As we all know, this offseason may be the most important in the history of the Marlins organization. For years, the team has toiled under a shoestring budget and no support from either the fanbase or the ownership with regards to money. Whoever was to blame for this is now irrelevant (though it would the ownership first and foremost in my opinion), as the Marlins are planning on opening the purse strings for the first time prior to the 2012 changeover to a new Marlins era. As a result, this offseason and the moves made by the front office in the next five months are the most critical to determining the future of this team.
For the past few weeks, I have been mulling on the various possible moves that the Marlins could perform this offseason in order to assist in building a strong contender for the immediate and foreseeable future. There are a lot of players available in the free agent market and in trades that could assist this team. There are a lot of directions that the Marlins could go with the new budget the team has. There are many ways they could show fans that there will be sustained spending and convince them that the product being put on the field is one in which can invest without fear of losing their favorite players. How can the Marlins wade through all of those potential plans?
The group of Larry Beinfest, Michael Hill, and the rest of the front office have proven in the past that they are trustworthy and intelligent enough to run a baseball team. However, fans want a big splash and an impact group of players to come in. How will the team balance the demand for big change and the desire to spend smart? I will attempt to develop an official Fish Stripes Plan for a Successful Offseason over the next few weeks to do just that. Today, I plan on going into an overview of what the team can spend and a list of things they should do.The Budget
Earlier today, Chris Towers went over the team's financial commitments for 2012 and their arbitration-eligible players, organized in a tiered system. Chris will go into a more detailed look at what the team might do with each of these players, but right now, my goal is to establish a baseline budget for the 2012 season. To do that, I will be using the projected arbitration values estimated by Matt Swartz over at MLB Trade Rumors. The other starting assumption I will use is that the Marlins will non-tender all of their non-tender candidates with the exception of Chris Volstad, who appears to be in line to stay for at least another season.
Using the combined values Chris listed earlier today for the pre-arbitration players and players under contract (totaling $54.1 million) and the arbitration-eligible players using MLBTR's estimates (totaling $13.4 million), the Marlins would have committed $67.5 million on 21 players for their 2012 roster. This does include Matt Dominguez, who may very well be out of the picture next year, so the team would have four to five slots available for free agents or other acquisitions.
Most Marlins fans would generally agree on these team needs, ranked in no particular order:
1. Third Base
2. Center Field
3. Starting Pitcher
Of these needs, the first three listed do outweigh the last one by a significant amount. However, the market of available players does not necessarily meet the needs of the team in this regard. There is a plurality of available options for the Marlins in terms of back-end closers with experience, though each of them would cost a good deal of money and would likely be not worth the price of admission. On the other hand, center field and third base are devoid of significant talent beyond the first few options. In these cases, the Marlins will have some tough choices to make.
The Fish Stripes Plan
Here is my plan for the Marlins this offseason, in order of most to least importance to execute.
1. Sign Mike Stanton to a multi-year extension which purchases two or three free agent seasons.
This is the most important aspect of this offseason's plan, even if it may seem like a side benefit. There is nothing that will guarantee interest in the Marlins in the foreseeable future than to lock in the team's brightest future star to a long-term deal that will be lucrative to Stanton and beneficial to the Marlins. Other teams with similar budget issues have always utilized this mechanism, and now that the Marlins have the budget to support the possible risk of a long-term contract, the team should pounce at the opportunity with Stanton at the earliest possible time.
2. Sign C.J. WIlson to a four- or five-year deal at a maximum of $16 million annually.
Despite his playoff struggles, C.J. Wilson is head and tails above the remainder of the free agent pitching class now that C.C. Sabathia has been re-signed. The Marlins want to slot a pitcher next to Josh Johnson, and for the right price, they can get one of the best pitchers of the last two seasons in the American League. His struggles in the playoffs may have even helped to bring him down to a more manageable price range for the Marlins.
2a. Failing that, sign Edwin Jackson to a four-year deal at a maximum of $12 million annually.
Edwin Jackson is a surprisingly good option for the Marlins and a solid money sink for the team if they do not get a chance to acquire Wilson. He has been quietly decent in the last three seasons, and pitchers that are typically decent earn this sort of money in free agency.
3. Sign Anibal Sanchez to a three-year extension worth $11 million annually.
If the Marlins are really interested in building around pitching, locking up Sanchez as a good third starter behind Johnson and Wilson will allow the club a top quality four-deep rotation for at least 2012 and 2013. Sanchez has emerged as a very strong starter in the past two seasons and has earned an extension, and the Marlins could pay him in the same vein as they did with Ricky Nolasco and his three-year extension.
4. Sign Grady Sizemore to an incentive-laden one-year deal at a maximum of $7 million annually.
Sizemore is likely to be on a Javier Vazquez-like quest to rebuild his value after two seasons of poor play and injuries. If the Marlins can get Sizemore playing left field (with Emilio Bonifacio moving back to center field in the case of trade of Logan Morrison), they might be able to keep him healthy and allow him to rebuild value with a strong bounce-back season on the cheap. If the Marlins keep Morrison, the team can run Sizemore in center field. If he fails, the Marlins will be free from his contract in 2013 and be able to pursue other players with that money.
5. Trade one of the team's first basemen (Gaby Sanchez or Logan Morrison) for a major-league part and minor league prospect(s).
I advocated for this some time ago, but the team stayed with Morrison and Sanchez and did not reap the rewards. While Morrison's hitting should be on the upswing in 2012, his fielding in left field is horrid and most Marlins fans recognize that he would be best placed at first base. Sanchez is a decent player, but he is unlikely to develop into a star and a build-around type player, especially since he has already hit his peak age. If the Marlins can find a package including a major-league ready player for either Sanchez or (more likely) Morrison, the team should consider it and allow the acquired player along with the limited prospects the club has to fill in the remaining gaps.
Why this plan?
The crux of the plan involves the fact that, outside of the top three names on the market, there is a lack of depth in this year's free agent crop. Because of that, the Marlins cannot afford to throw away too much excess money on players simply because they have it. The team has significant commitments in the following seasons and will still need to mind their (admittedly larger) budget over the next few years. This plan lets them be involved in future potential free agent markets without committing themselves recklessly to too many long-term deals.
What do you Fish Stripers think of the plan? It may seem conservative, but in my opinion it has the highest likelihood of being successful for the short- and long-term. In future pieces, I will discuss each of the points listed in greater detail, but right now I would love to hear your opinions on the matter as well.