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Marlins Still Optimistic About Reyes, Buehrle, Wilson

(Editor's Note: Apologies for missing out yesterday, I was taking a test for much of the day. Content begins as expected once again today. - MJ)

According to Joe Capozzi of the Palm Beach Post, at least one big name the Miami Marlins have been pursuing will likely be out of the picture (H/T MLB Daily Dish)

A handful of former baseball industry people tell me their hunches are that [Albert Pujols] will return to St. Louis. That same sentiment has been expressed by current executives, too.

This news does not surprise me, as I never suspected that the Marlins would be able to sign Pujols. However, Capozzi's next line was highly intriguing.

The Marlins still hope to sign Jose Reyes and either Mark Buehrle or C.J. Wilson — and it’s also possible they’ll try to sign both left-handed pitchers.

The Marlins have a rumored flow-chart that will direct them this offseason in their handling of multiple free agent offers. While the team would most assuredly be interested in acquiring Pujols, it would appear more realistic that they would be able to secure one of the three above-mentioned players. Reyes, Buehrle, and Wilson would all come at a cheaper price, and there would be a possibility that passing on Pujols would allow the Marlins to sign two of those players. But which two players would best fit the Marlins' budget and needs?

The first thing that should be noted is that the Fish are still not loaded with cash, and signing two players to expensive deals will still hold them back somewhat. It is also likely that the team would want to minimize their long-term risk by avoiding too many five- or six-year deals. As a result, I have a strong feeling that the first parameter regarding the Marlins' potential signings is that Buehrle will be one of the two players. FanGraphs readers predicted that Buehrle would receive a three-year deal worth around $33 million. Even if the price is hiked a bit from that, the Marlins would still be paying Buehrle significantly less than either Reyes or Wilson in both yearly and total value. Wilson's FanGraphs-projected five-year, $77.5 million deal would have been worth $4 million more per season and would have cost the Marlins almost $45 million more over the life of the deal. If the team is going to make two commitments, you can suspect that they will temper one of them by making it shorter in length.

If Buehrle is the first of the two players the Marlins will most likely be able to sign, who should the second be? Reyes and Wilson are obviously completely different beasts in terms of production, and it is difficult to compare them given the divide in pitcher versus position player evaluation. Still, let us evaluate them using the various Wins Above Replacement (WAR) metrics available. The following table presents both players' three-year history of WAR as calculated by FanGraphs (fWAR), Baseball-Reference (rWAR), and Baseball Prospectus (WARP).

Player Playing Time fWAR rWAR WARP Average WAR
Jose Reyes 1355 PA 9.9 8.8 9.6 9.4
C.J. Wilson 501 1/3 IP 12.5 10.8 8.9 10.7

From the table, the two players provided adequate average production over the last three years. However, neither player broke an average of four WAR per season, which is the production expected of them given their likely free agent production. The biggest reason for that is the same reason why both players hold risk for any potential signing teams, including the Marlins.

In the case of Reyes, injury is the biggest aspect of risk. Reyes actually performed very well during his 1355 PA over the last three seasons; he hit .306/.352/.452 in that time period and averaged 4.1 wins per 600 PA using the average of three WAR metrics. The question is whether he can consistently reach 600 PA and beyond given his injury history. Given that Baseball Prospectus pegged him for an 85 percent chance to miss at least 30 days prior to the 2011 season and he missed 37 days (29 games) to injury this season, it seems like a good bet that Reyes will again miss time to injury and rehab in 2012. Reyes has missed 44 and 37 days in the last two years and still achieved around the 600 PA mark, so expecting a four-win performance from him next year would actually be a good start in projecting his future 2012 performance.

As for Wilson, the risk lies not in injury necessarily, although concerns of about his mechanics are present, but rather in his unproven status as a starter. Despite being undoubtedly one of the top ten starters in baseball the last two seasons, fans are still uncertain about handing a 31-year old, recently converted starter a five-year deal. There is added concern about his "true" production, as the range of evaluation of Wilson in terms of WAR is larger than that of Reyes. Add onto that the classic concerns of injury and aging in pitchers and you have a bucket full of risk in signing Wilson as well.

So who would be the better choice amid all this risk? It is difficult to tell, as both players have actually performed very similarly. The evaluation gap in pitchers, however, does make me lean towards Jose Reyes as a better selection, even with the likely additional $2 million per season that it will require to sign him. Position players are notoriously easier to predict, and even with the lighter workload that Wilson has received over his career from being a reliever, the risk of injury and attrition is significant enough to make one shy away from a five-year pact. In addition, the need to move Hanley Ramirez to an easier position on the diamond and fill an immediate third base need is just as important as finding improvement for essentially the fifth starter spot.

Having siad that, if Ramirez still denies a move from shortstop, the Marlins could accommodate by moving to a plan involving Buehrle and Wilson. Right now, the fact that the team has been discussing deals with multiple players leaves a lot of possibilities open, and this is helping in keeping the offseason interesting and maintaining the possibility for success. If the club were looking to go "all-in" on one plan, some of these mitigating factors could step on their entire offseason. At this point, it seems the Marlins dipping their hands into everyone's pot is allowing them to keep their options open.