2011 Marlins Season Preview: Dominguez loses his job

It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise to any Marlins fan. Matt Dominguez has officially lost his job as starting job at third base, opening the race for third base wide open with one week left. Throughout the offseason, we were expecting this to happen; the Marlins had no major backup plans going into Spring Training and were fully expecting Dominguez to impress and win the job. It seemed like early in Spring Training he was doing just that; witness this blog post by the Palm Beach post’s Joe Capozzi from March 6th or this article by Clark Spencer of the Miami Herald from the same day.

Yet just a few weeks later, the Marlins are left with no definitive answer at third base and guys like the Sun Sentinel’s Mike Bernadino calling for the experiment to end and getting their wish. Let’s look at this development from a few different angles.

How quickly we forget in spring

Here’s a quote from Bernadino’s article that illustrates the illusory nature of Spring Training.

“We’re not going to force the situation,” Rodriguez said Tuesday. “If he’s not ready, he’s not ready, and then we’ll move on.”

Dominguez, sent home Tuesday with a stomach virus, is 1 for his last 28. That horrific skid has dropped his spring average to .175 (7 for 40), although he does have a couple of home runs and four walks.

Dominguez is on a terrible slide at the plate, but that isn’t really the focal point here. Before going on such a tailspin, the sort of tailspin that happens many times in the majors every season, Dominguez was six for his first 12 at-bats, a very respectable .500 batting average. Twenty-eight plate appearances later, his job vanished.

This sort of thing happens every Spring Training. A player struggles for a just little bit, in an insignificant number of plate appearances, and he’s suddenly judged to be unworthy of a job even though people were more than willing to heap praise on him early. When Dominguez was six for his first 12, manager Edwin Rodriguez had nothing but positive things to say, and the beat writers lauded Dominguez’s play. Now that Dominguez struggled, coaches and beat writers everywhere were ready label him as “not ready for the majors.”

Just for fun, I tried using the Baseball-Reference Play Index to find a similar set of streaks in the majors. I searched for the longest hitless game streaks in the majors in 2010 and looked specifically for the players above 20 AB, in order to approach Dominguez’s 1-for-28 mark. Eighteen players had streaks of more than 20 AB going hitless, including five with at least 27 hitless AB. Among those names are young players like Dexter Fowler, Seth Smith, and Ruben Tejeda along with established bad hitters in Ryan Theriot, Brendan Ryan, and Ryan Langerhans. You know who was also on that list? Mike Stanton went 0-for-27 in a stretch during his first month of the season. He went on to do pretty well.

Now of course, I’m not saying that Dominguez would have hit as well given the chance. The coaches probably saw something in him too that was making him look bad at the plate. I’m just emphasizing that we shouldn’t make rash decisions on a player’s skillset based on a small sample. I don’t care about Spring Training numbers; I want coaches to watch a player and see if he has the right approach, regardless of result.

Reaffirming what we already knew

However Dominguez performed in Spring Training, Marlins fans were all fairly certain that he wasn’t ready to be a contributor in 2011. Again, he was just average in his league for the past two seasons, and he is very young, turning 21 this season. There was simply no need to rush him to the majors when he clearly wasn’t ready based on his minor league performance. The projection systems agreed, tabbing him for a pretty terrible line in 2011 that would have to really depend on his excellent glove to succeed in the majors.

At this stage of the game, the Marlins should not be expecting much from Dominguez in 2011. A few seasons ago, they sent Gaby Sanchez to the minors after struggling in Spring Training and didn’t bring him up for significant playing time that season. Logan Morrison struggled in Spring Training in 2010, but he received heavy playing time only after Chris Coghlan‘s season ending injury and trades sending Cody Ross and Jorge Cantu away. This season, the Marlins are unlikely to send anyone away that would fill the gap at third, and Dominguez wasn’t as prepared at the plate as Sanchez and Morrison were when they were brought up in 2009 and 2010 respectively. I suspect Dominguez will spend the majority of time in Triple-A in 2011, receiving a cup of coffee late in the year. If the Marlins situation at third is dire enough and Dominguez tears up Triple-A, I suspect a move will be made to reinstate Dominguez, but I doubt he’ll will hit all that well in Triple-A and the Marlins weren’t willing to put Cameron Maybin back in after he tore up Triple-A the last few seasons.

