There has been a buzz surrounding the newly minted Miami Marlins that has never existed around this franchise. Predictions as to which free agents will sign are flying around at a record rate for this franchise. Sure, there were times in the past when the Marlins spent money on some free agents. Prior to the 1996 season, the Marlins signed Kevin Brown, Al Leiter, and Devon White. In 1997, the Marlins signed Bobby Bonilla and Moises Alou. The Marlins have also opened the checkbook on occasion for the likes of Carlos Delgado, Ivan "Pudge" Rodriguez, and Charles Johnson (his forgettable second stint), among others. But never have the Marlins been discussed as possible destinations for a player considered the best of his generation (Albert Pujols), a perennial All-Star slugger in his prime (Prince Fielder), and arguably the game's most dynamic shortstop (Jose Reyes). Plenty of fans ("Plenty" is loosely defined here) are salivating at the potential of the team's lineup when they open the new ballpark in Little Havana next April. But has anyone stopped and considered how the Marlins could succeed without the addition of one of these free agents?
I hate the idea of raining on everybody's parade, but this needs to be addressed. The Marlins, even with revenues generated by the new park, will likely not be in a position to pay one of these players a large salary for as many years as they would like. For that reason, there is a chance (in my opinion, a good one) that the Marlins are unable to sign any of these players. That doesn't mean the Marlins would be unable to sign any free agents, just not the highest-profile ones. Let's look at the players under contract for next year, those who are likely to sign or go to arbitration, and those who are not yet arbitration-eligible and will likely be back with the club before diving into hypotheticals:
Catcher: John Buck
Catcher: Brett Hayes
First Base: Gaby Sanchez
Second Base: Omar Infante
Shortstop: Hanley Ramirez
Outfield: Mike Stanton
Outfield: Logan Morrison
Outfield: Bryan Petersen
Utility: Emilio Bonifacio
Starting Pitcher: Josh Johnson
Starting Pitcher: Anibal Sanchez
Starting Pitcher: Ricky Nolasco
Relief Pitcher: Edward Mujica
Relief Pitcher: Mike Dunn
Relief Pitcher: Randy Choate
Relief Pitcher: Ryan Webb
Relief Pitcher: Burke Badenhop
Relief Pitcher: Steve Cishek
You'll notice that I have not listed a third baseman and the roster is seven players short of being complete. Again, this is just a list of players from this past year that I believe, barring a trade, are locks to make the roster next year. Looking at the names on this list, I am satisfied about the team's chances of competing. Most of the everyday lineup is taken care of, and the top three starters are competitive, if not slightly flawed. Now that the returning players are established, we can turn our attention to realistic free agent additions who can make a difference.
A credible source who closely follows the Marlins has estimated the payroll next year to be around $85 million. For argument's sake, let's say the Marlins roster as I have it now will require a payroll around $63 million. That leaves around $22 million to play with for the upcoming year and seven positions to fill. I'll group the likeliest candidates together by infield, outfield, starting pitcher, and relief pitcher. Free agents will be identified as "(FA)". Let's take a gander:
Ok, now that our candidates are listed, I owe you my thought process at each position and my prediction of who will end up a Miami Marlin on opening day. I'll start with relief pitchers. Since six have already made our pretend roster, one spot is left over. Broxton, the former closer of the Los Angeles Dodgers, ran into some control and arm injury issues the past couple of years. Before that, he was a very effective closer. The Marlins have been known to take on reclamation projects at closer (Todd Jones and Armando Benitez) while this front office regime has been here and I can't see them spending $10+ million on a Ryan Madson or $7+ million on a Francisco Rodriguez. Instead, their resources will go to better use on a reclamation project like Broxton or an in-house option such as Hatcher, Hensley, or Andrelczyk. Prediction: Broxton- going out on a limb, but that is half the fun of these exercises. Price: $1 million + incentives.
Next, there are two starting pitcher spots up for competition. Mark Buehrle has been rumored to the Marlins because of his connection to the new manager, Ozzie Guillen. Predicting Buehrle to sign with the Marlins is a bit of a leap, but not because of money. Buehrle, by all accounts, is an outdoors, Midwest, hunting kind of guy. Miami is not the Midwest. It is far from being like the Midwest. Nevertheless, Buehrle would not have come down here if he had not been interested, and there is something to Guillen being here. The Marlins will certainly have to outbid everyone, and I have a hunch they get it done, because this team sorely needs a left-handed starter and starting pitcher is our biggest need to compete with Philadelphia and Atlanta's rotations. As for the other spot, Volstad will have the upper hand going into Spring Training, but Sanabia could give him a run. Hand might be another year away, and I would hate to see him called up too early like Sean West. Vazquez is the odd man out, because he will either retire or be out of the Marlins' price range. Prediction: Buehrle and Volstad. Price: $18 million total.
The only infielder from the list I see making the team is Matt Dominguez. His bat is unproven at best and terrible at worst. But, he will save runs with his defense, which should make up for any offensive deficiencies. I say Dominguez is the only one who will make it, because the flexibility of Infante and Bonifacio, and the fact Morrison can play first base if called upon, means the Marlins can carry and extra outfielder. Prediciton: Dominguez. Price: $400,000 (or whatever the minimum is this year).
This means three spots are left for outfielders. There are some interesting players available, including former Marlins Pierre and Ross, a former Rookie of the Year, and the highly touted Cuban defector. Mattison is an interesting candidate, and I think he'll get his chance in Spring Training, but ultimately the Marlins will turn to experience. Cousins has shown flashes of talent and Coghlan is a proven hitter who needs to rediscover his stroke. That leaves one more spot. If the payroll can be stretched a bit, the Marlins can sign Cespedes and not exceed the projected payroll by more than $5 million or so. But this is the Marlins we're talking about and until proven otherwise, will not exceed payroll projections. The Buehrle signing means Cespedes is out of our price range and we have to turn to our old friend, clubhouse leader, and fan favorite, Cody Ross. Prediction: Cousins, Coghlan, Ross. Price: $3 million.
Total Projected Payroll: $85.5 million.
Now, let's look at the potential starting lineup with the team just constructed:
CF- Bonifacio 2B- Infante SS- Ramirez RF- Stanton LF- Morrison 1B- Sanchez C- Buck 3B- Dominguez P- Starter
Starting Rotation: Johnson, Sanchez, Buehrle, Nolasco, Volstad
Relievers: Mujica, Dunn, Choate, Webb, Cishek, Badenhop
So there you have it, a team that I consider competitive in the National League East. The Marlins are able to stay within their budget and field a balanced lineup, a starting rotation with four proven and productive starters, and a bullpen that returns the best players from last year's bullpen and a closer that has dominated in the past. If Broxton were to fail, I have faith that an in-house replacement can be found and another reliever signed or called up from the minors. The Marlins can compete this year and prove to everyone that last year was a fluke. This roster is attainable and able to keep the Marlins in the race for the Wild Card and with a little luck, the division until the end of the year.
I hope you found my inaugural post to be informative. If you want my thoughts on the Marlins, Dolphins, or anything else that pops into my head, follow me on Twitter at @RyanEMichaels. Until next time, go Marlins!