Offseason Outlook: Miami Marlins

Prepare for the most exciting Marlins offseason in recent memory.  With new manager Ozzie Guillen's arrival and the opening of the team's new ballpark, ownership wants to make 2012 unforgettable.

Guaranteed Contracts

Arbitration Eligible Players (estimated salaries)

Free Agents

To compete in the NL East next year, the Marlins will need improved starting pitching, offense, and health.  Clearly, this team is looking for a fresh start in 2012 as they've been rebranded the Miami Marlins, and quote machine Guillen will man the helm.  Most importantly, the team's payroll will be the largest in franchise history.

The six players under guaranteed contracts account for $49.75MM in salary, which is only $8MM shy of 2011's Opening Day payroll.  Estimating the price of the club's ten-player arbitration class is a difficult exercise.  I think we can pencil in Sanchez, Bonifacio, Mujica, and Badenhop for about $10.5MM, but that leaves the remaining six as candidates for non-tender or trade.  Oviedo, formerly known as closer Leo Nunez prior to the revelation of his commitment of identity fraud, was already the highest-paid reliever in Marlins history in 2011.  He could receive a $2MM+ raise and his 2012 team must request a visa for him to play next year, which could seal the fate of Oviedo, who was already on the bubble as a non-tender candidate.  If Oviedo is not retained, the remaining arbitration eligibles won't be too costly.

Subtracting Oviedo and Vazquez and otherwise keeping the Marlins the same will already result in over $65MM in commitments, a franchise payroll record.  Recently, a person close to the Marlins' front office told Joe Capozzi of the Palm Beach Post the 2012 payroll could approach $100MM, as owner Jeffrey Loria aims to make 2012 unforgettable.  If Loria follows through, the result would be an additional $35MM in payroll flexibility, which could be further expanded if the team trades Nolasco.  However, with Vazquez and his 192 2/3 innings of 3.69 ERA ball potentially headed for retirement and ace Josh Johnson limited to 60 1/3 innings in 2011 due to a shoulder injury, a Nolasco trade could add uncertainty to a situation already bursting with it.

I expect president of baseball operations Larry Beinfest to actively seek starting pitching, especially if he's bearish about the futures of Nolasco and Volstad.  Several interesting rotation scenarios have been tossed around, from Guillen bringing in old Chicago friends Mark Buehrle and Carlos Zambrano to the Marlins winning the bidding on C.J. Wilson.  The bullpen should have many holdovers, but new blood is likely if Oviedo is non-tendered. 

Questions in the Marlins' offense also abound, as center field and third base are unsettled.  The team's top prospect  Matt Dominguez wouldn't represent a "win-now" choice at the hot corner, but Aramis Ramirez, the one desirable free agent third baseman, could block Dominguez for three years.  Coco Crisp is probably the only viable free agent option for center field, but the trade market may feature B.J. Upton and Denard Span.  Internally, Bryan Petersen could hold equal appeal.

Another potential route for the Marlins would be signing a big-name free agent and trading Gaby Sanchez or Logan Morrison for pitching.  Both players had respectable 2011 seasons, showing decent pop and on-base ability.  Sanchez may still be on notice because the free agent market offers a pair of first-base superstars in Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder.  With Morrison, there's speculation that the outspoken left fielder's questionable August demotion could be a precursor to a trade.  I think the Marlins have too many offensive question marks to sell low on LoMo.

The Marlins may achieve temporary media relevance with Guillen and a couple of pricey free agents, as they look to go all-in for the opening of their new stadium.  Ultimately, though, the biggest additions to the 2012 club may be healthy seasons from Ramirez and Johnson.