The Miami Marlins have some opportunities this offseason to improve on their roster if they remain creative with their movements. Unfortunately, the team also faces its all-too-familiar threats to improvement, the same sort of threats the team has always had. Throughout its troubled time as a franchise, Miami has faced one major limiting factor that has dominated every aspect of their being: their payroll. Even if those opportunities present themselves, the payroll remains a threat to Miami.
Miami has always faced perennially low payrolls from the days post-Wayne Huizenga. This year is no different. With the Marlins having a penny-pinching owner in Jeffrey Loria and a TV contract locked until 2020 that pays them among the lowest revenues in the league, the Marlins are expected to populate the bottom of the payroll barrel again this year. According to the estimates that have been made public from beat writer sources, Miami is expected to raise the payroll up to $60 million this season. This raise primarily covers the Marlins' expected arbitration raises, which means that despite discussion that the Fish would be interested in a major signing, the Marlins would not be able to fit such a move under their current listed restriction.
This does not mean that Miami will not be able to spend this offseason. The early estimates still remain estimates, and the only folks truly privy to the information of the payroll for next season are Loria, team president David Samson, and head front office men Michael Hill and Dan Jennings. With none of us in those board meetings with those guys, there is no real way for us to say what the true figure will be. It is possible Miami may turn to a bigger figure if they see the right opportunity.
There is some precedent to Miami "going for it" for a season. The Fish stayed together for two years after the 2003 World Series win (admittedly with some losses like Derrek Lee and Carl Pavano), and in 2005, the team went for a major move in signing Carlos Delgado to a four-year contract. Of course, the Fish faltered and traded away their talent in a fire sale the following season, Delgado included. The Marlins spent in 2012 as well, though the spending spree that brought Jose Reyes and Mark Buehrle here was quickly erased as well and had more to do with the new stadium opening than the Marlins perceiving a "chance" at contention.
At the same time, there were opposite situations as well. Loria was furious with Fredi Gonzalez after the team just missed the playoffs in an 87-win season, but the front office did nothing to add to a roster that was apparently expected to contend. So the "go for it" Loria is hit-or-miss.
The Marlins appear to be at another payroll wall this offseason, and that could damage the team's chances to improve.
The Stanton Contract
The Marlins have said all along that the team plans on extending Giancarlo Stanton to a long-term contract. But it is hard for Marlins fans to deny the similarity between this situation and the one the team faced with Miguel Cabrera. After all, Cabrera was dealt after the 2007 offseason, as he was heading into his second arbitration campaign and coming off a stellar season at the plate. Cabrera did not come close to an MVP season like Stanton did in 2014, but the problem remains: Stanton is a superstar player who is about to get exceedingly expensive, and the franchise is not know for harboring expensive players.
The Marlins never took advantage and signed Stanton to a deal akin to the one it gave Hanley Ramirez some time ago, which allowed Ramirez to remain cheap through multiple free agent seasons. Now, as the price of a win continues to increase, the team is facing paying almost market value for Stanton's wins well in advance. It is unlikely the club could purchase just three free agent seasons while getting a discount.
If Stanton signs the major contract he likely deserves, the team would be paying him a huge chunk of their yearly payroll. Miami has averaged $65 million in payroll each season since the stadium move, if you include dead money owed to other teams ass a result of the Heath Bell and fire sale Toronto Blue Jays trades. By 2017, the Fish may have Stanton as 30-plus percent of their payroll, it they stay in the $70 million region.
Can Miami carry that load if they commit to a contract? Or will that burden scare them off of a deal and hasten a trade out of Miami? If the latter occurs, improvement over last year's model seems impossible without ready-made Major League talent coming in return, which may not be easily available.