We learned yesterday that the Miami Marlins have about $12 million available to them to improve the 2013 team from the one that is currently built. If you will recall, the current incarnation of the Marlins is not all that different from the one that featured struggling players like Gorkys Hernandez, Bryan Petersen, and Greg Dobbs in the starting lineup. Even with the return of Emilio Bonifacio and Logan Morrison to the lineup, the Fish figure to be pretty weak without any additions to the team.
The Marlins have a number of positions that could be filled with free agent talent, but this year's free agent crop is relatively weak. With the team low on free agent options and money but high on need, the gains the club will make are going to be incremental. Still, a decent contract with the team's $12 million could buy them some additional assistance for when the 2014 reinforcements like Jose Fernandez and Christian Yelich come to assist the major league club. With that in mind, are there any interesting players that could add to the team's chances in 2013 and / or help the club when they are better in 2014?
Cabrera has had two amazing seasons with the Kansas City Royals and San Francisco Giants, having hit a combined .320/.386/.480 (.370 wOBA) in those two seasons. He was having the best year of his career in 2012, hitting .346/.390/.516 (.387 wOBA) and putting up a 4.6-win season according to FanGraphs Wins Above Replacement (fWAR). Before being out for the remainder of the season, Cabrera was leading the National League batting title race by a relatively large amount and was sure to have an MVP-caliber season by the end of the year had he remained on the Giants' roster. In addition to all of that, he is still just 29 years old entering 2013.
Had Cabrera simply had an injury to finish off 2012, there would be question marks but four-year deals coming his way this offseason. But the manner in which he was held out of the 2012 year was a more controversial one than that. Cabrera was suspended for 50 games for violating MLB's substance abuse policy, having been caught taking steroids in a recent test. In addition, when faced with the accusation, he denied allegations and cited a business from which he supposedly acquired a faulty supplement, only to later be discovered as having set up a fake company for that exact purpose.
So as a result of the massive controversy surrounding Cabrera, the likelihood of him receiving a long-term contract this offseason is greatly diminished. With the concerns about the effects of the drugs on his performance and health in the last two seasons, teams are going to be wary of whether the work he did was legitimate. Teams are much more likely to be looking for short-term deals so as not to get burned by a longer contract, and Cabrera will want to prove himself in a short-term deal with a lower salary in order to score a long-term extension the next time out.
For the Marlins, this is a perfect situation, as the upside is high while the yearly commitments are going to be light. The only question is whether a team that just got out of a controversial and ugly 2012 year is going to want to suffer another media outcry for signing a player who tested positive for PED usage.
The third base market in this offseason is terribly light, but the Marlins have a major need at two infield positions, including third base. The Marlins can potentially fill the slots with Emilio Bonifacio and Donovan Solano, provided they acquire an outfielder. The other option for the Marlins is to sign an infielder at either second or third base and fill their center field opening with Bonifacio.
But as mentioned, the infield market this offseason is extremely light, and the only true option is Kevin Youkilis. Youkilis's option was declined and the White Sox did not offer the qualifying offer, though they will consider bringing him back to Chicago next season. But a number of other teams are at least interested in acquiring the only true third base option on the market, and some of those teams could be willing to give Youkilis a multi-year deal despite his advanced age and declining abilities. After all, Youkilis hit just .235/.336/.409 (.328 wOBA) this past season, and even with the White Sox he only managed a .236/.346/.425 (.339 wOBA) line.
Youkilis's bat may very well be in decline, and if the Marlins are interested, it will only be for one year to allow him to prove his worth for a longer deal. If another team swoops in with a three-year contract, you can take the Marlins well out of the bidding.
Pagan is exactly the type of player with whom the Marlins want to build their team. He is speedy, having accumulated 21.5 runs above average over the past three seasons on bases, including both stolen bases and extra bases on hits or outs. Over the last three seasons, Pagan has hit a respectable .281/.334/.415 (.326 wOBA) over the past three years, and combine that with solid baserunning and he would make an excellent choice for what the Marlins would perceive as a good leadoff or second hitter.
The problem with Pagan is his desired potential long-term deal. MLB Trade Rumors reported that it was likely Pagan was looking for a five-year deal worth $60 million. Yes, the Marlins have the listed $12 million available this year, but there is no guarantee the Marlins will be ready to commit that much in future seasons, especially with the backloaded Jose Reyes and Mark Buehrle contracts. A long-term deal for Pagan might be a risky venture at his age (31 in 2013), and the Marlins may not want to go past three or four years for that kind of candidate.
It would something of a homecoming for Ross, who got his start with the Marlins and has been around a league average player for the past five seasons. The Marlins know that he can play all three outfield positions and do so competently, meaning the team can plug him either in center or left field in 2013. If Ross is not asking for more than $7 million a season, the Fish may be able to give him a three-year deal. The problem with that gameplan is that Ross may be more willing to play for a competitive team in 2013 rather than a rebuilding club that can only promise a shot at contention in future seasons. Still, a Ross return would at least be amicable to the fan base, who adored him during his time with the Marlins.
The same can be said of Scutaro that was said of Ross. The 37 year-old may be amicable to a short-term deal, and his value has never been really met on the open market, as he is consistently a league average player but paid much like other defense-first middle infielders. However, his services may be more in demand following a stellar playoffs and World Series victory with the Giants, and there is a very good chance that he too is more interestd in playing for a contender than playing for a poor team.
These are all players the Marlins could consider, but do not count the team as in the lead for any one player. With the small amount of money the club has available to them, thye could make something happen with these mid-level free agents, but each comes with their own problems and none of them are likely to receive more than a two-year deal from the Marlins,