Player contracts that were given out by Jeffrey Loria in an attempt to show good faith to the fanbase still haunt the Marlins to this day. Veteran signings clogged their payroll, even after the franchise was sold, leaving new ownership with limited flexibility to add major league talent considering that Loria left the Fish about $400 million in debt.
From 2012 to 2017, the Miami Marlins signed 14 free agents of significance. The following list will review each of them with the exception of Ichiro Suzuki—he was later extended and did not meet the requirements for the list. These individuals combined to receive roughly $374.2 million in guarantees. Of the 14 players, seven were designated for assignment, five were traded, one finished their contract with the team, and only one is still on the active roster.
The free agents’ performances did not meaningfully improve the team. As members of the Marlins, they combined for a 4.54 earned run average and .252 batting average. So please, spare me your frivolous complaints about sculptures and rebranding when these decisions had an actual (very negative) effect on the organization.
Miami earned the reputation as a place where veterans go to struggle, which will be a serious obstacle for the front office when they’re in a position to spend big bucks again.
1. Wei-Yin Chen at five years/$80 million (4.75 ERA, 289.2 IP with MIA)
It should be blatantly obvious enough to anyone who understands the value of contracts versus production that the Chen deal is difficult to swallow. A busted left elbow, non-competitive outings away from Marlins Park, etc. Even if he provided Home Chen quality performance every time he took the mound, this deal would still not be worth the trouble.
2. José Reyes at six years/$106 million (.287/.347/.433, 716 PA with MIA)
José Reyes was signed as a future cornerstone, to pair along with Hanley Ramírez for the 2012 rebranding—and he was paid like it. At the time of the signing, the move was applauded as proof that the Loria regime had changed their free agency philosophy. They went after the “big fish” and got ‘em (sans Albert Pujols).
The Reyes contract as a whole turned out to be a flop, largely due to injuries in later years. The Marlins got the healthy version prior to the blockbuster trade with Toronto, but that experience also disappointed when he regressed from 2011 stardom in terms of OBP, OPS, OPS+, AVG, and almost any other statistical measure you can consider.
3. Mark Buehrle at four years/$58 million (3.74 ERA, 202.1 IP with MIA)
Similar to Reyes, Mark Buehrle was signed in the 2012 offseason, as a symbol of what the Loria regime was promising its fanbase moving forward. Of the cluster of free agent signings, Buehrle performed best, showing continued success in the transition from the American League to the National League.
Alas, he too was moved as part of the 2012 rebuild, only pitching in 31 games during his Marlins tenure.
4. Heath Bell at three years/$27 million (5.09 ERA, 63.2 IP with MIA)
Bell was the last big piece to the Miami Marlins version of The Big Three. The three-time All- Star and ex-Padre was brought to South Beach with the understanding that he would man the ninth inning, and why not? The man had saved 40+ games in three consecutive seasons prior to that.
Well...Bell ended with 19 saves during his Marlins career, demoted from closer to mop-up duty. Exactly like Reyes and Buehrle, would end up only spending one forgettable year down here.
5. Plácido Polanco at one year/$2.75 million (.260/.315/.302, 416 PA with MIA)
Polanco was signed as a low-risk/somewhat high-reward contract. He played in 118 games, and produced his worst statistical season since the year 2000, then promptly retired.
Some will say that this was important for leadership purposes considering that the rebuilding 2013 Marlins valued Polanco’s veteran presence. I can agree to a certain extent, but from a baseball operations standpoint, this signing was 0% successful.
6. Rafael Furcal at one year/$3 million (.171/.216/.229, 37 PA with MIA)
Furcal had not played in 2013 following Tommy John surgery, and was looking to give his career one last effort. Similar to Polanco, he was at the end of his MLB lifespan, with the Marlins being one of the few teams willing to use him in a substantial role. Unfortunately, Furcal couldn’t get back to full strength and only played 9 games for Miami. Ce la vie.
7. Jarrod Saltalamacchia at three years/$21 million (.209/.310/.351, 468 PA with MIA)
This was something of a homecoming for Saltalamacchia. A local product, from West Palm Beach, he was labeled as the perfect backstop for the upcoming Marlins core; coming off of a World Series championship with the Red Sox didn’t hurt is value, either.
Struggling at the plate to go along with his notorious defensive issues, Saltalamacchia would go on to produce his two worst seasons of the decade with the Marlins, prior to being designated for assignment. He would go on to finish the 2015 campaign with the Diamondbacks, where he suddenly played much better baseball.
8. Garrett Jones at two years/$7.5 million (.246/.309/.411, 547 PA with MIA)
Apparently, Miami used to be the place where players on a hot streak came for a decent payday before reverting back to their true talent level. Over the previous two seasons as a Pirate, Jones had produced a 1.6 WAR. Nothing to write home about, but it was enough to persuade the front office to offer the contract that you see listed above.
In the one year that Jones played with Miami prior to being traded, his WAR stood at -0.7. Regression dealt the Marlins a predictable slap, and the Marlins’ bank continued to deal with the consequences.
9. Mike Morse at two years/$16 million (.213/.276/.313, 174 PA with MIA)
Here we have another player who has championship pedigree and was labeled to the fans as a leader who would help the rebuilding Marlins seriously contend. Morse played 53 terrible games, then the Marlins compounded the issue by moving him to L.A. as a negative asset (rather than eating the rest of the money themselves).
10. Edwin Jackson at one year/$1 million (5.91 ERA, 10.2 IP with MIA)
Jackson, the once highly touted prospect and starter, came to Miami in the summer of 2016. On a one-year “prove it” deal, he unfortunately did not prove much. He only pitched in 8 games for the Marlins before being designated for assignment. Another attempt at rekindling talent once seen, and another empty check written by the Marlins’ baseball operations.
11. Junichi Tazawa at two years/$12 million (6.57 ERA, 75.1 IP with MIA)
Twelve million dollars. Tazawa was designated for assignment by the Marlins this past May, unfit to hold relief role, even for a team that was headed for 98 losses. Overall, he posted a 6.57 ERA during his tenure with a 5.40 FIP. Twelve million dollars.
12. Brad Ziegler at two years/$16 million (4.36 ERA, 99.0 IP with MIA)
Likely one of the nicest players and human beings that you will ever meet, Brad Ziegler was signed by the Marlins in their last-ditch effort to compete with the previous core. Particularly in Year 1, he frequently let the team down in high-leverage situations, though he handled the struggles with total professionalism, setting a positive example for others in the clubhouse. He was, in theory, what Furcal and Polanco could have been.
Ziegler caught fire last June/July to salvage some of the contract. He was traded to Arizona for Tommy Eveld, a promising relief prospect who was recently selected to represent the Marlins in the Arizona Fall League.
13. Edinson Vólquez at two years/$22 million (4.19 ERA, 92.1 IP with MIA)
June 3, 2017: “0-2 pitch…he did it! Realmuto to first, a no-hitter for Edinson Volquez!” pic.twitter.com/KLbYiHmG94— Fish Stripes (@fishstripes) November 23, 2017
In 2017, the Marlins were awkwardly constructed. They had a great offensive core, but the combination of José Fernández’s tragic death and the awful trades that sent away pitching prospect after pitching prospect left them scrambling to find adequate pitching on the free agency market. They resolved this by signing Vólquez, hoping that he could bounce back after a poor walk year in Kansas City.
The veteran right-hander proved to be inconsistent and injury-prone, but at least he gave Miami fans an unforgettable no-hitter. Of all the signings, Vólquez’s performance-to-contract ratio was among the best, which should tell you everything you need to know about this catastrophic player acquisition approach.