The Red Sox have had some discussions with the Marlins about infielder Joey Wendle, reports Chad Jennings of the Athletic. There’s no indication a deal is imminent or even likely, as he’s one of a number of names whom Boston has looked into as they search for middle infield help.
Wendle is headed into his second season in Miami. The Marlins acquired him from their in-state counterparts last offseason, sending minor league outfielder Kameron Misner to the Rays. That was one of a number of transactions Miami made in hopes of adding a jolt to their lineup, as they also brought in Jacob Stallings via trade and Avisaíl García and Jorge Soler through free agency.
None of those additions panned out as expected in year one. Wendle had his worst season in a few years, hitting .259/.297/.360 over 371 trips to the plate. He kept his strikeout rate in check, punching out in a career-low 13.5% of plate appearances. That higher-contact approach was the product of increased aggressiveness at the dish, and it tamped down his walk rate to a meager 4% clip. Wendle managed just three home runs, and he played in only 101 games around a trio of injured list stints thanks to issues with both hamstrings.
Wendle’s value is certainly at a low ebb, though there are reasons the Boston front office could view him as a solid bounceback target. He’d posted above-average offensive numbers in three of his four seasons with Tampa Bay, showing the ability to handle the AL East. Between 2018-21, the left-handed batter compiled a .274/.330/.414 mark in just under 1500 plate appearances. His power and walk rates were both a touch below average, but he demonstrated plus contact skills. He was particularly adept against right-handed pitching, putting together a .287/.337/.439 mark with the platoon advantage. During his first two seasons with the Rays, Wendle overlapped with Chaim Bloom. The current Red Sox chief baseball officer was a high-ranking member of the Tampa Bay front office at the time.
At his best, Wendle pairs that slightly above-average offense with quality defense around the infield. He’s primarily a second and third baseman, logging more than 1500 career innings at each spot. Public defensive metrics have loved the former All-Star’s work at the keystone, while he’s earned more solid but unspectacular marks at the hot corner. Wendle has never been an everyday player at shortstop, but he’s logged limited time there in each of the last five years. He topped out with 233 1/3 innings for Miami this past season, posting strong marks in that very limited sample.
Jennings suggests the Red Sox are eyeing Wendle as a potential option at shortstop after the departure of Xander Bogaerts. Turning to him there regularly would be a bold gambit, as he’s headed into his age-33 season and coming off a year in which he was nagged by leg injuries. Playing him more frequently at second base with an occasional game at shortstop would be more straightforward, yet Jennings suggests the front office is somewhat divided on how best to handle the middle infield.
Boston signed Trevor Story to a $140MM free agent deal last offseason. The longtime Rockie shortstop posted strong defensive numbers throughout his time in Colorado, but some evaluators raised questions about his arm late in that tenure. That wasn’t a concern in 2022, as Story moved to second base in deference to Boagerts. He posted strong numbers there, showcasing high-end range and hands. His arm remained subpar, though, with Statcast ranking him 155th out of 162 qualified infielders in maximum throw speed. Story averaged 76.1 MPH on his throws, around four MPH below average at second base and nearly 10 ticks below the league mark at shortstop.
That alone doesn’t mean Story can’t play shortstop. He’d had a below-average arm for the position in both 2020-21 and still rated highly there by measure of both Defensive Runs Saved and Ultimate Zone Rating (albeit with less enthusiastic reviews from Statcast). Bloom has previously suggested Story’s presently the favorite for the position, but Jennings writes that some in the front office would rather keep Story at second base and play Enrique Hernández at shortstop. That’d require finding someone to replace Hernández in center field, so bringing in another middle infielder would be the simpler solution.
Wendle figures to be attainable in trade, even if Jennings characterizes Miami’s current asking price as high. With over five years of MLB service, Wendle is in his final year of team control. MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz projects him for a $5.4MM salary for his final arbitration season. That’s reasonable but not insignificant for a Miami club that is seemingly up against it from a payroll perspective. The Marlins are known to be looking for ways to upgrade their lineup and have yet to address it in any meaningful capacity. Moving Wendle’s salary while recouping some pre-arbitration or minor league talent could be appealing for general manager Kim Ng and her staff as they try to create some flexibility to kickstart their offseason.
It seems a trade is Boston’s preferred means for adding the up-the-middle talent they desire. Jennings suggests any interest on their part in the top remaining free agent shortstops like Elvis Andrus and José Iglesias is fairly modest. He reports they’ve given internal consideration to players like Cleveland’s Amed Rosario and St. Louis’ Paul DeJong at points this winter but no longer seem to be targeting those players. Ken Rosenthal of the Athletic reported earlier this month that Boston had reached out to the Fish on shortstop Miguel Rojas; however, it seems unlikely Miami would move Rojas, a clubhouse leader and quality defensive shortstop, without being overwhelmed by the return.