Breaking Down the Miami Marlins' Third-Base Frenzy

Miami nabbed Martin Prado from the Yankees and dealt Casey McGehee to San Francisco. What does it mean for the three teams involved?

The third-base market heated up before the holidays, as San Francisco, Miami, and New York shuffled around third basemen. Casey McGehee heads to the Bay Area to replace Pablo Sandoval, while Martin Prado heads to Miami in place of McGehee after Chase Headley re-signed with the Bronx bombers.

What do the swaps mean for the Giants, Marlins, and Yankees?

Why the Giants Needed McGehee

After World Series hero and fan favorite Pablo Sandoval bolted the Bay Area for Beantown earlier in the off-season, San Francisco needed a replacement. Giants management decided in-house candidates Chris Dominugez and Joaquin Arias are at least a year away, so they went the trade route and brought in McGehee, who becomes a free agent at the end of the season.

McGehee comes relatively cheap (he’s eligible for arbitration and should make more than the $1.1 million Miami paid him last year but less than Sandoval would have) and has produced at a lower rate than Sandoval in the past. McGehee’s .319 wOBA from last season falls just short of Sandoval’s .323, while the panda’s 111 wRC+ easily eclipses his replacement’s 102 wRC+. However, McGehee’s 2014 season was the culmination of a comeback to big-league relevance. He scuffled in 2011 and 2012 before spending 2013 in Japan, but his numbers in 2009 and 2010 compare well to Sandoval’s 2014 numbers.

San Francisco knows McGehee is a gamble, and he’s not a high-risk one. If the third baseman struggles in 2015, the Giants can hand over the hot corner to Dominguez (21 homers in AAA last season), Arias (.270 career big league average as a reserve,), or even Marco Scutaro, who was an All-Star in 2013 before battling injuries last year.

Why the Marlins Could Afford to Trade McGehee

Basically, the Marlins chose Martin Prado over McGehee at third base for the 2015 season, which seems puzzling at first. Prado and McGehee posted similar numbers last season, and the former Yankee, Diamondback, and Brave had only a slightly better season than McGehee (103 wRC+ and .324 wOBA versus McGehee’s 102 wRC+ and .319 wOBA). However, when the players’ 2014 seasons are considered against their career averages, Prado starts to look like an upgrade.

Prado’s 2014 production fell below his career averages (108 wRC+ and a .337 wOBA), so the Marlins believe he will bounce back in 2015. McGehee, on the other hand, had an above-average 2014, as his single-season numbers bested his career averages (96 wRC+ and a .318 wOBA). In an unexpected twist, Prado also provides more power than McGehee (the new Marlin posted a .131 ISO last season, significantly higher than McGehee’s .070) while striking out less frequently. (Prado has struck out in 10.9% of career at-bats, far below McGehee’s 16.6% strikeout rate.) Given the speed at the top of the Miami order, Prado’s ability to put the ball in play should lead to additional run-scoring opportunities for the Marlins.

Why the Yankees Could Afford to Trade Prado

Once the Yankees locked up Chase Headley to a long-term contract, Prado surprisingly became expendable. Headley and Prado are similar players, which explains why the Marlins reached out to Headley earlier in the offseason. Headley has a slightly higher career wRC+ than Prado (114 versus 108), but a slightly lower career wOBA (.334 versus .337). One determining factor in this debate for the Yankees was that Headley is under contract for the next four seasons, while Prado becomes a free agent in two years. However, Prado also has plenty of major league experience at second base. Why wouldn’t the Yankees just move him over there?

With Prado out of the picture, the Yankees have the ability to play a young double-play combination together for many years. New shortstop Didi Gregorius is under contract through the 2019 season, and the Yankees plan to play a rookie alongside him. Rob Refsnyder led Arizona to the College World Series title in 2012 and hit .318 in 577 at-bats between AA and AAA last season. Venezuelan youngster Jose Pirela hit .305 in 581 AAA at-bats. Both players have hit well at AAA and are younger (and cheaper) than Prado is. Handing the kids second base in 2015 is not a crazy idea, and if neither emerges as a big-league player, the Yankees can sign a middle infielder next offseason (Jimmy Rollins, Ian Desmond, Howie Kendrick, Daniel Murphy, and Ben Zobrist are all set to become free agents, and remember Gregorius can also play second base).

Letting a youngster man second base even seems like the logical thing to do since the pitching-starved Yankees turned Prado into a controllable starting pitcher. Nathan Eovaldi had a rough 2014, posting a 4.37 ERA and a 1.33 WHIP. However, Eovaldi recorded a 3.37 FIP and threw the fourth-fastest fastball in the majors last season (95.5 mph average velocity). Eovaldi has raw talent that the Yankees think they can develop and the win-now Marlins don’t have time to develop. Eovaldi slots in behind CC Sabathia, Masahiro Tanaka, and Michael Pineda in the Yankee rotation, and after saving money at second base, perhaps the Yankees have the funds to go after a premier starter in free agency to fill the final spot in their rotation.