The remaining options

Right now, it sounds like the Marlins are going to go with either Donnie Murphy or our Greatest Fear Emilio Bonifacio at third base, meaning the team will more or less punt the position for around 1.0 to 1.5 WAR at best next season. All other internal options, particularly minor league signing Ruben Gotay, have been sent down to the minors or are named Wes Helms. None of these names strike fear into the hearts of players, but if I had to name one guy I’d want to see out there, I’d swallow my pride and say Murphy is the option with whom to go. He’s the best hitter of the bunch and seems like he’d play capable enough defense considering he once was a utlity infielder who could fill in at shortstop.

The team is also looking into external options. The Marlins have considered a few outside names according to Clark Spencer:

Outside, keep an eye on Pedro Feliz, who is in Royals camp — at the moment. Other names that are floating around out there: Felipe Lopez, Eric Chavez and Garrett Atkins, along with the much pricier option: Michael Young.

Here are my thoughts on those players:

Pedro Feliz: Feliz may still be a good defender, as prior to last season he had been worth around eight to 10 runs above average with the glove each year. The problem is he isn’t a major league hitter anymore, and it’s questionable as to whether he ever really was. Feliz is a career .250/.288/.410 hitter with a three-year track record of hitting .247/.287/.364. To be anything above replacement, he’d have to still be top notch with his glove, and he’ll be 36 years old next season. This is a sideways move at best, and a terrible one at worst.

Felipe Lopez: A couple seasons ago, Felipe Lopez hit .310/.383/.427 and almost had a four-win season. Last season, he hit .233/.311/.345 and was barely above replacement. In other words, you never really know with him. I can’t get a good gauge on how strong he is defensively, though the fans don’t see him as more than average at best, which sounds about right. He wouldn’t be a bad flyer to take, but he’s a boom or bust player depending on his BABIP.

Eric Chavez: The obsession with Eric Chavez will always be there. He’s only 33 years old, but it feels like he’s 40 because of his injury history. He’s worth a flyer since he was so good a long time ago, but he’ll never play a full season and he’s hit just .222/.265/.330 in his 245 PA since 2008.

Garrett Atkins: Two years ago, Garrett Atkins hit .226/.308/.342 in 399 PA while hitting half the time at Coors Field. He’s also a terrible third baseman defensively and is better suited at first base. He was also bad for the Baltimore Orioles last season. Pass.

Michael Young: Not going to happen, folks.

Personally, I’m a big fan of Joe Crede and think he could be worth a shot, but the truth is that he isn’t likely to be a whole lot better than a Gold-Glove Dominguez and he is definitely not going to stay healthy for an entire season. At this rate, if the Marlins don’t get their hands on a Michael Young for cheap (and I mean really cheap), their best bet sadly is to turn to Donnie Murphy.

Topics: Donnie Murphy, Emilio Bonifacio, Eric Chavez, Felipe Lopez, Matt Dominguez, Miami Marlins, Michael Young, Pedro Feliz

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  • Aram

    What’s going on here is so damn infuriating. There are at least 3 indefensible moves being made. 1) Going through the offseason pretending Dominguez was definitely gonna be able to start. 2)Using spring stats to evaluate players. 3) Not even considering Cousins in CF and Coghlan in the IF, clearly the best solution. The MOE is too small for the Marlins to totally screw up like this.

    • Michael Jong

      Aram,

      You are absolutely right on all three fronts. The best solution should be to play Coghlan in the infield, but the team seemingly doesn’t trust his infield range and reactions for some reason. They should have had a veteran backup plan in camp to work with the players in case something like this happened; now anyone they signed will only have a week to get ready.

      I’ll give them a break on the spring stats thing. It’s likely the coaches are seeing something that is causing these problems as well, but I hope that they are judging based not on the 1-for-28 streak of hitting but rather based on actual scouting observations. I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt here.

  • Joe Medallion

    Time for Loria to get off the cheap and sign Michael Young if he’s serious about this team being competitive.

