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2015 Marlins Offseason Plan: Arbitration and payroll

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The Miami Marlins want to improve on their roster for 2015, but they face a major limitation in the team's budget and payroll. With increasing salaries from arbitration, just how much money might the Fish have available to them?

Henderson Alvarez's salary is among a few on the Marlins which appears to be moving on up.
Henderson Alvarez's salary is among a few on the Marlins which appears to be moving on up.
Mitchell Layton

The Miami Marlins are expected to try and make moves to improve on their roster for 2015. The Fish want to get the most out of their team for next year and impress Giancarlo Stanton after trying to sign him to a long-term contract extension. If that is the goal, the team has a lot of work cut out for them, because the roster faces a clear limitation: the payroll.

As always, money is an important factor to consider for the Marlins. The team has always lived with a limited payroll, even in the days after the new stadium opened in 2012. Miami is expected to raise their payroll again this season, but by just how much? And even if that is the case, how much of that will be eaten up by a litany of new first-year arbitration-eligible players? Let's take a look at the team's current payroll projection and arbitration salary expectations.

The Payroll

Earlier in the offseason, it was expected Miami might make some serious room for their roster this year, with a payroll expected to be at $75 million. However, the latest figures provided by folks in the know are significantly lower than that. Both Clark Spencer of the Miami Herald and MLB.com's Joe Frisaro mentioned a likely payroll of $60 million in 2015.

That $60 million figure is not a huge raise from the team's $44 million mark this year. The club no longer owes any money to players not on the roster any longer (it still owed $4 million to Heath Bell last year), but raises in arbitration might eat up a large chunk of that expected payroll bump.

Guaranteed Contracts

The Marlins have four players to whom they have committed contracts next season. Only one is signed through 2016 as well, so three of the deals are set to expire next season. Given the players involved, the Marlins should be happy they will be on their way out.

Player 2015 Sal ($M) Years Left
Jarrod Saltalamacchia 7.0 2
Garrett Jones 5.0 1
Jeff Baker 2.1 1
Jeff Mathis 1.5 1
Total 15.6 --

The Marlins exercised their option for Mathis's contract in a surprising move to me, but Mathis's magic is undeniable. Miami also owes another $14 million to the three contracts they signed last season. Of the three, Saltalamacchia is the most "worth it." The other two are dead money at this point, which goes to show you why you don't commit two-year contracts to bench players and guys who were non-tendered during arbitration.

Arbitration

The Marlins have six players who are arbitration-eligible next season. This includes two players who are coming in for the first time into the system: starting pitchers Henderson Alvarez and Nathan Eovaldi. This also includes the biggest likely raise coming from these guys, in the form of Giancarlo Stanton's second arbitration go-around.

MLB Trade Rumors projected arbitration salaries using Matt Swartz's methodology (he explains it here), and they look accurate. Let's take a look at the projections for the Miami Marlins.

Player Proj Sal ($M) Arb Year
Giancarlo Stanton 13.0 2
Steve Cishek 6.9 2*
Henderson Alvarez 4.5 1
Casey McGehee 3.5 3
Nathan Eovaldi 3.1 1
Mike Dunn 2.3 2
Total 33.3 --

The Marlins are getting a huge raise over their previous arbitration payout. Last year, Miami owed just $17.5 million in potential payouts, and the team mitigated some of that by non-tendering some players. This year, the raise is almost double that price on just six guys. The biggest raises are coming from the massive raise for Stanton, doubling his previous total of $6.5 million from last season, and from the first-time payouts for good starters like Alvarez and Eovaldi. Those two are now slated to make $7.6 million when they made just $1 million total last year.

With these payouts and the current roster's guaranteed contracts, Miami now owes a projected $48.9 million before considering pre-arbitration payouts.

Pre-Arbitration

Now let's consider the remainder of the team's roster. The Marlins have ten players on their roster who have contracts above the pre-arbitration level. Fourteen of the remaining 15 players would be expected to make close to the league minimum, with minor raises here and there. Presume that Christian Yelich gets a $0.6 million deal for winning a Gold Glove award, while the other 13 guys earn $0.5 million a year. We're talking about $7.1 million in salary. Tack on the expected salary for Adeiny Hechavarria, who made $2.2 million last year as a result of his Major League contract and how teams have to pay out pre-arbitration salaries after such deals. Miami must offer him at least 80 percent of his previous year's salary, so he should make $1.8 million this year.

Add up that total for pre-arbitration players and we get $8.9 million owed to the young guys. Add that to our $48.9 million guaranteed and Miami owes $57.8 million before making any moves on the roster.

No Payroll Flexibility

Unfortunately, such a situation leaves Miami with very little payroll room to work. The Marlins want to be aggressive this offseason and have considered names like James Shields, but there is simply no way for the Fish to complete such a signing without going over this suspected budget. At $75 million, Miami could have pursued a big-ticket signing, but with just under $3 miillion available to them, it would appear as though the roster was set in stone.

Miami could try to make some adjustments with their arbitration and contracted players. The Fish want to trade Jones, but there is unlikely to be any takers on that front. Trading Saltalamacchia is a possibility with the right offer, but trading him off of a down season seems like an unwise move. The Marlins are at this point unlikely to find takers with the right offers on those contracts.

The biggest name on the arbitration list is Stanton's, but Miami is obviously keen on retaining him, as negotiations have already begun on a potential new contract. The next biggest name is Cishek's, and that may be where the Fish could find some savings. If Miami could trade Cishek to add to their middle infield, it could both improve their roster and shed some bonus salary. The club could then turn around and utilize the nearly $10 million in savings to make an additional move.

There are no guarantees that Miami will stick to think number at this point. Last year, it was expected the team's payroll would be at $38 million, but they increased it to $44 million, which was approximately what the club was paying along with the dead money on the roster in 2013. It is possible the Fish could bump up the number again this season given the right opportunity, but right now, we can only make this $60 million assumption.