the Fans think the two of them compare favorably), I would rather send the guy with little to no future with the team out there.

There could be a scenario where Bonifacio plays second base and Infante plays third.

Matt Dominguez will come in and complete,” Beinfest said. “Wes Helms can play over there. If it works out that [Infante] is at third, and Bonifacio is at second, and that’s our best club at the start of the year, so be it…”

“So be it” is not the attitude I would like to see out of my team’s head honcho. This “so be it” would likely be pretty bad.

“We have some people who can move around and help us defensively improve the club.”

But the options you have mentioned so far can’t hit. It almost seems like the Marlins decided to improve on defense without regarding the offensive impact. First, they trade Uggla (a legitimate move) to improve the infield defense, giving a hand-wave to the offensive contribution. Now, they insist that the defense will be improved even though that is questionable, while giving no explanation to how an offense with significant contributions from Helms or Bonifacio can be successful. Yes, I think the team’s rookies will improve, but the Marlins are expecting their defensive improvements to vastly outstrip the +30-run bat of Uggla. It would help if the team found a decent player to fill in that last spot in the lineup, either in center or at third base, but if the team goes with Helms or Bonifacio, they will have essentially punted whatever improvement they made by signing John Buck. The net gain then becomes a questionably improved defense (Coghlan’s move to center potentially negating Uggla’s departure) with a downgraded offense.

What is there to be “confident” about?

Tags: Chris Coghlan Emilio Bonifacio Larry Beinfest Matt Dominguez Miami Marlins Omar Infante

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