Emilio Bonifacio, Yet Another Potential Utility Infielder


Here at Dodgers Digest, it seems like all we can write about lately is utility infielders (or prospects, which are way more exciting). Yet, it still remains the biggest hole on the roster and the only type of player that the front office is actively pursuing. Chad outlined quite a few options last week. The four internal options (Justin Sellers, Miguel Rojas, Dee Gordon, Brendan Harris) are not inspiring. Chone Figgins hasn’t been good in years, even if he might “actually try this time.” Most of the other external options are gone or awful. Yesterday, Mike made the case that Justin Turner is probably on his way. Turner isn’t terrible (he isn’t Michael Young or Yuniesky Betancourt), but he doesn’t completely solve the Dodgers’ infield depth problem.

A new name came up as a potential external option yesterday, when the Royals designated Emilio Bonifacio for assignment. Here’s how Bonifacio would fit into Chad’s table from last week:

  2013 statistics 2014 Projections (ZiPS)
Name wOBA Defense WAR wOBA Defense/600 PA WAR/600 PA
Emilio Bonifacio .279 0 Runs 0.6 .295 3 Runs 0.9 (Z)

He’s better than most of the other options on the list, but not by much. So, why would the Dodgers want a player that couldn’t stick on the Royals? Being DFA’d may not have been related to his performance alone:

Bonifacio is owed $3.5 Million next season, which is a lot for his skill set. Since the Royals just committed $4.25 Million to Bruce Chen (Bonifacio was DFAd to make room for Chen on the roster), Rany’s theory makes sense. With Spring Training quickly approaching, the Royals might also be looking to have a younger player in the utility infielder role.

Given the Dodgers’ deep pockets ($255 million payroll for next season, according to our payroll page), they could attempt to take all of Bonifacio’s salary in a straight waiver claim. However, the Dodgers are almost last in line in the waiver process (only ahead of the Pirates, Cardinals, and Braves). Given the Yankees’ (and other teams) need for infielders, it seems somewhat unlikely that he would make it to the Dodgers by waivers alone. A trade might be an option, and the Dodgers wouldn’t need to give up much if they take Bonifacio’s entire salary.

Bonifacio hasn’t really been a bench player before, so he’ll need to transition to the role. At this point in his career, he probably doesn’t have much of a choice. So, should the Dodgers bother with him over their other options?

Bonifacio’s biggest asset is his speed. For emphasis, here’s a video an inside-the-park home run he hit in 2009. Over the past three seasons, he’s stolen 98 bases and has been caught only 22 times. Adding value with his feet has never been an issue.

Bonifacio is a career .262/.322/.340 hitter (80 wRC+), which isn’t terrible. However, his hitting numbers are moving in the wrong direction. In 2011, Bonifacio had a career year for the Marlins, hitting .296/.360/.393 (109 wRC+), heavily aided by a .372 BABIP. Between thumb and knee injuries, he missed 98 games in 2012, posting a .258/.330/.316 (79 wRC+) while healthy. He was able to stay healthy during the 2013 season, but his offensive numbers slipped even further; he managed just .243/.295/.331 (71 wRC+) in 461 plate appearances. This trend isn’t exactly encouraging.

In order to judge Bonifacio as a potential utility option, we’ll need to look at his defensive statistics at each position:

Position Innings Career UZR/150
SS 754.2 -13.1
3B 1044.1 -6.5
2B 1297.2 -2.6
RF 189.0 10.4
CF 823.0 -7.8
LF 433.0 8.6

Overall, he’s a bit of a mixed bag. Unfortunately, he’s not a shortstop anymore (just 4 innings since 2011, poor stats before that), so that hurts his overall value. His defense at third is well below average, but not completely disastrous. Given the questions surrounding Alex Guerrero, it’s encouraging that Bonifacio can hold his own defensively at second base. The Dodgers don’t really need extra outfielders, but Bonifacio’s ability to play center field might be useful in a pinch.

It’s fairly easy to sum up Bonifacio’s value: he’s a better version of Dee Gordon. They’re both fast utility players who shouldn’t really be shortstops. Bonifacio’s defense at other positions is a known quantity, unlike Dee. Bonifacio’s also a light hitter, but he’s still much better than Dee has been able to show at the major league level thus far.

If Bonifacio’s presence means the Dodgers don’t have to start with Miguel Rojas, Chone Figgins, or Dee Gordon on the major league roster, then he’s probably a worthy addition. He wouldn’t be a huge upgrade, and he won’t put up a three win season like he did in 2011. He might not even be better than Justin Turner. But, he’ll likely provide more value than the current internal roster options, and that’s what matters.

This post uses the following statistics:

  • wOBA: Weighted on-base average, a statistic used to calculate overall offensive value by using unique weights for different types of hits. Explanation here
  • wRC+: Weighted Runs Created Plus. Compares a player’s offensive output to the league average position player, and is neutralized for park and league. 100 wRC+ is an average offensive player, 110 wRC+ is 10% above average, etc. Explanation here.
  • UZR/150: Ultimate Zone Rating per 150 games. Defensive statistic that uses manual inputs for each play from Baseball Info Solutions. Value is in runs above or below average. Explanation here
  • ZiPS: Systems used to project future player performance. Explanation here.

About Daniel Brim

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Daniel Brim grew up in the Los Angeles area but doesn't live there anymore. He still watches the Dodgers and writes about them sometimes.