The Marlins are still in the middle of a playoff race in 2023 but there’s at least one thing already on their to-do list this winter. Per a report from Barry Jackson, Jordan McPherson and Craig Mish at the Miami Herald, the Marlins are planning to try to upgrade at shortstop this winter.
The plan is a fairly logical one, as most of their playing time at that position has gone to Joey Wendle, who is an impending free agent. The club would likely be considering alternatives at short even if he weren’t bound for the open market, given his poor season. The 33-year-old has hit a meager .222/.257/.323 this year, which translates to a wRC+ of 54. That indicates he has been 46% worse than the league average hitter. Among those with at least 250 plate appearances this year, only eight hitters have a lower wRC+ than Wendle.
He’s still considered strong with the glove by Defensive Runs Saved and Ultimate Zone Rating, but his Outs Above Average dropped to -3 this year. “It’s been a challenging year for me,” Wendle says in the report. “I’m more frustrated than anybody else about it. Just been unable to make some adjustments.”
With Wendle set to depart, the Marlins will be left with internal options like Jon Berti, Garrett Hampson and Jacob Amaya. Berti has hit .253/.330/.354 in his career and is at .278/.316/.355 this year. He can provide value with his legs, having stolen 41 bases last year, but that’s down to just 14 so far this season. He’s generally considered a strong defender all over the field but his subpar bat makes him a better fit for a utility role off the bench than an everyday shortstop.
It’s a fairly similar story for Hampson. He’s having decent results here in 2023 but his .398 batting average on balls in play is giving him a boost. His career batting line of .242/.303/.375 amounts to a wRC+ of 70. He’s also considered strong with the glove but is best suited to a multi-positional gig.
Amaya made his major league debut this year but got into just four games. He’s hit .254/.344/.409 at Triple-A this year for a wRC+ of 89, or 11% below the average at that level. He still has one option year remaining after this one and could be kept in the minors as depth if the club doesn’t think he’s ready for a lengthier big league audition. There’s no obvious solution deeper in the system, with prospects like Yiddi Cappe and Nasim Nuñez having poor years at the plate in the minors.
Given all those factors, it makes sense that the Marlins will look for exterior solutions, but there will be challenges in doing so. The upcoming free agent class is light on position players and the crop of shortstops is no exception. Amed Rosario is one of the top options, though his defensive marks are quite poor and he’s also having a down year at the plate. Each of Defensive Runs Saved, Ultimate Zone Rating and Outs Above Average have put a negative sign on his shortstop defense this year. He’s shown some offensive prowess in the past but is hitting just .259/.300/.374 this year for a wRC+ of 85.
Beyond him, the options include utility/depth guys like Gio Urshela, Paul DeJong, Nick Ahmed and others. Tim Anderson could be available if the White Sox turn down his option, but that’s no guarantee and the only reason it’s possible is that he’s also having a poor season. He’s hitting just .240/.284/.294 for a wRC+ of 59 with subpar defensive marks across the board.
Turning to the trade market would be another option, but everyday shortstops tend to be highly valued and aren’t easily surrendered. The Orioles and Guardians have plenty of young infielders but the best ones would likely be close to untouchable, leaving the Marlins to choose from unproven options. Ha-Seong Kim has been moved to second base by the Padres signing Xander Bogaerts, but he is having a quietly excellent year and likely wouldn’t come cheap. He’s also only a short-term solution, with 2024 being the final guaranteed year of his contract. Players like Vaughn Grissom, Maikel Garcia and Tommy Edman are theoretical trade candidates since they are blocked on their respective clubs, but they don’t have to be traded since they can each be moved to other positions. Even if anyone in this group is available, the Marlins would likely be competing with other clubs in need of shortstop help, such as the Giants or Dodgers.
Regardless of the difficulty, the Marlins will have to come up with solutions if they have designs on competing again next year. Their shortstops this season have hit a collective .232/.267/.317 for a wRC+ of 56, the worst offensive production in the league.