The Miami Marlins' signing of free agent starter Wei-Yin Chen was the second-biggest free agent investment in team history, topped only by the seven-year, $106 million contract they signed with Jose Reyes back before the 2012 season. The market has changed since then, and lesser players are earning more money now than they were before, but the Marlins have struggled in the past to keep up with the rise in salaries. This time, though, they coughed up market value for a player who was likely the best pitcher remaining on the market.
With that investment, the Marlins are a little closer to contention, but how much closer are they? Can they acquire more pieces this offseason, or is this the roster that is essentially set thanks to the payroll? Let's look at the team's current and future books.
The Marlins tried to save some money early in Chen's contract by paying him just $14 million in each of the next two years (he is being paid $6 million officially for the 2016 year, but he also got an $8 million signing bonus) and providing him the remaining $52 million in the final three years of the deal. This relieved some of the club's payroll concerns.
The team also retained a few players that the Fish Stripes Offseason Plan felt they could do without, meaning the current Marlins roster is tight on salary even with the adjustment with Chen's yearly payouts.
|Player||Salary Type||Salary ($mil)|
|Martin Prado||Contract||8 ($3M paid by Yankees)|
|Jarrod Saltalamacchia (released)||Contract||8|
The Marlins' proposed payroll at the start of the 2016 season was supposed to be around $80 million, so the Fish are cutting that number pretty close after signing Chen. They cut some salary in not tendering contracts to Henderson Alvarez and Aaron Crow, saving an estimated $6 million along the way. The team's official arbitration numbers are obviously not in yet, as players and teams are set to exchange numbers this Friday. The club usually attempts to make any contracts finalized before the Friday deadline, but Miami does not typically negotiate its one-year deals after numbers are exchanged. These above estimates come from Matt Swartz of MLBTradeRumors.
The Marlins have one player on that above list who could help open space by signing a smaller deal and or backloading more money on an extension. Dee Gordon is expected to sign a contract extension with Miami before Opening Day, and there is at least a small chance the Marlins will get a deal done by this Friday. Last year, Giancarlo Stanton signed his enormous 13-year, $325 million deal before arbitration, and he opted for a smaller arbitration payout and got more money on the back end of the contract. Gordon won't be signing for anywhere near 13 seasons, but he may get a larger salary on the free agent years of the deal in return for a repeat small salary in 2016 like the one Stanton received in 2015. Gordon made $2.5 million in arbitration in his first of four go-arounds as a Super Two player.
Even if the Marlins sign Gordon for just $2.5 million again this year, they will still only have about $7.5 million left over to use for the 2016 campaign.
The Marlins obviously committed themselves to extra money in the books for future years by signing Chen to a five-year deal. But the Fish actually pretty empty commitments beyond the 2016 season besides their arbitration players. The team has just two players beyond Chen to whom they have committed salary past this season.
*Stanton has an opt-out clause beyond the 2020 season
**Chen has a vesting player option for $16 million in 2021 if he reaches milestones
***Yelich has a $15 million team option in 2022
This picture could change if the Marlins sign Gordon to what would be expected to be a five-year extension. We estimated a five-year deal might cost Miami between $60 million and $65 million, meaning the club could be committing more money to keep four players on their roster. Here's what the salaries might look like with a five-year, $65 million deal.
At the maximum, Miami would be committing $73 million to just four players in the 2020 season. This seems like a difficult pill to swallow for a roster that is penny-pinchng to stay under $80 million in 2016, but the Fish will likely have renegotiated their horrendous TV deal with Fox Sports Florida by that time. With a more lucrative TV deal, Miami may be able to afford a better payroll. Then again, owner Jeffrey Loria may still skimp on the team's payroll, even if it gets to this point as Stanton's contract takes a significant hike starting in 2018.
For now, the Marlins are only worried about the 2016 campaign and how they will compete. The Fish have just about $5 million or so to play with in order to stay at its designated payroll. What could it do with that kind of money? We'll discuss this more shortly on Fish Stripes.