Earlier in my presentation for the Fish Stripes Plan for Offseason Success, I mentioned the Marlins signing Grady Sizemore as a player they could use in either center field or one of the corner outfield spots that might be opened up via trade. Sizemore is getting decent attention in the free agent market (H/T MLB Daily Dish), and he seems to be willing to move to a corner outfield position if his new team requests. The Marlins have a definite need in center field and could gamble on a Sizemore revival by offering a one-year deal on the cheap.
But since I initially proposed this idea, there is a new name that has surfaced that may be more attractive for the Marlins. Cuban outfielder Yoenis Cespedes might take two months to reach free agency (H/T MLB Trade Rumors), but that did not stopped the Marlins from sending a caravan of team officials last week to examine him in a private workout. While Sizemore represents risk and reward if the club is willing to gamble, Cespedes represents potential for greatness versus various unknown qualities to start. Given the idea that Cespedes may require at least $30 million over six years as Aroldis Chapman did a few seasons ago, the Marlins would investing in the future in his case.
All of that builds up to this question: with so many unknowns for both players, who should the Marlins acquire?Grady Sizemore
From 2005 to 2008, Sizemore was easily the best center fielder in baseball. He hit .281/.372/.496, was good to great in the field, and accumulated 27 FanGraphs Wins Above Replacement (fWAR) and 24 Baseball-Reference Wins Above Replacement (rWAR). Since then, he has been injured and awful, batting a paltry .234/.314/.413 and accumulating around two WAR in both systems. On defense, fans have noticed a decline in Sizemore's play; while in 2009 and 2010 he still rated as a 62 defender on a 0 to 100 scale, his rating dropped to 55 this season.
All of the above information just confirms what most fans know: going after Sizemore in 2012 brings about significant risk. The benefits, of course, would be that any deal for Sizemore would be cheap and short, as he is looking to rebuild value in 2012 (H/T MLB Trade Rumors). The Marlins approached a similar situation prior to 2011 in the case of Javier Vazquez, who appeared all but broken with the New York Yankees following a stellar season with the Atlanta Braves. When the move was initially made, I approved of the logic behind it; the Marlins were a team on the fringes of competition, and any risk with the potential for good returns at low cost would benefit the Marlins more than the potential loss on a one-year contract would hurt the team. Though the Marlins turned out to be way out of contention, the Vazquez signing turned into a success, as he was "fixed" by pitching coach Randy St. Claire and turned in a solid 2.5- to 3.0-WAR season.
The logic behind a Sizemore deal would have to be similar; the Marlins would have to be around a .500 team on the outskirts of competition and Sizemore would have to be interested in only a short-term deal for $6 or 7 million. The Marlins have other offseason priorities, and the team has little money to spend on a player with no guarantee to perform. However, Sizemore likely is not asking for much and, if the Marlins do make the moves they have been rumored to make, they would be close to being competitive assuming some regression by Hanley Ramirez and the return of a healthy Josh Johnson. So the situation would be a perfect fit for a risky, cheap signing that could turn out to provide surplus value or be a lost cause. However, signing Sizemore is pretty dependent on the team signing at least one other major free agent that will infuse some wins into an otherwise mediocre team. If the Marlins cannot acquire a Jose Reyes, C.J. Wilson, or other major free agent, adding Sizemore would just add a few more wins to a non-playoff team.
Cespedes would also be looking at a similar deal to that of Sizemore in terms of annual value, but any contract he signs would be a long-term deal. The comparison to Chapman's six-year, $30 million signing in 2010 is notable in that it fits right into the Marlins' price range. Given the hype surrounding his play, it is almost certain that he has the raw skills to compete in the majors. Given the Marlins' lack of long-term options in center field and the Cuban connection with south Florida, their interest seems elementary.
But before any deal is made, there needs to be proper evaluation of the risks involved. Like Chapman proved this past season, Cespedes is no guarantee to walk into the majors as a success despite his tools. Like any draft pick or foreign amateur signing, there is inherent risk in bringing in a guy who has yet to play in the big leagues and giving him a major league contract. Chapman and the Cincinnati Reds have some leeway due to his age, as he is turns 24 in 2012. Cespedes, on the other hand, will be 26 years old in 2012 and needs to be ready for the majors almost immediately in order for the Marlins to get the most bang for their $30 million bucks.
Having said that, the reviews on his skills, minus the idea that he may have to move to one of the corner spots one day, is almost impeccable, and his agent believes that he will be ready to play in the majors almost immediately. Though the Marlins have no medium-term options in center field (top prospect Christian Yelich remains an option four or so years down the line), the team has enough short-term plugs in Emilio Bonifacio, Bryan Petersen, and Scott Cousins that they can fill in while Cespedes tunes up in the minors in 2012. The team will want him ready by mid-2012, and it sounds like this idea is not far-fetched.
The Marlins have the same amount of money ready for two different types of players. One represents an approach looking to capitalize on 2012 with a high risk/reward player. The other is looking to build into the long-term with a player that will hopefully be in the team's future for years to come, but a player who is nonetheless unproven in major league play and would require a significant future investment. Which side should the Marlins turn to?
With the uncertainty of the team's current 2012 situation, my gut leans towards the signing of Cespedes as being more favorable. Yes, we have no idea how good he will be, and it is quite a risk to sign a guy even as toolsy as him to a lucrative six-year deal, but I trust the Marlins organization has the scouts capable of determining how this player's future will go. There are a lot of questions yet to be answered about the team's 2012 situation, and while I would imagine they would return to at least being a .500 ballclub with a couple of moves and normal regression to the mean, I am not currently ready to say that this team is close enough to contention that a Sizemore stab should be considered over an interesting long-term option like Cespedes. Add on the Cuban factor and how interesting that would be for the south Florida fanbase (remember the love that Livan Hernandez got in his early Marlins career?) and it seems like Cespedes would be a significantly better fit.
What is the deal for Cespedes? The Chapman-like six-year offer may be a good endpoint or just the beginning of negotiations, but the Marlins would be wise to keep their bid around that number. Again, a six-year major league commitment to a prospect eliminates any team control the club would have and replaces it with the major league deal, so the Marlins would be at the mercy of the contract if Cespedes succeeds or fails. The deal seems fair for an unknown with a lot of talent, but the Marlins will have competition from a variety of heavy spenders, including the Chicago Cubs, Boston Red Sox, and New York Yankees. By the time he becomes a free agent, however, the team should have an idea of where they stand financially and talent-wise and should be able to determine where their offer range will be.