Over the past week, I have been previewing the Miami Marlins' upcoming offseason and weighing the team's various options. Do the Marlins go for a signing this offseason who could help the team beyond this season or do the Fish opt to trade Josh Johnson and their other short-term assets and look to 2014 to rebuild their roster? Which option would best fit the Marlins' plans for 2014 and beyond and get them closest to contention by then? It is an interesting question for a team that is cutting payroll, rebuilding, and at the same time attempting to maintain a respectable performance in the face of a disgruntled fan base.
Well, Fish Stripes has an idea of what exactly the Marlins should do in 2013, and while the 2013 plan is not as elaborate as the old 2012 plan was due to the team's relative roster inflexibility, the club could still pull off a plan like this one. Interestingly enough, this plan is a hybrid of the case for buying and case for selling that were proposed last Friday. Given the team's relatively light budget, the 2013 season is mostly a lost cause, but if the Marlins can find a bargain or two this offseason while utilizing whatever assets they have remaining, they should be setting themselves up decently for 2014 while putting their best face forward in 2013.
1. Sign Giancarlo Stanton to a long-term extension.
Of course, this was the number one factor of our Fish Stripes Offseason Plan last season, but it remains the most important thing for the Marlins to do. Furthermore, it will remain the most important thing for the Marlins to do until they actually accomplish this goal. The Marlins have recently stripped down the 2012 core to its very essence, the two players whom the team deemed most important for the future of this team. One is Jose Reyes, who is signed for another five seasons to a free agent contract unlikely to be dealt due to its relatively large size. The other player is Stanton, who remains a year-to-year player in his final pre-arbitration season.
The Marlins have a more recent track record of holding onto their star players with long-term deals that buy out free agent years. Hanley Ramirez received his six-year extension that bought out three free agent years during his final pre-arbitration year, and it was a good move both for the Marlins and for Ramirez. It is likely the team would have done the same thing for Josh Johnson had he stayed healthy, but because he remained out for so long, the Marlins only gave him a four-year extension after his 2009 comeback season.
The extension decision is just as important with Stanton as it was with Ramirez in 2008. The Marlins need to lock up their franchise player to a long-term deal, and chances are they need to do it as quickly as possible to avoid both quickly rising costs and the likelihood that Stanton will not be willing to sign long-term. If the Marlins wait until arbitration or wait to see the results of the 2013 year, the team may cost themselves a lot of money during the arbitration years versus if they signed a deal now. Another breakout campaign from the highly impressive Stanton and the team's efforts may get priced out of range. Furthermore, the longer the team waits, the more likely Stanton may choose to go for a shorter extension that takes him through arbitration rather than guaranteeing free agent seasons.
This offseason may be the most important for the Marlins with regards to signing Stanton. It could be close to the last chance the team has to lock him up through free agent seasons.
2. Trade Josh Johnson
Josh Johnson is one of the Marlins remaining on the roster with with one year remaining in their deal. But unlike Ricky Nolasco and John Buck, both of whom would struggle to get any return in the free agent market, Johnson still has some value to a team interested in acquiring starting pitching. A number of clubs who may want assistance in their rotation could take a gamble on Johnson on a one-year contract and trade a decent prospect in return.
The Marlins' decision on Johnson really hinges on whether the team thinks he is worthy of an extension or whether the club will let him walk after 2013. Given the team's decision to cut into payroll down to $80 million, there is a good chance they will pass on a long-term deal for Johnson, meaning the Marlins are likely to only have him for the remainder of this year. Since 2013 is not likely to be a competitive season, the club's best option for 2014 and beyond, when the team has a shot at contention, is to acquire a potential long-term asset with Johnson.
This situation is even more important given Johnson's health concerns and his draft pick compensation status. If the team trades him now, they minimize the risk of his value collapsing by avoiding a potential injury in-season. Beyond that, trading him now also gives the acquiring team a chance at draft pick compensation.
Since the Marlins will not attempt to go for it in 2013, the best move for the Fish, despite my previous thoughts, would be to trade him for future value to strengthen the next contending Marlins team.
3a. Sign Angel Pagan to a free agent contract
Another interesting aspect of trading Johnson is that it opens an additional $13 million in next year's budget. The Marlins may be interested in signing a player if they open up that much available space, and one guy the club could consider is Angel Pagan, who is a coming off a very solid season for the San Francisco Giants. Pagan works for the Marlins as either a corner infielder or center fielder on a team that will need one of the two positions filled at least. In addition, unlike more intriguing players like Michael Bourn, Pagan will not cost as much, as he is likely to earn around $10 million to $12 million a year. If the team opens up salary space by trading Johnson, they would certainly be able to afford a four-year contract for Pagan.
Pagan also plays well for Marlins Park, as he is both an adept (though not Gold Glove-caliber like Bourn) outfielder at both positions and a gap hitter with baserunning speed rather than a power hitter who might get lost in the long-distance walls of the stadium. Of all of the players in this year's free agent class, Pagan makes the most sense in a monetary and team concept sense for a multi-year deal.
3b. Sign Melky Cabrera to a free agent contract
If the Marlins would not like to swallow a multi-year deal, the best one-year contract available is Melky Cabrera. With Cabrera, the team would have an edge, if only because there may be a distinct lack of suitors for his services this season following his drug suspension. The downside is that the team will not get any benefit for next year, and a Cabrera signing would really be best paired with Josh Johnson remaining on the team so that the club can roll the dice and attempt to catch breaks on the way to contention in 2013. Nevertheless, Cabrera could be a great move for a Marlins team that is desperate for talent in the outfield and is looking for a relatively cheap potential burst of wins.
3c. Explore bargain free agent outfielders
Outfield is the spot with the most depth in this year's weak free agent class, and that even extends into the dregs of the class. Bargain basement guys like Nyjer Morgan, Grady Sizemore, and Scott Hairston could be had for pennies on the dollar and without multi-year deals, and the club would basically be handing flyers out to players who could man the job but would not cost the Fish much to find out. Each of these players was a league average player sometime in the last four seasons, and each has had ups and downs since then, thus deflating their value. If the Marlins are adamant on not spending any money, they could go after these options for the outfield.
This set of moves, combined with the current roster, would not bring the Marlins to contention status. Given what is listed, this is both a reasonable and most realistic set of signings and moves for the team, and it would be a set of moves that does less to maximize 2013 and more to lay a foundation for the incoming 2014 group that should be much better.
What do you Fish Stripers think? Let us know your thoughts in the comments!