The Miami Marlins have done a lot of self-inflicted damage to their reputation around baseball with their fire sale trade of last month. As a result, they have a long way to go to reestablish credibility not only with other organizations but with their own players, many of whom likely feel spurned either by the team's empty promises or the company with which they have been left.
MLB.com's Joe Frisaro tends to agree with this assessment, and in last week's Inbox article, he made an interesting comment regarding the team's future activities in the wake of this offseason's events. Like many of us, he believes the team's future relies upon the success and length of stay of top prospects Jose Fernandez and Christian Yelich.
Most likely, it is going to take a few years to gain the trust to add some marquee free agents. Personally, I think the next long-term contracts could be to prospects like Jose Fernandez and/or Christian Yelich. I think the Marlins would consider doing with these two what the Rays did with Evan Longoria and Matt Moore.
Once Yelich and Fernandez show promise at the big league level, I personally think the Marlins will consider signing them to multiyear deals right away. It's something they probably should have done with Stanton in 2010.
If the Marlins did this, they would be entering territory traditionally occupied by the Tampa Bay Rays. The Rays notoriously got Evan Longoria to agree to a what amounted to a nine-year contract that paid him just $47.5 million only 14 days into his major league career. Longoria then went on to become a premier third baseman and the indisputable best trade asset in baseball for years. Similarly, the team did the same with pitcher Matt Moore, signing him to essentially an eight-year deal that covered two free agent seasons for $40 million after just 9 1/3 innings of baseball in 2011.
Both contracts were unprecedented, and since then only one other player (the Kansas City Royals' Salvador Perez) has received similar treatment. All three deals were extremely friendly for the teams involved and are very much not in favor of the players, but from a fan's standpoint, any fan would love to have their team lock up young talent in such a manner. But would even offer such a deal, and if they did, would either Fernandez or Yelich even sign one?
Marlins Extension History
The Marlins have been a cash-strapped team for much of their existence, and traditionally, cash-strapped ball clubs often turn to extensions like these as a way to keep them relevant for as long as possible. The Rays are a premium example of this, as we discussed earlier in the offseason. They signed multiple prominent players to extensions as early as possible, ranging from Longoria's and Moore's extremes to the deals they did with Carl Crawford and Rocco Baldelli.
The Fish have a less extensive history of these sorts of deals. If you look back into the pre-Jeffrey Loria days, the Marlins were unable to get any deals done early with potential franchise players like Josh Beckett. Once Loria took over, the Marlins have deemed only three players worthy of buying out free agent years: Mike Lowell, Hanley Ramirez, an Josh Johnson. None of those players signed earlier than their first arbitration season, though Ramirez agreed to the deal midway through his last pre-arbitration year.
If the Marlins do offer a contract to either Yelich or Fernandez in their pre-arbitration seasons, it would be an unprecedented move to the team, but one that is highly unlikely to backfire. The earlier a team commits long-term, the cheaper those future seasons get, and with players like Fernandez and Yelich, the Marlins are unlikely to worry about the risks involved in those future years. Essentially, if the player does not collapse entirely or suffer a catastrophic injury, the deal is likely to at least break even and has a good chance of becoming a great boon to the Marlins.
Then again, the Fish once had the rights to Jeremy Hermida for six seasons, and by the fourth year, he was more or less out of baseball. And the Rays did have to suffer through the final arbitration seasons of Rocco Baldelli's career when he was suffering from his rare mitochondrial disease. While the risks may not be high, they are present, and there are examples.
Would They Sign?
All in all, if the Marlins do decide to offer Fernandez and Yelich long-term deals early in their major league careers, it would be an enormous benefit to the team. The Fish would join other enterprising small-market teams in locking up talent, especially potential star-level talent, over the long haul. But offering a contract is not sufficient in getting them to sign the deal. Would either agree to such a move?
The decision is not as simple as "all young players agree to long-term deals." The Rays supposedly offered B.J. Upton a long-term extension while he was still in Triple-A, but Upton declined and decided to go year-to-year with Tampa Bay. Fernandez and Yelich could also be the same way, refusing to sign for the long haul so early in their careers and forego all the potential future money should they become stars. The Marlins cannot control that personality aspect of the player.
But two aspects could factor into their respective decisions. On the positive side, both players would be entering an organization that has been burned to the ground in order to be rebuilt, presumably around them. If the Marlins can convince them that this future team will be focused on surrounding them with major leaguers and following them to contention. The Marlins can insist that the organization-wide flushing that occurred in 2012 was necessary to start anew and provide the team flexibility with which to build a new core around Fernandez and Yelich.
Then again, on the negative side, the team's sordid reputation cannot escape them. Much like the current situation with Giancarlo Stanton, the Marlins may find themselves having a difficult time suggesting that the organization can remain on track long enough to establish a plan around those two top prospects. With poor performance potentially bringing another fire sale into the fray, how can those players trust the Marlins to stick to whatever they told them before 2014?
If the Marlins are wise enough to begin offering extensions early, then they will have at least rectified the mistake they made in not emphasizing this factor during Stanton's stay with the organization. Overall, that would be a step in the right direction. But that step is only half of the task at hand, and convincing either Fernandez or Yelich to agree to stay with the Marlins despite the team's historical problems may be the toughest challenge of them all.