The Miami Marlins may still be in the process of building back the trust of fans after a tumultuous year of botched free-agent signing, finger-pointing, and fire sale trades, but believe it or not, the Fish could not have "picked" a better time to lay low in the free agent market.
Those around the game understood that aside from a few players, this free agent class would be a particularly weak one. Now that Josh Hamilton and Zack Greinke have found new clubs, teams have been forced to pick from the scrap heap, and in some cases overpay for these players that could wind up being burdens on the payroll down the road.
After a disastrous 2012 season, we knew that the Marlins would not be major players for the big-name free agents like Hamilton, Greinke, etc., and it was likely that more roster overhaul was on the way. Though there were few people who believed we would see a deal as big as the one with the Toronto Blue Jays, the moves made thus far have not been entirely out of character for the franchise.
There has been plenty of cynicism surrounding the Miami Marlins over the last twelve months, but as the calendar turns to 2013, perhaps it's time to express a little optimism about the direction of the organization.
As it stands, the Fish have just $34.5 million worth of guaranteed contracts in 2013, with a whopping one third of that total committed to currently-disgruntled pitcher Ricky Nolasco. Their second-highest paid player at the moment is recent free agent signee Placido Polanco. The Marlins' peanut vendor will be the third-highest paid member of the organization before we know it.
Jokes aside, the Marlins have financial flexibility. They found out very quickly that throwing money at big-name players does not fix things and even though some were risky or plain bad investments to begin with (see: Heath Bell), the truth is money does not buy championships. But even with payroll slashed, it is clear that spending will only occur when and if Jeffrey Loria and company say it will. In other words, it is unlikely that a spending spree like the one we saw last winter will ever happen again with this team, but they will at least have a good deal of financial flexibility to do so if they so choose.
Another reason for optimism is the vast improvement across the Fish's minor league system. In the past year, the club has added Rob Brantly, Nathan Eovaldi, Jacob Turner, Jake Marisnick, Justin Nicolino, Andrew Heaney to a system that already boasted Top 100 talents in Jose Fernandez and Christian Yelich. Aside from Fernandez (and possibly Yelich), none of the players on this list project to be perennial All-Stars or batting champions, but they at the very least provide a system with plenty of depth. The Marlins also possess one of the best young players in the game in Giancarlo Stanton for the forseeable future. Even manager Mike Redmond represents a fresh perspective and managing style while at the same time being familiar with the organization. The fact is that one only has to look to the Fish's in-state counterpart, the Tampa Bay Rays, to see how a strong farm system can be the key to long-term success without having to break the bank in free agency.
The Marlins have a long ways to go before they can distance themselves from the bevy of poor personnel decisions that have made them the punchline of baseball over the last year, but that is not to say the glimmer of hope is completely absent.