The Miami Marlins, save for one or two seasons in their checkered history, have always faced a difficult budget constraint. Whether it was under Wayne Huizenga when his business was hemorrhaging money, or John Henry when he was appealing for a new stadium 10-plus years ago, or now under the disgustingly pennypinching Jeffrey Loria, the Fish have always had an oppressive thumb over their salaries. This has made managing a strong roster a difficult task every season.
This gets worse this year as the Marlins are coming off of their second-worst season in franchise history. The Fish have a lot of roles to fill ideally, but they do not have a lot of money with which to work. How much will the Fish have available this season, and how will arbitration affect their budget?
MLB.com's Joe Frisaro has pointed out multiple times (latest) that the Marlins will likely attempt to keep their payroll at $38 million for the 2014 season. This sort of budget mirrors the franchise's 2013 official mark of $33.5 million, not including what the team paid for Ricky Nolasco at the beginning of the season. The total added up to $38 million.
The Fish did contribute about $12 million in money for other players who were traded last season. Josh Johnson, Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle, and Heath Bell were all part of the books from last year, and with them, the team totaled about $45.6 million in payments. This year, the Marlins will not have as much dead money lying around, with only $4 million going to Bell.
The Marlins have very few guaranteed contracts in the books. The team has one more season left in a two-year extension with catcher Jeff Mathis, who originally signed the deal with the Toronto Blue Jays. The Marlins also re-signed would-be free agent veteran guy Greg Dobbs to a one-year contract worth $1.7 million, a slight raise over his 2012-2013 salaries. Finally, in a no-brainer move, the team picked up Jacob Turner's $1 million option for 2014. The Marlins officially do not have any commitments to players beyond 2014.
|Player||2014 Salary ($million)|
The biggest investment the team will have to make will be in its arbitration payments. A number of expected 25-man roster players will be reaching arbitration for the first time, including major contributors such as Giancarlo Stanton, Steve Cishek, and Logan Morrison.
MLB Trade Rumors published their report on arbitration expectations for the Marlins this season, based on Matt Schwartz's estimation algorithm. Here is what they estimated for the team's nine arbitration-eligible players.
|Player||Service Years||Arb Est ($million)|
|Steve Cishek||2.143 (Super Two)||3.2|
The Marlins would be expected to add $17.5 million if they committed to each player listed here. Thus, in total, the Marlins would be paying $21.7 million for next season on just 12 players from the 25-man roster, not including the possibility that some of those names, particularly Hill and Coghlan, could see minor-league time instead. That figure would also include the $4 million the team owes the Arizona Diamondbacks for Bell's services.
The Marlins could save some money by non-tendering a few of the above-listed players. Of the names listed, three stand out as potential non-tender candidates. The cheapest choice would be Hill, who may not be needed on a Major League contract if the Marlins acquire a catcher to play with Rob Brantly and Mathis. But non-tendering Hill may only save half a million at most. The most expensive option is Slowey, who was recently outrighted off of the 40-man roster and into Triple-A. The Marlins boast significant pitching depth in the minors and will have at least one major prospect in Adam Conley at the Triple-A level ready to take on the fifth starting spot should it be necessary.
If the team chooses to non-tender one player, it is likely to be Ryan Webb. Webb provides the least amount of value for $1.5 million, and the team only has one more season of control over him. He has been in decline for the last few years as well, so that would make the most sense. The team would then have $20.2 million on payroll for 11 players.
The Marlins would fill the remainder of their roster with either other acquisitions or pre-arbitration talent. A number of important players will be earning pre-arbitration salaries, including Jose Fernandez, Nathan Eovaldi, Henderson Alvarez, and Christian Yelich. In total, six Marlins who played significant roles on last year's roster are expected to move into another pre-arbitration season, while the remaining roster spots may be filled with players entering that pay scale for the first time.
Consider that the average player will earn around $0.5 million in pre-arbitration salaries. The only outlier is Adeiny Hechavarria, who has to make at least 80 percent of the $2.75 million he made last season in what will be his second pre-arbitration year. At most, the Marlins would owe $9.5 million for the 14 potential pre-arbitration players. A 13-player figure with Ryan Webb returning to the roster would yield a payroll total of $30.7 million.
The Marlins, according to this projection, figure to have a little more than $7 million in payroll room to use to fill out the roster. The team could make that closer to $5 million if they non-tender Webb. The franchise has enough money to buy a lesser players similar to Placido Polanco and Juan PIerre who can fill out bench or occasional starter roles. Here at Fish Stripes, we will keep those figures in mind when considering potential free agent moves.