Now that the Miami Marlins have completed their manager search by hiring former catcher Mike Redmond as the team's latest clubhouse leader, the team can finally move on to the personnel aspect of the offseason plan. There is no doubt that the Marlins rightfully took their managerial search seriously, but there is also no doubt that what the Marlins do with their offseason is far more important in terms of their on-field performance. No matter what managerial coat of paint you put on the Fish in 2013, the underlying product is what will make or break the Marlins in 2013. Beyond that, the team's performance and how it compares to the horrific 2012 year will be important for the future of the organization's appearance to the paying fan base; a bounceback campaign with a number of extra wins may be the difference between 28,000 paying fans per night or 18,000.
The problem with the Marlins in this offseason is that the team will likely be doing a lot less than they did last season. Last year, the Fish were greatly expanding payroll in order to make a splash and improve the team to the point of contention. While their plan and execution was decently sound outside of one major hiccup, the result in 2012 did not justify the means, and the team quickly abandoned that plan during the season. This year, the team is expected to pare down payroll to $80 million, which would significantly hamper the ability of the team to be improved via free agency.
With this situation in mind, the Marlins have a lot fewer options than they did in 2012. Without the likelihood of significant spending, the Marlins can only marginally improve the team via free agency, as it would be difficult to acquire impact talents on what is left in the Marlins' budget after arbitration and salary raises for a number of players under contract. The good news for the team is that the club has a number of holes to fill on the team, so any signing should theoretically upgrade the Marlins by the full number of wins of the signing. Positions like second or third base or one of the outfield spots could use a major upgrade over replacement-level talent.
Another option that the Marlins have is to sack the roster of players without long-term contracts in order to get future talent, without regard for the consequences of 2013. The Marlins already did this to some degree by trading Heath Bell and all but $8 million of his salary away, freeing up salary with which the Marlins can work. The team could do the same with two other players on the roster, starting pitchers Josh Johnson and Ricky Nolasco. Nolasco may not net much of anything in return, much like Bell, but given that the Marlins are almost certainly not going to have Nolasco return after this upcoming season, the club may be wise to get anything that it can out of his remaining year. The same goes for Johnson, except that his talent level is still high enough that the Marlins could get a good return for one year of his play, especially coming off of a healthy 2012 season. If the team is not planning on competing by adding players, trading Johnson with the future in mind rather than playing for 2013 may be beneficial.
The final option the team has in 2013 is to stay put and go with the club that they currently have, hoping that full seasons from Emilio Bonifacio and Logan Morrison will be enough to improve the Marlins enough along with a bounce back from some of these players. While this is a possibility, it is unlikely that the Marlins would be able to improve enough via regression with their current roster that the team would look significantly better than how they ended up last season. This option may be the worse choice, if only because it would look as though the front office is uninterested in improving the team due to payroll restrictions, which was a common refrain for years with the Marlins.
Given the situations, the Marlins should either consider pursuing short-term deals aimed to garner the team a few wins and potentially push them closer to 80 victories in 2013 or trade Johnson or other short-term contracts on the team in order to continue building for the reinforcements arriving in 2014. While this offseason's choices may not be as dire as the one they faced in the 2012 offseason, they still remain important for the club's future in terms of both the roster and attendance and its financial implications.