The Marlins enter the offseason with the least guaranteed future salary obligations of any team in baseball.
Arbitration Eligible Players
- Ryan Webb, RP: (4.029)
- Koyie Hill, C: (5.087, non-tender candidate)
- Kevin Slowey, SP: (5.053, non-tender candidate)
- Giancarlo Stanton, OF: (3.118)
- Steve Cishek, RP: (2.143, Super Two)
- Chris Coghlan, OF: (3.171)
- Justin Ruggiano, OF: (3.019, non-tender candidate)
- Mike Dunn, RP: (3.079)
- Logan Morrison, 1B: (3.069)
- Jacob Turner, SP: $1MM
Former Players Still Owed Salary
- Heath Bell, RP: $4MM through 2014
After reducing its Opening Day payroll from $101.63MM in 2012 to $50.53MM in 2013, Miami shipped out pitcher Ricky Nolasco — its last remaining player with a salary over $3MM — in July. Before accounting for arbitration eligible and league-minimum players, the team has less than $8MM on the books for 2014, the majority of which will go to Bell, who has already been traded. Arbitration raises and league-minimum salaries could push their commitment just north of $30MM, which would leave the team with a bit of money to pursue some veteran free agents while still meeting the recently reported payroll target of $37MM.
Last year, the club did not hand out any extensions and gave guaranteed big league contracts to just three players, all for one-year terms: Jon Rauch ($1MM), Polanco ($2.75MM), and Pierre ($1.6MM). Of course, its activity on the trade market took primary importance. Will the club do much more than pick up a few low-cost free agents to round out the roster this time around?
The answer to that question will come from a newly shuffled front office. Loria recently canned president of baseball operations Larry Beinfest, putting an end to increasingly public turmoil within the team’s top brass. (Loria was said to have “marginalized the front office” and reportedly re-upped Greg Dobbswithout Beinfest’s awareness.) Two internal figures will be promoted to guide the club going forward, with Michael Hill taking over as president of baseball ops and Dan Jennings becoming GM.
Hill and Jennings will likely look to make up the bulk of the team with low-priced youngsters, many of whom saw big league action this season. The 2013 club was a disaster offensively, posting a league-worst 72 wRC+ (remarkably, more than ten points lower than the second-to-last White Sox). In fact, the Marlins became the first club since the 2004 Diamondbacks to receive a collective sub-replacement-level performance from its position players (by measure of fWAR).
Giancarlo Stanton figures to be the highest-paid and best player as he enters his first year of arbitration eligibility — assuming he is not traded first. That, surely, is the most momentous issue facing the organization over the coming winter. With three years of team control remaining at a price tag that will undervalue his expected contribution, the power-hitting Stanton is one of the game’s most attractive assets. Though Miami reportedly declined to entertain offers on him at this year’s trade deadline, other teams will assuredly try to pry him away once again. Of course, it is not even clear that any other club would be willing or able to offer fair value in return.
The latest report indicates that Miami will build around its star rather than deal him. The club has dabbled with the idea of pursuing an extension in the past. On the other hand, Stanton comes with some durability concerns, the Fish have other young outfielders to weigh for the future, and the team has plenty of remaining control. And, of course, it remains to be seen whether Stanton will be interested in tying himself to the franchise for the long haul.
The club will likely allow its young, in-house options to battle for starting jobs elsewhere in the outfield. Marcell Ozuna, Jake Marisnick, and Christian Yelich all saw MLB time at age 22 or younger. Although only Yelich managed to hit at a league-average level, Ozuna and Marisnick both earned strong UZR ratings. Coghlan and Ruggiano are non-tender candidates after failing to make a lasting impression in significant roles this season.
The infield brings many question marks and no clear answers. The only Marlins infielder that checked in above replacement level in 2013 was utilityman Ed Lucas, who made his big league debut at 31 years of age after a decade in the minors. Internal options beyond the current 40-man roster are slim, with the club’s top infield prospects in the upper minors (Noah Perio and Zack Cox) hardly kicking down the door. While a trade is always possible, the alternative is a free agent market that lacks any obvious non-temporary targets.
The positions least likely to see turnover, it would seem, are up the middle. At catcher, Rob Brantly failed to match his promising 2012 and Jeff Mathis still does not really hit big league pitching. Nevertheless, it is hard to see the club spending in this area with those two returning and a solid prospect nearing the bigs in 22-year-old J.T. Realmuto.
