Miami Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen ponders whether the 2013 Marlins will be young or a more veteran "win now" team. The truth is that the team has only one real choice. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Miami Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen asked recently just what the Marlins had to do this offseason to prepare for 2013 and beyond. The manager first responded by saying that the team needed to accurately determine its personnel's talent and choose a direction going forward, "going young" and rebuilding or going "win now" and retooling the roster with veteran talent.
"We've got to sit down, look at the talent and be realistic about the talent that we have," Guillen said. "The front office, they know better than me, this team. But we cannot miss too much more on the evaluation of the ballclub, of the team."
"If we're going to be younger here, then OK, what kind of young team are we going to have?" Guillen said. "Are we going to go forward, or are we going to stay the same? If we're going to go young, just go young, and suffer for a couple of years and see what happens.
"Or are you going to compete, and make a mix [of veterans with young players]? Then who's coming here to make the mix? It's all a process."
Of course the Marlins have an internal choice to make regarding this team's immediate future, particularly in 2013. Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on how you look at the roster, the team actually has made its bed back a long time ago. In 2013, the Marlins have little choice but to go for the jugular and play the "win now" game in order to be successful not only in that season, but in years beyond.
The major issue the Marlins were going to face in 2012 and 2013 had the team not suddenly increased payroll and gone on a free agent shopping spree was that the talent pool was running dry in the minors. After the promotions of Gaby Sanchez, Giancarlo Stanton, and Logan Morrison, the team had depleted all of its major league ready talent, leaving a barren system headlined by former first round pick Matt Dominguez. Due to a combination of need to replace increasingly expensive major league talent and a poor set of drafts, the Marlins had little talent remaining in the minors, and the 2011 and 2012 minor league systems as a result suffered.While the Marlins' minor league system has once again been bolstered in recent drafts, the problem at the top levels remains. Not one of the Marlins' best prospects at the moment are above Double-A, and it is unlikely that any of them will be able to help in 2013. So the idea that the Fish should "go young" next season seems almost impossible, as there are few "young" prospects that the Marlins can try. Heading into the next year, the Fish have holes at third base and either second base or in one outfield spot as well as two potential rotation holes. The Fish are very likely to fill those rotation spots with Jacob Turner and Nathan Eovaldi, but the team has few legitimate options for the position player holes. Only one player, recently acquired third baseman prospect Zack Cox, can even play one of those positions.
So how could the Marlins "go young" when they have no one to go to? Unless you count attempting to play Donovan Solano, a career .260/.314/.319 hitter in the minors who will be 25 years old next season, at second base as "going young," the Marlins have few legitimate minor league options who will be ready to play in 2013.
Trade Options Lacking
So if the Marlins currently do not have internal options to promote to fill in their major league holes, the team could trade their major leaguers to try and fill multiple holes. But this would also not be viable, and for reasons beyond the "fire sale" rhetoric that would surely result. The Marlins simply do not have major league trade options at this point.
Recall that the list of Marlins that were likely to survive the trade deadline. If you take a look at that list, you will see that the highest-valued Marlins are also the ones around whom the team will build, including Giancarlo Stanton, Jose Reyes, and Mark Buehrle. The young players have very little trade value right now, due to a mixture of uncertain results (Logan Morrison) or arbitration hikes in salary (Emilio Bonifacio). The few veterans on the team, like John Buck and Ricky Nolasco, have played so poorly this year that they are unlikely to get anything in the trade market that could fill the team's holes.
The only player the Marlins have that could presumably fill multiple positions of need is Josh Johnson, and based on my reasoning of the team's best chances in 2013, Johnson may as well stay on the roster. At this year's trade deadline, teams balked on paying a premium for ace-level talent like Johnson's due to injury concerns, and I cannot imagine they will not do the same after this season. The team will not get the return needed to really fill out a roster with young, cost-controlled talent and rebuild the roster in that way around Reyes and Stanton. So that leaves the Marlins with little to trade to acquire young players.
Options Beyond 2013
The most appealing part of the "win now" approach for next year is that it can easily carry into 2014 and beyond. Next year, the team's young talent may not be ready, but the club's two elite prospects, Christian Yelich and Jose Fernandez, could be ready by 2014. If the Marlins acquire a little bit of talent in the free agent market for the 2013 season, the team could head into 2014 with premiere young talent to supplement a decent core.
If you are of the belief that the Marlins got a good deal unlucky in 2012 in addition to perhaps overestimating their talent, then you should expect regression from certain 2013 regulars like Logan Morrison and John Buck. Even a return to close to their normal numbers would help tremendously when coupled with a free agent addition or two. In this way, the Marlins can appease fans with a decently competitive team (though one that would certainly be worse than the expected 2012 team) while waiting for the true contender to be reinforced in 2014 and beyond. This would be the best of both worlds.
So the Marlins may face a "choice" of rebuilding with youth or retooling with free agent additions, but the truth is that the Marlins can only go with a "win now" approach that will only improve in 2014. The team simply does not have the minor league talent ready to make a test run with youth, nor do they have the trade resources to acquire more of that type of talent. Meanwhile, a free agency addition or two to this current core, using the money the team cleared in trading Hanley Ramirez, could be just the ticket to fringe contention in 2013 and a very good team in 2014 and beyond.