Why should the Marlins care about Sanchez’ development?


News is slow today, real slow. And so in classic blog style, I’m going to respond to another blogger’s response. Here’s Craig from FishStripes on the continuing story of the Marlins and Russell Branyan.

"I must admit, I’m not excited about this. If, as the report goes, it would mean that Branyan would be the everyday first baseman, that means the front office believes that [Logan Morrison] isn’t ready. I have no problem with that, but it also means they don’t think much of [Gaby Sanchez’] talents, and that I have a problem with.There is no upside to Branyan being an everyday first baseman. The man is 34 years-old, and at that age he is in his declining years as a player. A hitter peaks around age 30. Yes, 30. And then there is a steep decline which kicks in around age 33. Of course, everyone is different, but it happens around that age give or take a year or two. Branyan is past that age and to expect him to even put up the numbers he did last season is expecting too much. Could he? Yeah, I guess. But it isn’t the way to bet.Gaby on the other hand is starting to come into his own, age-wise. And this, “he will never be more than a platoon player in the majors” is far from known. No one knows what he will do in the majors; he has never been given the chance to show his wares. What we do know about Gaby is that he has shown the ability to have plate discipline in the minors and he has also shown signs of being able to hit and field the position neatly."

Craig does bring up some good points. There’s very little upside in bringing in Branyan. Last season, Branyan had a .368 wOBA in his only season as a full-time starter; he isn’t likely to repeat that kind of performance. He has injury history and he is on the old side. He isn’t going to get any better. But I’d venture to say he won’t get too much worse either. The projection systems have him at around .355 wOBA. Put him at .350, let’s say. Would you bet on Gaby Sanchez making a .350 wOBA this season? The projections have him around .340-something, with CHONE and Bill James high and the Fans and Marcel low.

You might say that there’s a growth chance for Sanchez versus the decline chance for Branyan. You may be right. If they are, then where is the harm in platooning them, for example? If Sanchez and Branyan are both true talent .350 wOBA hitters, then keeping them away from same-handed pitching should help out their odds a bit better. And at the price that Branyan is likely to see, the team won’t lose much if Branyan falls apart. Furthermore, if they’re both good players, the team might even pick up around half to a full win on the transaction.

Craig’s worry seems to be founded on whether or not Sanchez would see any playing time. I find that unlikely for a few reasons. One, as mentioned by commenter Dan 2.0 on the linked post, Branyan has an extensive injury history. Just last year he missed a good chunk of time with a back injury. The team would know that and make sure he gets his due rest in order to maintain his body. In the event of injury (a very possible event), Sanchez would probably step in anyway. Either way, the team will likely give Sanchez around 250 to 300 PA in 2010 in this case, whether in a platoon or due to Branyan’s injury.

But I argue whether worrying about the development of a 26-year old first base prospect is even important. Sanchez has a role on the 2010 Marlins roster, but his immediate future with the team is extremely cloudy. Sanchez was drafted as a catcher, but he didn’t stick at the position. Now he’s forced to play the corner infield positions, which he does somewhat adequately, but in the coming years he’ll be blocked by superior prospects from the Marlins’ farm. At first, Logan Morrison will be competing for a job in 2010, with a likely arrival time in 2011. At third, where Sanchez is likely a weaker defender, Matt Dominguez is expected to eventually take over the position. Within the next two seasons, the only positions Sanchez can man on the diamond will likely be taken by players with higher priority.

Of course, Morrison or Dominguez could bust and open up a spot for Sanchez. But with Sanchez likely close to his peak age, the team needs to prioritize. How much would Sanchez likely improve with a full-time load in 2010 over 250 PA? Would it be enough to justify getting that kind of improvement for 2011, the season in which the team would be hard-pressed not to play Sanchez full-time? How about justifying it based on the bust potential of Morrison and/or Dominguez? And finally, would it justify not chancing the opportunity of getting half a win or a full win closer to the playoffs? I don’t know the answers necessarily, but my opinion is that the development of Gaby Sanchez is not as paramount as attempting to win this season, with the team sniffing at the Wild Card’s heels.