Likewise, 24-year-old shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria should get another stint. Despite his disastrous .228/.268/.301 slash line, the Marlins love his glove. (Advanced metrics weren’t kind in 2013, though DRS has him as a roughly average defender for his career at shortstop.) And at second, the team has young, cheap options in Donovan Solano and Derek Dietrich, the latter of whom has power upside and age in his favor.
Miami has more uncertainty at the corners. The team will likely move on from the 37-year-old Polanco, this year’s regular third baseman, who continues to decline steadily and seems inclined to retire. That could leave the job to the aforementioned Lucas, who is cheap and sturdy, albeit inspiring only in his tenacious pursuit of a big league dream. Alternatively, the club could look to shift the strong-armed, range-challenged Dietrich to the hot corner. Perhaps a better option would be a stopgap like Wilson Betemit, as MLB.com’s Jonathan Mayo says that 2013 top draft pick Colin Moran could be ready as soon as the second half of 2014.
Logan Morrison will enter his first arbitration eligible offseason on the heels of a second straight season of disappointing results. Miami is rumored to have shopped him in the past, though last we heard it views him as a cornerstone piece. The 26-year-old’s production slipped below league average again in 2013, though he still holds the promise of a return to his age-23 season, when he slashed .247/.330/.468 and swatted 23 home runs in 525 plate appearances. While LoMo reached base at that level this year, he has not shown the same power. This presents a difficult choice: if Morrison is not dealt, he will become one of the team’s highest-paid players; if he is, the team has no obvious replacement and will be selling low. Then again, the one big free agent splash that has been rumored for the Marlins — an unlikely but plausible run at 26-year-old Cuban slugger Jose Dariel Abreu — would line up with a Morrison trade.
There’s more optimism when looking at the guys toeing the rubber for the Fish. Miami landed in the middle of the pack in most comprehensive metrics, led by solid-to-excellent performances from several youngsters. The team’s unquestioned ace was phenom Jose Fernandez, who didn’t turn 21 until he was much of the way through a 2.19 ERA, 172 2/3 inning rookie campaign in which he paced all starters in suppressing base hits (5.79 H/9) and was fifth in strikeout rate (9.75 K/9). Working only about half a season in the bigs, Henderson Alvarez and Nathan Eovaldi were both worth about 1.5 WAR — and you may have heard that the former tossed a no-no in his last outing. Jacob Turner, meanwhile, managed a 3.74 ERA in 118 innings, although his peripherals were not as favorable (his 5.87 K/9 and 4.12 BB/9 left him with a 4.43 FIP and 4.71 xFIP). Each of these starters is under 24 years of age.
Between Andrew Heaney, Justin Nicolino, Adam Conley, Brian Flynn, Anthony DeSclafani, Tom Koehler and Kevin Slowey (if he’s tendered), Miami has plenty of cheap, controllable candidates for the fifth spot. It’s also possible that the club will pursue a low-cost veteran arm like Chad Gaudin or Tim Stauffer to show the youngsters the ropes and ease the transition.
The more interesting thing to watch will be whether the front office looks to deal from its pitching depth for young position players. Though the club is reportedly uninterested in selling off the four current rotation members or Heaney, they still have plenty of young. Teams like the Angels and Yankees have more advanced position prospects than attractive young pitching, which could create a prospect-for-prospect opportunities (though such trades are rare).
Closer Steve Cishek, righties A.J. Ramos and Ryan Webb, and lefty Mike Dunn are all 28 or under, posted ERA figures of 3.15 or lower, and come with at least two more years of control. The 34-year-old Qualls was outstanding but figures to be worth more to another club after posting a career-low 2.61 ERA. Southpaw Dan Jennings, 26, posted a 2.68 FIP that puts a nice shine on his 3.76 ERA. Late-blooming prospect Arquimedes Caminero should have a strong argument for a slot after a solid showing in limited time, and the team has some system candidates like 22-year-old Nick Wittgren and 25-year-old Grant Dayton. Nevertheless, after hitting on a minor league deal with Qualls last year, the front office will likely look to add some low-cost veterans in 2014.
The Marlins will again be scouring the bargain bin for a few elder statesmen to fill in amongst its many young players. The club got good value out of several minor league contracts last year, as Qualls, Slowey, and Lucas were actually among the team’s more valuable secondary contributors in 2013. If ownership allows slightly more financial flexibility — which may be unlikely given the organization’s apparent revenue issues — the club could add a slightly more expensive veteran at any number of spots with the hope of getting some production and reaping youth in a trade deadline flip.