Marlins Sign Billy Hamilton To Minor League Deal, Acquire Ryan Lavarnway From Tigers

The Marlins announced a pair of veteran additions to the upper levels of the farm system this evening (as relayed by Christina De Nicola of MLB.com). Miami signed center fielder Billy Hamilton to a minor league contract and assigned him to Triple-A Jacksonville; they’ve also acquired non-roster catcher Ryan Lavarnway in a trade with the Tigers.

Hamilton has appeared in the majors in every season between 2013-21. One of the fastest players in the sport, he stole between 56 and 59 bases in each of his first four full campaigns with the Reds. That athleticism was also on display on defense, as Hamilton consistently rated as an elite gloveman in center field. The baserunning and defense kept him in the everyday lineup for five seasons, but his bat has never developed as hoped.

The former second-round pick is a career .240/.293/.327 hitter in more than 3200 major league plate appearances. He’s particularly struggled in recent seasons, putting up a .213/.269/.299 line since the start of the 2019 campaign. Hamilton has taken on more of a journeyman role, suiting up with each of the Royals, Braves, Mets, Cubs and White Sox over the past three years.

Hamilton signed a minor league deal with the Mariners over the winter. He appeared in 22 games with their top affiliate in Tacoma, mustering only a .168/.263/.209 mark. He triggered an opt-out clause in that deal on June 1, and he’ll head to Florida after finding his latest opportunity. The Fish will add an experienced glove-first depth option behind a rather thin collection of center fielders.

Miami has given the bulk of the playing time at the position to Jesús Sanchez and Bryan De La Cruz, but both are probably stretched there defensively. Hamilton will need to show signs of life at the plate in Jacksonville to get a major league look, but he at least offers the potential for a complementary profile if he can work his way onto the MLB roster.

Lavarnway, meanwhile, has spent the entire season with the Tigers’ top affiliate in Toledo. The 34-year-old backstop has had a good showing with the Mud Hens, posting a .281/.385/.459 line through 174 plate appearances. He’s walked at an excellent 13.2% clip this year and generally has a strong upper minors track record.

A quintessential third catcher, Lavarnway got to the big leagues in ten of the eleven seasons between 2011-21 (2016 being the lone exception). Only twice has he exceeded 100 plate appearances, though, and he’s not reached ten games in a season since 2015. He continues to bounce around the league as a valued depth option, spending time in 11 different organizations — including a five-game stint with Miami two years ago.

The Marlins have Jacob Stallings and Nick Fortes on the MLB roster at the moment. Payton Henry is the only other backstop on the 40-man, but he’s been on the minor league injured list for the past two weeks. De Nicola tweeted this afternoon that Henry recently underwent surgery on his right thumb, necessitating the addition of another depth option at the position.

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