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Will the Marlins spend even less in 2019?

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The Fish could easily be MLB’s thriftiest franchise come next season.

MLB: Miami Marlins at Pittsburgh Pirates Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

With 2018 in the books, we here at Fish Stripes are busy thinking about what the team will look like next season. Among the most important considerations, of course, is payroll. After the Jeter group took over, it gutted both the team and payroll in its first offseason of ownership, lowering the total to $91,817,860, according to Spotrac. That figure was good for 26th out of the 30 Major League teams.

But will the Marlins spend that much again next season? The answer is probably not but depends on what the team does with its highest-paid players from 2018.

WWJTD: What will J.T. do?

Or rather, what will ownership do with J.T. Realmuto? Since the rebuild is only in Year 2, fans can again expect ownership to keep payroll low again in 2019. Last offseason, the Marlins signed 15 free agents, and only three of them got a million dollars or more, with Cameron Maybin getting the most at $3.25 million. With no major signings to worry about, the real offseason drama will be what the Marlins do with their star catcher.

Jeter et al have stated publicly that they would like to resign Realmuto and rebuild around him. The player himself has given typical non-answers when asked about an extension but clearly wanted out prior to the season beginning. So can the two sides reach a deal?

That pop time though...

One would have to believe a cash-conscious team isn’t going to extend a soon-to-be 28-year-old catcher to a massive, $20-million-a-year deal for five years only to see him end up like a Buster Posey or Russell Martin, baseball’s highest-paid catchers. A team-friendly agreement along the lines of Salvador Perez’s five-year, $52.5 million deal would seem to provide a nice basis from which to start from the team’s perspective.

But given Realmuto’s apparent unhappiness with the fire sale prior to 2018 and his status as arguably the best all-around backstop in baseball, I just don’t think a deal gets done. He wants to and should get paid, but it will be with another team. The Fish therefore would be wise to trade him while he is at peak value and health. I don’t believe Realmuto or the projected $6.1 million he’ll make in arbitration this winter will be on the books come Opening Day 2019, so I’m not including it in the projection.

Should they stay or should they go?

The Marlins’ largest contracts belong to Wei-Yin Chen ($20 MM due in ‘19), Martín Prado ($15 MM) and Starlin Castro ($11.857 MM). They are all so cumbersome, it is highly unlikely any of them are tradeable, except in a deal where the Marlins pick up a good portion of the amount owed. So that’s an even $46.857 MM on the books for next year.

After Realmuto, the franchise has seven other arbitration-eligible players, and what they are projected to make in 2019 is listed below according to MLB Trade Rumors and Roster Resource.

  • Derek Dietrich – $4.8MM
  • Dan Straily – $4.8MM
  • José Ureña – $3.6MM
  • Miguel Rojas – $2.6MM
  • Adam Conley – $1.3MM
  • Bryan Holaday – $1.2MM
  • Javy Guerra – $1.0MM

The two most expensive of that group seem likely to be moved as well, and the last five add up to $9.7 MM, taking our total to $56.557 MM for eight players.

HBP god Derek Dietrich is likely out the door as well.

Nick Wittgren, J.T. Riddle, Drew Steckenrider, Caleb Smith, Brian Anderson, Tayron Guerrero, and Trevor Richards are not eligible for arbitration yet, and together with the ten unaccounted-for spots on the roster are projected to make $12.21 MM next season. This brings our projected Marlins team payroll in 2019 to $68.767 MM, just a shade under the $68.81 MM that baseball’s most frugal team, the Rays, paid out in 2018. That number could swing up or down some 10 million if the Marlins are able to trade one of their expensive contracts or sign a few seven-figure free agents.

Remember...

While further cuts likely mean a second consecutive 98-loss season for the Fish, the good news is that this is exactly what the team should do. It’s the new process: the Astros model. Cut costs and lose a lot for a few years while you wait for your homegrown talent to mature, and in the Marlins’ case, new revenue to come in. Give all the recently- and soon-to-be acquired prospects a chance to mature at the major league level, and then use your sudden cash influx to sign the free agents you need to complete a contender.

Fans are going to have to just keep trusting the process. It’s going to be a few years before they find out if all the suffering was worth it, and it will all depend on how well the team scouts and develops all the talent it brings in in order to deliver. Only time will tell.