The Miami Marlins find themselves in a peculiar situation as they enter the winter before the 2013 season. The club is less than a year from both going "all-in" and spending massive amounts of money in free agency and having a "fire sale" that forced the organization to evaluate the talent they truly had.
This makes it extraordinarily difficult to predict just what the Marlins have in mind to improve the club this offseason. We know that we won't see anything remotely close to the spending spree of last winter, but at what cost does the front office draw the line at improving the club via free agency? Or will the newly-acquired young talent like Rob Brantly, Nathan Eovaldi, and Jacob Turner get a full year to audition for their jobs without fear of being replaced by an aging veteran?
It's also highly doubtful that any of the club's remaining marquee talent is on the trade block this winter. Jose Reyes and Giancarlo Stanton represent the future of the organization and the Marlins could soon have to decide on the parameters of a possible Stanton extension. Josh Johnson could be available, as he was during the regular season, but there's also a chance the Fish hold onto him and try to move him at the Deadline in 2013 and hope that an improved season can give the team more leverage in trade negotiations.
For the purposes of this article, let's assume that the club will be active on the free agent market. I've decided to take a look at a few low-cost options that could make sense for the Fish and how they could fit in the club's future.
It's difficult to fathom how much injury has wreaked havoc on the career of Grady Sizemore, especially knowing there's a chance that a minor league deal could be the best chance to return to the Major Leagues in 2013. Sizemore missed all of the 2012 due to injury and it's possible that the Cleveland Indians are ready to move on from the player that six seasons ago led all AL position players in rWAR at 6.5. The Tribe gave him a one-year, $5 million deal last winter, hoping by some miracle that he would be able to contribute this season but one setback after another led the former third-round pick of the Montreal Expos to have to sit out the 2012 campaign. If the Marlins were to sign the 30-year-old Sizemore, it would obviously have to come at a clearance rack price. After all, he hasn't played in more than 92 games since 2008, but if he were to come back at even 90% health, Sizemore could present some value. An incentive-laden contract with a low guarantee will probably be the max value for a player with as lengthy a medical history as Sizemore, but this type of low-risk, high-reward deal would certainly make sense for the Marlins.
You can never have too much pitching and though the bullpen was the main source of frustration for the Marlins in 2012, there are still plenty of questions that must be answered with the starting rotation for 2013 and beyond. Carlos Zambrano, who became a serviceable option out of the bullpen at the end of the season, is now a free agent and depending on whether he returns and the club believes he can return to the rotation, the Fish may turn to the free agent market for starting pitching depth. Millwood spent the 2012 season with the Seattle Mariners, where he made 28 starts and posted a 6-12 record and 4.25 ERA in 161 innings. Despite Millwood pitching his home games at the definition of a pitcher's park, the 37-year-old (who will turn 38 in December) proved that he can still be valuable to providing depth to a club's starting rotation. It's likely that his agent, Scott Boras, will be looking for a slightly bigger deal than that of the one-year, $1 million contract he signed with Seattle last winter (if he doesn't return there), but the added presence of a veteran starter such as Millwood's could be big for the Marlins in the event of an injury to Eovaldi or Turner, or a trade of Josh Johnson.
You know times are tough for the Marlins when I'm listing a guy who hit .197/.330/.354 this season as a potential free agent option, but the poor season that Carlos Pena had in 2012 could play to the Fish's advantage. Word is that the Rays are unlikely to re-sign Pena, and with how poor Marlins' first basemen performed this season, exploring Pena as an option for 2013 certainly wouldn't hurt. As difficult is it is to fathom, Pena posted struck out in 30.3% of his at-bats this season, playing in all but two of Tampa Bay's games. He hasn't shown the same power he was displaying even just a few seasons ago when he slugged 39 home runs for the Rays in 2009, but Pena's 19 home runs this season was still more than the Marlins got collectively out of the position. The 34-year-old Pena plays good defense and draws his share of walks at the plate and if the Fish were to sign Pena on an incentive-laden deal, he could at the very least serve as a stopgap or safety net until the return of Logan Morrison from his recent knee surgery.