(EDIT: Looks like the Marlins did not listen to me with regards to the bullpen, going with Sanches over Badenhop. It won’t affect the team much, but it is the worst move.)
With the Marlins (and Marlin Maniac) winding down their “season preview” in preparation for the start of the regular season, the team is down to just a few spots left in the battle for starting positions are roster spots. The team is currently deciding on either Donnie Murphy or Emilio Bonifacio for their vacant third base position, with the team seemingly out of the running for any outside options. Also, the Fish are deciding between three pitchers (Burke Badenhop, Edward Mujica, and Brian Sanches) for their final two bullpen spots.
The Maniac knows which of these guys should take up these spots, and hopefully the Marlins follow suit. Here’s how I handicap this race:
Third Base: Donnie Murphy
Of the two options, Murphy appears to be the more optimistic choice. The projection systems are mixed on Murphy’s results, with ZiPS firmly in the negative corner while PECOTA and CAIRO see a more optimistic outlook. No one is mixed on Bonifacio and his ability at the plate; the reviews are negative all throughout. With Murphy, we at least have the potential for a strong season given his minor league track record, though I am skeptical of his low-walk, high-power skillset in the minors. Bonifacio offers no upside, as I highly doubt he’ll ever develop his game; essentially, Boni has Murphy’s skillset at the plate but with speed instead of power, and we all know which of the two would be more preferable in the majors.
If the two players were all that different defensively, I’d be interested, but I have seen nothing to say that either one would perform better at third base. Marlins fans voted Bonifacio a 34 on a 0 to 100 scale defensively in 2009 when he played third base, though he was rated as a 62 defensively when he played center field last season. Truthfully, I think Bonifacio’s play is better suited for the outfield, where his speed can be a major factor. He is error prone to a degree and Marlins fans voted his natural instincts low two seasons in a row, and both of those skills are quite important for third base. We don’t have much in the way of numbers for Murphy, but he is a former second baseman and shortstop in the minors, which suggests that he does have the capability to play third base. I would reserve judgment until we actually get a chance to see him, but I wouldn’t rate his defense much worse than Bonifacio’s by any stretch.
Two spots remain in the bullpen for the Marlins, and the two spots should go to Badenhop and Mujica. Of the two spots remaining, the Marlins need at least one to go into a long relief role, and these two players are the two relievers who can be stretched out into that role. Badenhop in particular has resided in that long relief spot for the last two seasons and done well in the process, compiling a 3.87 ERA in 139 2/3 IP in the majors. Some might ask how that fares against Sanches’s 2.40 ERA in that same timespan, but look at the comparison between their ERA retrodictors.
I won’t pretend that FIP and xFIP are going to tell the best story, but given that ERA is already a bad predictor of a relief pitcher’s performance, I would be willing to bet that Sanches’s future performance will lag compared to Badenhop’s fairly consistent approach. As for Mujica, the Marlins not only acquired him via trade, but also did so after a pretty impressive season in San Diego. Mujica has the same problems as Sanches in terms of fly ball issues, though Mujica’s fly balls always seem to leave the yard. At this point, you cannot expect him to suddenly stop allowing longballs, but his control (career 3.8 percent walk rate) and similar strikeout rates to Sanches should give him the edge.
In addition to all of that, the Marlins have economic reasons for playing Badenhop and Mujica. Aside from them being the two best relievers, both Badenhop and Mujica are first-year arbitration-eligible players for whom the Marlins are paying twice as much as they are paying Sanches. If there is something of a silver lining for Sanches, it is that he and Mujica are out of options, so the Marlins would not be able to freely send them down to Triple-A. If the Marlins do choose to hold onto Sanches, it will sadly be at the expense of the Hopper. However, I am confident that the team will make the right decision.
Backup outfielder: Scott Cousins
Just a few days ago, the Marlins were “leaning” towards keeping Dewayne Wise because of his “strong Spring Training,” but the right move would have been to play Cousins. Manager Edwin Rodriguez stated that it would be better for Cousins to play every day in center field for Triple-A New Orleans, but given his age, I doubt he will improve much with more playing time. He needs to be given an opportunity to play this season and prove whether he can be an outfielder of the future for this team or not. Because of Wise’s nagging toe injury, it looks like Cousins will receive that chance.