Most surprises for the Miami Marlins in 2015 were of the unpleasant variety. One, however, was a nice surprise. It came in the form of a 6-foot-4, 250-pound 27-year-old rookie. Justin Bour “earned” the first base job mostly due to free agent Michael Morse being helpless at the plate in a Marlins uniform. Bour was acquired from the Chicago Cubs as a Rule 5 pick. He was originally drafted by the Cubs as the 770th overall player selected in the 2009 draft (Round 25, Pick 29).
After spending 2009-2013 in the minor leagues for the Cubs, he got a chance to play in 39 games for the Fish in 2014. He more than held his own, slashing .284/.361/.365 with one home run and 11 RBIs. In 129 games in 2015, he showed much more power, slashing .262/.321/.479 with 23 home runs and 73 RBIs.
Bour was a monster against right-handed pitching, putting up an impressive .270/.326/.519 line and hitting all 23 of his home runs. He was less than stellar against lefty pitching though, struggling to a .221/.293/.279 line. He showed almost no power whatsoever when facing lefties, as his ISO dropped 190 points (.249 vs. righties, .059 vs. lefties). He also showed better plate discipline against right-handed pitchers, striking out in 21.3 percent of his at bats as compared to 29.3 percent of his at-bats against lefties.
So what does this all mean? It certainly means that Bour has earned a chance to play in 2016, but ideally with a platoon partner to take first base when a lefty is on the mound. There are a few free agent options that should come relatively cheaply, assuming they are willing to take the role of a platoon player on the smaller side of the switch.
Napoli had an up-and-down 2015 season (basically, up as a member of the Texas Rangers, down as a member of the Boston Red Sox). Still, despite an overall poor showing, he ht lefties well, slashing .278/.391/.563. For his career, Napoli has mashed lefties to a .278/.390/.527 line, showing that his 2015 numbers are certainly sustainable. Coming off a rough season, Napoli likely won’t command much on the open market. He just finished a two year, $32 million contract, but will certainly sign for a lot less than that, especially going into his age-34 season. Whether he would be willing to play the short side of a platoon remains to be seen, but Napoli would be an excellent fit for the Marlins and for Justin Bour.
Hart hasn’t played a full season of baseball since the 2012 season. Various injuries have limited him to 103 games total since the end of 2012, when he played in 149 games. Still, Hart hits lefties well when he’s on the field, slashing .285/.356/.497 throughout his career. He’d likely come much cheaper than Napoli, as Hart just finished a one year, $2.5 million contract and may have to settle for less due to his injury history. Hart certainly won’t get any offers for a starting role, so being part of a platoon may allow him more playing time than a bench spot offered by another team. For a one year, $1-2 million deal, the Marlins could have a decent, if risky, platoon partner for Bour.
Reynolds has had quite an interesting career, striking out in one out of every three at-bats yet still playing mostly effective baseball while amassing 237 home runs. Reynolds is actually not much better against lefties than he is against righties, which may make him more appealing to the Marlins in case Bour can’t handle his sophomore season and needs to cede more playing time than expected to his platoon partner. The issue here is more the fact that Reynolds has played in at least 130 games in every season besides his rookie year and he likely isn’t ready to take such a significant cut in his playing time. While Reynolds may be a decent choice for the Fish, the Fish aren’t a good choice for Reynolds.
Of course, the Marlins could choose to address this need through a trade or they may decide to acquire someone to take over at first base full time, eliminating the need for a platoon situation. What can be said for certain, however, is that something will be done — the Marlins won’t enter the 2016 season expecting Justin Bour to play every day. What direction they finally go in remains to be seen, but it’s a guarantee that Bour won’t be seeing too many lefties in 2016.