The Miami Marlins are apparently scouting Jose Dariel Abreu, taking a look at the slugger after reports said that the team was "not smitten" with him, According to Joe Frisaro of MLB.com, apparently Miami is also scouting a number of other young talents in an MLB international showcase, so the Fish are not just looking at the big fish in the pond, but all the smaller ones as well.
This seems to be a rare situation for the Marlins as of late. Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports recently noted in his latest Full Count video that the Fish have been curiously absent from discussions for top international free agents like Aroldis Chapman, Yasiel Puig, and Alexander Guerrero. The prevailing thought was that, since Miami is a market heavy in Latino population, the addition of top-flight Cuban talent would be a boon to the organization and to its public relations. But the Marlins have only expressed strong interest Chapman and Yoenis Cespedes among the big-name Cuban talents of recent years.
This points out a mistake the Marlins have been making for quite some time. While the Fish claimed in 2012 to want a major Latin-American or Latino presence on their team to help back up their permanent move to Miami, the franchise has neglected the international markets, both amateur and free agent, for some time. A quick search of the MLB Trade Rumors Transaction Tracker for international signings for the Marlins reveals nothing. In comparison, a search involving the Minnesota Twins shows a healthy number of players from the Caribbean and Asia signed to contracts. Now, it is not likely that the Fish made zero international signings so much as many went unannounced, but the point still stands: the Marlins just have not been active among the top talents in those markets.
Why should the Marlins get involved in the international market, though? The team has had some good recent drafts and the franchise is finally heading in the right direction after a tumultuous 2012 and 2013 campaigns. The future seems decently bright provided a few things fall their way. Why mess with a good thing?
It was not too long ago that the Marlins weren't heading in the right direction. The 2006 era Marlins were hurt by the lack of top-flight draft talent coming up from prior years and affecting the Fish. The failures of Jeremy Hermida, the pitching class of 2005, and other previous first-rounders prevented the early team from receiving proper reinforcements. The later years provided that era's Marlins just two players, Giancarlo Stanton (a star) and Logan Morrison (a question mark). Those teams were as close to competitive as any Marlins group, but they had no support from the minors beyond the initial 2006 promotion of various minor league talents.
There is no guarantee that international prospects or free agents would have helped that cause, but buying more lottery tickets would not hurt. The Marlins could have supplemented their drafts with the occasional in an attempt to add more raw talent to their pool and see what sticks. The Fish, who are notorious for remaining in-slot for their draft selections, have decided instead to save money on the international markets, likely going for small names the entire time.
Compare this to a team like the Minnesota Twins, who are not exactly burning down the monetary doors. The Twins went out and spent money internationally to get players like Miguel Angel Sano. Part of the current Pittsburgh Pirates core heading to the playoffs was acquired internationally, such as players like Starling Marte. There are other examples of small market teams taking advantage of these markets and finding talents there, while the Marlins continue to mostly neglect players like these.
The argument for avoiding these players is monetary. A guy like Sano cost the Twins $3 million and change in bonus money, and the Marlins likely felt that the risk of a player like that failing would not be worth the money.
But the Fish may not see the advantage of players like that as well. Young players are inherently good assets. Even top draft picks are rarely bad investments, as teams are not risking a significant amount in trying to sign them. If a prospect like Colin Moran or Sano fails, the drafting or signing team loses the original bonus money. if the player even makes the Major Leagues, he can provide value. If that player is anything beyond a bench player, he will likely easily make up for the bonus money paid to him. If he is a top-ranked talent, he has a shot at being an All-Star or at least regular contributor, meaning that he will provide bonus value beyond the money initially invested.
A similar concept comes into play with international free agents. The prices of such players are a little depressed (though they are getting higher) due to the uncertainty, but the payoff could be very high if you hit the right talent. For a team on the cusp of contention like the Boston Red Sox or Texas Rangers, those type of players represent a risk of missing out on playoff wins if the investment fails. But for the Marlins, the upside on the cheap could launch the franchise into a competitive area where they could use extra money to supplement the roster at reasonable prices. Stumbling onto a superstar and retaining him on good value is much more significant when you have very little money to spend.
The Marlins are being blindsided by raw prices and risk when the team should be aggressive with its risk-taking. With a low budget, teams like the Fish cannot go out to spend on known quantities at market prices. Paying market price for a talent is unlikely to put the Fish over the hump, and a collapse would be just as bad as if the team went for the risk. At least with the riskier investment, the Marlins can bet on its evaluation crew seeing something in a player like Jose Abreu and take a chance at nailing a superstar talent. In addition, because it has neglected this area of the market for so long, it has failed to supplement its draft and, if the team fails future drafts, it will not have the additional lottery tickets from the international market in the bank.
For a small additional investment in young talent, the Fish could build a strong international foundation of talent. If those players grow into stars, the team can market them as homegrown talent from Latino markets, helping their public relations. Instead, the Marlins are being conservative, and conservative moves kill small franchises like Miami.