Over the course of the week, I detailed here at Fish Stripes a number of options the Miami Marlins have in terms of what direction the team will take this offseason. All the potential signings and moves eventually boil down to two potential choices for the Fish in the 2013 offseason. The team can either be limited buyers under their $12 million remaining budget, or the Marlins can become sellers of their few remaining short-term assets and look primarily to the future and eschew respectability in 2013.
Both arguments have reasonable support considering the Marlins' unique predicament. The Fish initially had planned on having the core set up in 2012 around for a little longer than one season, but trades of Hanley Ramirez, Omar Infante, and Gaby Sanchez have ravaged much of what was supposed to be a competitive team through 2014. In their place are a number of inferior options upon whom the team could improve. Unfortunately, the Marlins decided the 2012 season was such a disaster that they decided to pull back slightly on payroll and moved back down to $80 million from a previous team-high $100 million-plus payroll. As a result, not only did those trades deplete the Marlins of talent, but the resulting team has less budget with which to improve. Any other club would simply rebuild from the ground up, but such a dramatic rebuild only one season removed from promises of change in the Marlins organization would be devastating to a fan base that is already upset about 2012.
As a result, the Marlins are in an awkward position in 2013. They cannot tank the payroll and roster entirely, nor can they pay significantly to improve a very poor remaining roster. As a result, they are left with making minor, but still potentially significant, moves to support their future core, which should be infused with talent by 2014 with the arrival of top prospects Christian Yelich and Jose Fernandez.
One case one can make for the Marlins in 2013 is to use the remaining $12 million or so in budget and add a piece or two that can provide an upgrade in 2013 and can play a supporting role for a new competitive team in 2014. Even with the addition of Yelich and Fernandez in 2014, the Marlins are unlikely to be competitive as constructed today. Rather than eating the savings, which is exactly what Marlins fans feared would happen when the team traded away Hanley Ramirez and his contract at midseason, the team should reinvest that money into a player or two who can help the team appear closer to contention in 2013 and assist them to a potential true contender status in 2014 and beyond, when the team's prospects arrive.
The advantage of this plan is that it does not forfeit the 2013 season. Even a modest four-win addition to the Marlins now may result in a win total of around 75 or so wins. While this is nothing to celebrate about, it is far closer to respectable than the current total this team is likely to put up in 2013. Adding victories to this upcoming season does nothing for the purposes of making the playoffs, as that record is not even close to postseason worthy. However, it does add a bit more to morale, especially if the team catches a few lucky breaks and pushes up to closer to 80 wins. A 75- to 80-win Marlins team in 2013 is far more likely to draw crowds than a repeat performance of 2012, and with the attendance situation in Miami still perilous following the worst-case scenario of last year,
In addition to making the team more respectable in 2013, the Marlins can also build towards the reinforcements arriving in 2014. If the Marlins can start off at a base of ideally around 78 wins, adding the infusion of young talent in 2014, along with the growth of some of the Marlins' current youngest players, could push the team closer to actual contention at best or at least fringe contention. If Yelich and / or Fernandez are even better than advertised, as Giancarlo Stanton and Josh Johnson ended up being, the Marlins may have the nucleus for a contending team already set alongside Stanton and Jose Reyes, and the team can move right into the playoff picture starting that year thanks to reasonable, short-term signings made in 2013.
Adding a potential three- to four-win player like Angel Pagan to the Marlins, for example, can boost next year's team and keep the club more respectable. A respectable record, with some good luck, can help to maintain the fan base's morale and attendance. Having Pagan on board may also help in 2014, when the Marlins add some talented players to the fray and improve their team with two potential stars. Signing players in 2013 helps to get the Marlins closer to contention in future seasons without giving up on the 2013 year and hurting the fans' devotion to the team with a clunker of a season.