This season the Miami Marlins brought back familiar face Juan Pierre for his second tour of duty with the team. Pierre was one of my personal favorite Marlins due to his all out style of play and the tension he seemed infuse into the game each time he reached first base. Plus he wore his baseball cap under the batting helmet like kids do in little league (how cool is that?). As you will recall, Pierre first became a Marlin prior to the magical 2003 season when the stars seemed to align perfectly for this team and this player. So let’s start by taking a look back to that time because let’s face it, with the current state of the Marlins franchise it is more fun to look back to the past than the present.
Juan Pierre was acquired by the Florida Marlins from the Colorado Rockies in November 2002 as part of the Mike Hampton for Charles Johnson and Preston Wilson trade. Hampton was immediately shipped to the Braves and the team kept Pierre to replace Wilson as the center fielder.
Pierre was a player on the rise having led the NL in stolen bases in 2001, as a Colorado Rockie, along with a contributing a nice .327/.378/.415 slash line that year, his first full season in the majors. Upon joining the Marlins, he quickly became a fan favorite starting in spring training when stories began coming out about his legendary work ethic, arriving at the facility before sunrise each morning to work on his game.
Once the season started, Pierre had by far his best year up to that point leading the NL in stolen bases with 65, scoring 100 runs, and pounding out 204 hits while putting up a .305/.361/.373 slash line. He even played well defensively that year in CF with a career high 402 putouts patrolling the cavernous Pro Player Stadium (I think that’s what it was called then) gaps and somehow even contributing 6 assists with his incredibly weak throwing arm.
He carried the success into the postseason as the team made its run all the way to the World Series championship. Pierre hit .302 in 73 post season at bats and posted a .419 on base percentage. Even though he had only 1 stolen base in the World Series, he rattled the Yankee pitchers right from the start by opening Game 1 with a perfect bunt single. From then on, the threat of his speed became a constant theme each time he came up to bat or got on base.
Pierre went on to play 2 more seasons with the Marlins including an outstanding 2004 season when he led the NL with 221 hits and 12 triples and reached the 100 runs scored mark for the third time in his career. After the 2005 season, he was traded to the Chicago Cubs in a move that brought 2013 probable opening day starter, Ricky Nolasco, to the Marlins.
Those were good times indeed, but let’s drag ourselves back into the present now and take a look at what Juan Pierre might be able to contribute 10 years later as a 35 year old. Pierre was signed this offseason to be the Marlins’ LF and lead off hitter, as well as providing a veteran presence on what will be a very young team. He spent last season with the Philadelphia Phillies as a successful part time player seeing most of his action against RH pitching. He received 394 at bats and finished up with a .305/.351/.371 slash line and 37 stolen bases with a career high 84% success rate. The Marlins would certainly take a repeat of those numbers, however, they will be asking him to be a full time player and as a 35 year old the question will be whether he will be able to contribute at that pace over an extra 200 at bats.
The one area of concern was a .190/.227/.190 performance last season against lefty pitchers in 63 at bats, though; to be fair Pierre’s career numbers against LH are .301/.359/.399 so it was likely just more of fluke. More than likely what the Marlins can expect to receive from Pierre is a .280-.290 batting average with not enough walks that will limit his OBP to the .340 range to go with very few extra base hits. He will certainly lead the team in stolen bases with close to 40 and hopefully maintain the same success rate he showed last season.
Defensively, base runners will take extra bases on him countless times, but with his wheels he should run down enough fly balls to make fans quickly realize the upgrade over the lead footed Logan Morrison as a LF. If his health holds up, I would say the Marlins should be thrilled with their investment in the veteran as a stop gap until Christian Yelich is ready to take over in 2014.
Can Juan Pierre really be this close to the player he was 10 years ago?