    • Michael Jong

      Joe Medallion,

      Here’s the problem with Michael Young. No matter what you may think of Loria, trading for the privilege to pay Young his full contract would be a mistake; he’s simply being way overpaid. If the Marlins trade something to acquire him at a cheaper salary (ie the Rangers send $24M back to the Marlins), then it’s better, but I wonder if the team has the resources to send to Texas. It’s not just in the hands of Loria.

      • Joe Medallion

        If Jeffrey told Larry “get it done” – it would get done.

        • Michael Jong

          Joe Medallion,

          At what cost? What would be the right price that both teams would accept? That’s my question.

          • Joe Medallion

            If the Rangers would pay the majority of his salary I would consider giving up a relief pitcher and a prospect.

          • Michael Jong

            Joe Medallion,

            Maybe you would, but who would the prospect be and why would the Rangers want to make that move? They’ve been asking for a lot, and if they need to cover half of Young salary (which is likely in the case of the Marlins acquiring him), I don’t know if they’d be willing to part for, say Leo Nunez and Brad Hand. And let’s face it, our farm isn’t deep enough to afford to give up two or three guys for a player who will be 35 next season.

            All of this is to say that a trade for Michael Young seems highly unlikely due to a variety of confounding factors. I just don’t see it happening.

  • Isiah

    this is crazy, but i would enjoy it and wouldn’t be so strange for the Marlins FO.
    how about bringing Dontrelle in to play third vs righties (let bone work with him on D, he has the raw skill).
    He’ll probably produce more than boni and it looks like he will be let go by the reds soon. he would be a very versatile guy to have on the roster as a lefty pinch-hitter (with decent power ala ross gload) and handle clean-up relief if the marlins are already blown out. would love to have him back, and he may be a good influence on Hanley, who uncle wes seems to have a non-speaking relationship with.

    • Michael Jong

      Isiah,

      You’re right, that would be crazy. One major problem, before considering the sheer insanity of converting a pitcher into a third baseman in one week or less: Dontrelle Willis throws lefty, and that cannot be done playing in the infield outside of first base.

      Also, it might be hard to remember, since it’s been a while since we’ve seen him hit, but Dontrelle is a career .232/.279/.355 hitter (.277 wOBA). Sure, with time in the cage, I’d bet he’d improve, but he wouldn’t be ready for a full season or two. Too crazy to try at this point.

  • Matt

    An out-of-options Brandon Wood, perhaps? He at least has more potential than Murph…

    • Michael Jong

      Matt,

      That may be true, but count me among the many baseball fans that think Brandon Wood is no longer an upside pickup but just a Quad-A player. Given that we might have to give up something for him, I’d rather just stick with Murphy.

      By the way everyone, fun PECOTA projection line of the day:

      Donnie Murphy: .251/.302/.456, a .200+ ISO for his 50th percentile projection, and a .261 TAv (.260 is the league average every season). If he really is this good (and I have my doubts, but a lot of the projection systems are high on him), then we may not be as bad off as I’ve been saying. Indeed, we’d be pretty lucky. Count me as cautiously optimistic about Donnie Murphy, your Opening Day Marlin at third base.

  • Dave Gershman

    NYJER!

  • Rob W.

    I have been slacking and did not really follow any of Spring Training which is strange but life and whatever. Anyway the way I see things by not moving Coughlan to the infield the Marlins are missing a real opportunity to put him a position to succeed, unless the shoulder is really that unsteady they don’t want him making the throw from third to first 10 times a game. Stanton should be playing center anyway and finding a veteran corner outfielder at the last minute has to be easier then a 3b who is going to get on base and move the offense along. Just my perspective.

    • Michael Jong

      Rob W,

      The Marlins don’t want to move Stanton to center field because they feel that, in the future, he’ll grow out of the position in terms of physique and they’ll have to move him back to the corners anyway. It sounds like a silly reason, but that’s what I’ve gathered from what Joe Frisaro has said on the matter.

      As for Coghlan, I agree. They would have to move him to 2B, as 3B will be held by Dominguez in the future, but it does seem off to me that they are refusing to put Coghlan in the infield despite is career history in the infield. You are right on it being easier to find replacement corner outfielders, but because the team is so late into Spring Training, I do not believe they want to bear any more possible position moves among their established players.