The Miami Marlins completed their fire sale of the failed 2012 era a month ago and are moving on with a skeleton cast surrounding Giancarlo Stanton in 2013. As we have mentioned before, this situation is very similar to that of the 2006 era Marlins, who also faced adversity following a major fire sale that season. But while we have discussed the similarities between these two eras, we have yet to delve into what happened to the 2006 era Marlins and why they ultimately failed despite a successful start. Because of those similarities, it seems imperative that the 2013 Marlins do not fall into the same traps as the older generation of the team did.
Cabrera / Stanton Situation
The Marlins made a mistake or at least were unable to capitalize on one very obvious situation in that era: the Marlins failed to extend Miguel Cabrera into future seasons. Recall that Cabrera was traded in the offseason before the 2008 campaign, during which the Marlins then rightfully extended the team's next star, Hanley Ramirez, to an intelligent six-year deal. Had the Fish been able to sign both players to long-term contracts, the 2006 era Marlins would have been much stronger in their prime contention seasons.
Of course, this is not a mistake that was made in 2006 on; this was an error in judgment from before the start of that era. If the Marlins wanted to keep Cabrera, they would have had to lock him up after 2006 at the latest, and it simply did not happen in time. After an MVP-caliber season in 2006, Cabrera had all but priced himself out of the range of the Marlins. With a superstar like that, the Marlins needed to be more proactive, a lesson they learned with Ramirez.
A similar thing is happening with Stanton, with the added problem that the Marlins have angered Stanton with their fire sale activities. It seems highly unlikely that Stanton will sign a long-term extension, but the Marlins could have potentially prevented this problem by beginning and prioritizing negotiations earlier as this website insisted last season.
Addition With Competition
While the Cabrera / Stanton correlation is all bust lost, the Marlins did not necessarily crater without Cabrera. In 2008, following a disappointing 2007 campaign, the team went 84-77 with a Pythagorean record of a .500 team. They did this despite having clear problems at first base and in the outfield, along with opening the season with issues in the starting rotation as well. The Marlins performed quite well and it would not have been surprising to see them play just as well the following season with the same cast.
This is where the 2006 era Marlins faltered. Following a rebound 2008 season that saw Hanley Ramirez truly establish himself as a star and receive a long-term extension for his troubles, the Marlins could have made a few small moves to bump up their payroll from the $21 million they paid that year. We know now that the Fish made money in those two seasons despite the oppressive lease in Sun Life Stadium, so the Marlins could have added a small piece or two on short-term contracts to bolster their roster for a sleeper run at contention in 2009.
Instead, the Marlins opened up a roster hole to fill another one by trading Josh Willingham to acquire Emilio Bonifacio and change and signed players like Ross Gload and Wes Helms instead of adding talent to the roster. The payroll increased to $37 million on account of arbitration increases, but the Fish were willing to let it climb to upwards of close to $60 million just two years later in 2011. Had the Marlins gone after well-timed gambles like the 2011 signing of Javier Vazquez back for the 2009 or 2010 season, the Fish may have gotten enough wins to get into the playoffs and perhaps galvanize the fan base.
The 2013 Marlins cannot make the same error. Next season is shot due to the lack of present talent coming back in the fire sale trade, but the 2014 and 2015 years have the potential for good outcomes thanks to the arrival of top prospects like Christian Yelich and Jose Fernandez. If the Marlins prove decent in 2014, ownership should open up the wallet for 2015 and beyond to supplement a young, affordable core.
Save Where You Can
The Marlins did avoid spendy signings during the 2006 era, but the team also spent too much money on the polar opposite of starting contributors: bench players and bullpen pitchers. After years of skimping on bullpen parts and signing reclamation projects, the late-era Marlins agreed to spend a total of $12 million on three seasons of Juan Carlos Oviedo, the man previously known as Leo Nunez. That team also agreed to multi-year agreements guaranteeing between $2 million and $4 million total to guys like Ross Gload, Wes Helms, and Greg Dobbs. While Gload, Helms, and Dobbs provided veteran presences in the clubhouse, they did little on the field to justify their contracts.
If the Marlins and owner Jeffrey Loria are indeed as cash-strapped as they seem to be when they make these large-scale fire sales, they would be wise to avoid the 2006 era's mistake of committing guaranteed money, even small amounts, to players with little benefit on the roster. If the team is going to commit money, put it towards contributors who can start for the Marlins and assist the young core to contention.
If the Marlins follow some of these suggestions, they may be able to provide a competitive team in 2014 or 2015 and supplement it with monetary investment. If the team begins to compete again with this new core, the fans will arrive once more and the Marlins can maybe do what the 2006 era never did: build on a good foundation and reach contention status.