In a fairly innocuous move, the Marlins picked up a quartet of players on minor-league deals yesterday, including free agent outfielder Dewayne Wise. Wise received the most attention because he fit the Marlins’ most immediate need: a left-handed bat who could back up outfielders off the bench and potentially play center field if Chris Coghlan game at the position isn’t up to par. Given that it is a minor league move, there is almost no risk in the pickup, so it’s a fine move for the Fish.
The only problem with this move is that, if Wise turns out to be the backup in the outfield (there’s no guarantee that he is any better than Scott Cousins right now), the Marlins would still have a terrible backup plan should Coghlan mess up in center field. And given my feelings on the issue (I think he cannot play center field capably in 2011, if at all), the Marlins need a better backup plan than Dewayne Wise as the starting center fielder.
Interestingly enough, the option that I wanted to see the Marlins try is still available. I have mentioned the possibility of Scott Hairston as a good option for the Fish for the last few months, and friend of the Maniac and FanGraphs writer Joe Pawlikowski championed his case as well yesterday. I am still confused as to why the Marlins are not interested in at least giving Hairston an opportunity as a fourth outfielder who could legitimately start games in center fielder.
Even if the Marlins lack the confidence in Hairston as a full-time starter, the team still has Cousins as a platoon partner. ZiPS projects Cousins as a .256/.307/.408 hitter, which translates to an OPS+ of 86 and around a .300 wOBA. But as a lefty, Cousins should do a good deal better if he is kept in front of righties only. If the Marlins can get a typical platoon split from Cousins, he could be expected to hit closer to .310 wOBA, Combine that with Hairston and his career wOBA against righties of .355 (projected wOBA versus lefties of .345) and the Marlins would have about a league average hitter playing center field. Combine that with close to average defense and the Marlins would guarantee themselves a solid, conglomerate player in center field in case of an emergency, the sort of emergency that most fans are likely expecting.
Hairston is still out there for the Fish. Cousins is 26 years old and is on his last legs in terms of being a “prospect.” The Marlins do not have to guarantee either Hairston or Cousins a starting or platoon job, but they need to have the proper contingency plan if and when Coghlan shows his struggles in center field. This is a team that can compete if everything breaks right for them. By not maximizing every position, the Marlins are punting any small chance at contention.