Chief executive officer Derek Jeter suggested at last week’s introductory press conference that the Marlins’ new ownership group may have to make some “unpopular” decisions for the long-term well-being of the franchise, and it appears that a fairly dramatic cut of the payroll is in order. Clark Spencer of the Miami Herald reports that the Marlins are aiming to trim their payroll back to about $90MM — a decrease of $25MM from its 2017 Opening Day mark and nearly $50MM south of where Jason Martinez of MLBTR/Roster Resource projects their 2018 payroll to land at present (once league-minimum players are added to the bill).
A massive cutback in payroll will only further fuel the Giancarlo Stanton rumor mill, as he’s set to earn $25MM next year. However, the Marlins have a number of other well-compensated players that could be reasonable trade targets. Fleet-footed second baseman Dee Gordon has already seen his name floated in trade rumors and will earn $10.5MM next year. He’s owed $40MM in total over the next three seasons. Righty Brad Ziegler, who served as the team’s closer after AJ Ramos was traded, pitched brilliantly to finish the year. He’s owed $9MM next year in the second season of a two-year deal. Martin Prado will make $28.5MM over the next two seasons, including $13.5MM in 2018.
Perhaps chief among the Marlins’ trade candidates when combining desirability, affordability and proximity to free agency, however, is slugging outfielder Marcell Ozuna. While Stanton’s bat would hold widespread appeal throughout the league, taking the remaining $295MM that he’s owed would be a struggle for the majority of teams around the league. Ozuna, on the other hand, hit .312/.376/.548 with 37 homers in 2017 and is projected by MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz to earn $10.9MM in 2017. He’s controllable via arbitration for another two seasons and could fetch a substantial prospect return from clubs in need of help in the outfield.
Right-hander Dan Straily’s salary won’t be anywhere near the team’s top paid players, but he’s projected to earn $4.6MM in 2018 and could return a decent crop of prospects himself. Over the past two seasons, Straily has made 64 starts and worked to a combined 4.01 ERA with 8.0 K/9 against 3.2 BB/9 in 373 innings. He’s by no means a front-of-the-rotation arm, but he can be controlled at a reasonably affordable rate for another three seasons via the arbitration process. As is the case with Ozuna, moving Straily wouldn’t require eating any salary, and dealing him alone could shave nearly 10 percent of the team’s reported goal.
Christian Yelich is arguably the crown jewel of the Marlins’ trade pieces, as he’s established himself as one of the National League’s best all-around players and is controllable through the 2022 season. Of course, the Marlins only owe him $7MM next year as part of his seven-year, $49.6MM contract, so the team can certainly afford to keep him around and hope that Yelich can be part of a contending club down the line.
Certainly, though, the subtraction of Stanton would be the fastest avenue to reaching that sum in savings. Stanton does have a full no-trade clause (in addition to the $295MM he’s owed), though he’s also plainly stated in no uncertain terms recently that he does not want the Marlins to rebuild. A move to a contending club could be fine with Stanton, though the Marlins and any trading partner would presumably also have to put in an extensive amount of work in order to find a middle ground. The Marlins may very well have to offset some of that $295MM sum, while the other club would likely balk at including multiple top prospects while taking on such an enormous financial commitment. Because that nexus will be difficult to find, a trade of Stanton may not be as logical as many casual observers would anticipate; the logistics of a deal would be extraordinarily complicated.
Speaking from a purely speculative standpoint, a rebuilding club with limited payroll commitments could also seek to “buy” young talent from the Marlins by taking undesirable contracts off their hands. While it’d be a massive ask for any team to pick up the remaining three years and $52MM on Wei-Yin Chen’s contract, a club like the White Sox, Phillies or Padres could theoretically take Junichi Tazawa and his $7MM contract if the Marlins agree to include some minor league talent. Alternatively, someone like Tazawa could be packaged with a more appealing trade asset such as Ozuna or Straily, though doing so would obviously lower the expected return on an otherwise-desirable trade chip.
It’s not clear exactly which path the Marlins will take under their new ownership group. But the offseason figures to be highly active, and it seems safe to assume that the 2018 Marlins will look substantially different than the group that took the field on Opening Day in 2017.