The Miami Marlins spent a lot of money in 2012 in order to push their present core into the next level. When that plan faltered, the Fish traded away their most disappointing expensive piece among others. But unlike the ridiculous fire sale narrative that many were declaring during the trade deadline, the Marlins did not go all out like they did in 1998 or before 2006. No, the front office was expected to reinvest into the ball club for 2013 and beyond; in fact, David Samson noted that that was a primary goal of the Hanley Ramirez trade.
But so far, the Marlins front office (which appears to be in turmoil as it stands now) has not said anything about a possible payroll for next season. This should come as no surprise, as the Marlins did not announce a payroll target before the 2012 offseason, and the team ended up with a team-record $101.7 million payroll.
For next season, however, the Marlins may not go as high as that. Joe Frisaro speculates in his latest inbox piece that the Marlins may only reach around $80 million in 2013.
I don't expect the payroll to be close to $100 million next year. I think the $80-million range is more realistic. The club will reinvest in the roster, but it has to be careful to pinpoint the right players.
This may raise the immediate scoffing and scorn of Marlins fans who suspected the Fish may not maintain a high payroll beyond 2012. An $80 million or so payroll would put the Marlins on par with the Arizona Diamondbacks, Colorado Rockies, Toronto Blue Jays, and Seattle Mariners of 2012. These four teams are not even remotely considered "big spenders" who would gamble on major contracts in free agency.
Keeping in mind that this figure is simply speculation rather than anything set in stone, what could the Marlins do with a theoretical payroll of around $80 million?Medium-Range Bargain Hunting
The Marlins have $67 million committed to next year's payroll with guaranteed contracts. That means that that figure does not include arbitration raises, but because the Marlins traded a player or two with arbitration in sight, the team actually does not have much in the way of raises to deal with. Without looking closely at the figures, the Marlins are likely to have a payroll of at most $74 million after arbitration.
That would leave the Marlins with very little in the way of "free money" with which to spend. The Marlins would have between six to eight million dollars to spend in free agency if they planned on sticking closely to a theoretical $80 million mark. How could they improve their team with that kind of money in hand?
Well, remember the signing of Javier Vazquez? That would be the type of player an $80 million Marlins team would have to pursue in order to improve the team on such little money. Remember that Vazquez signed with the Fish for one season at $7 million, and the Marlins promised him a no-trade clause as well to assure him that he would not be uprooted in a pseudo-comeback season. Of course, for the Marlins, Vazquez's year went great, and if it was a "prove yourself" season for him, it would have led to a much bigger salary in 2012.
Of course, Vazquez retired, but the point still stands. At the range the Marlins would be looking at, they could only pursue veteran players who were looking to "prove themselves" in a one-year deal before re-entering the free agent market for the long haul. Are there players like that available? Frisaro named one good candidate of that type: Kevin Youkilis.
More than signing high-priced free agents, look for veterans who don't come at a great cost. Someone like Kevin Youkilis could make sense. Finding a third baseman is among the highest priorities, and Youkilis could be a fit.
Youkilis would come cheap because he is coming off of his worst hitting seasons of his career, a .231/.340/.423 (.334 wOBA) year that saw him hit the lowest average of his career and second-lowest walk rate. Youkilis will be 34 years old in 2013, so he will not have much in the tank left anyway, but if he is looking to rebuild his value for one more potential three-year contract, he could look for a one-year deal for about $7 million, much like Vazquez. For him, it would be a chance to prove he still is worth a multi-year deal, while for a team like the Marlins, it is a gamble that his production can bounce back to at least 2011 form and that the team can buy an extra win or two on the cheap.
What other players like that are available in 2013? Perusing through the free agent list, there are a couple more names to consider. Stephen Drew has had an injury-plagued year, so he is not likely to want to sign a multi-year deal at reduced value. Placido Polanco finally had an awful year, but he could easily be had on the cheap and is at worse an elite defender. Depending on the fallout of Melky Cabrera's high-profile PED case, he could receive a one-year deal somewhere. Grady Sizemore has been awful for two years, but he is still just 30 years old.
Is It Enough?
Of the players listed above, only Youkilis and Drew would most likely draw that kind of salary close to $10 million for one season. But if that is all the Marlins' budget will muster, those players can at least fill one hole in the team's lineup. The only problem is that the Marlins realistically have three holes in their lineup, one of them to be filled adequately by Emilio Bonifacio. One free agent addition may not be enough to do more than add a few wins to the team's barren win total at those positions, but it will not make or break a 2013 year.
No, for the Marlins to establish a good foundation for the future, the team should make one significant free agent addition such as Michael Bourn rather than dumpster dive for one year. This team, as constructed, is not two wins from the playoffs, but rather closer to ten wins from that mark. High-risk upgrades as of now will not potentially put the team in playoffs, not without a solid four-win addition first.
Not Set Yet
It may not have been Frisaro, but this $80 million figure had been floated in the past before, particularly before the 2012 season. I had heard the Marlins considering this kind of payroll last year, and the team eventually made a large splash. Who is to say that the same will not occur this season? All of that is to say that we have no real idea about how much the Marlins will spend, but if they do spend this much, we can certainly predict what might happen.