The Miami Marlins organization and the surrounding community are like scorned lovers. Even President of Business Operations Chip Bowers—brand new to the situation after spending most of his career on the west coast—could tell immediately.
Since changing ownership, the Marlins are off to a good start in mending that relationship. Their new approach to public relations and sponsorships is a good start. Being active in the international market is a good start. Taking the worst farm system in baseball and moving to the middle of the pack is a good start. Allowing fans to shape the #OurColores rebrand and renovations at Marlins Park is a good start.
But let us be real: it is only the start. For the Fish to be truly embraced by Miami, they must win sustainably and develop an identity.
Miami supports a winner better than any other city around, but this is not St. Louis or Wrigleyville. The love is conditional. Miami demands results first. To get there, the Marlins will have to pair great player development techniques with legitimate spending to re-sign players who hit free agency and invest in established talent on the market when their competitive window is open.
Majority owner of the franchise Bruce Sherman—one of the wealthiest owners in baseball—has repeatedly stated that he will spend when the time is right. Chip Bowers will have a significant role in expediting that window, as his ability to negotiate a new TV deal and secure a naming rights sponsor for the ballpark will add a significant bump to Sherman’s payroll (discussed in this previous article). Potentially by 2020, though more likely 2021 or 2022.
The following article will take a look at which big-name free agents the Marlins may target, as well as what my projected plan for free agency would look like!
2020 Free Agency
But there are still players who offer immense value and would be considered big-name acquisitions if the Marlins were to start spending next winter.
Hitting free agency at age 27, Bogaerts would be the youngest player in this class. Although extending with the Red Sox is also a likely scenario, there is speculation that the Aruba-born infielder may test the market. Considered a consistent high-end producer at short, Bogaerts may not have the “Tier 1” name recognition of a few shortstops that will be mentioned later on in this article, but if the Marlins decide to fill their long-term void at SS as soon as possible, then Bogaerts is the top choice.
SP Gerrit Cole
While starting pitching is not the first thing I would expect the Marlins to prioritize (considering how deep they are), an exception could be made for the then-29-year-old Cole. A pitcher such as Cole is expected to age relatively well, and signing him to a long-term deal would likely yield Miami at least 4 years of above-average performance. The Marlins pitching depth may develop into making such a signing unnecessary, but in a scenario where multiple prospects fail to match their projections, Cole to Miami may make sense.
Three players in the “big names over big production” category are included because I genuinely believe Miami will take a long look at adding one. Recall that the designated hitter coming to the National League is also gaining momentum, and suddenly these names become more likely.
In Abreu or Puig, you add a Cuban star who becomes an instant fan favorite. Additionally, they both can still carry the wood at an above average rate.
With Ozuna, the club would be bringing back the one player from the previous core who actually wanted to stay in Miami. He’s been vocal about enjoying the Marlins organization and this free agency comes soon enough where he should still have several impactful years to look forward to.
Other Candidates: SS Didi Gregorius, DH/OF J.D. Martinez (opt-out), DH/OF Khris Davis, RHP Dellin Betances.
2021 Free Agency
Assuming that the players trust their abilities rather than settling for extensions, this is likely going to be the best offensive free agency class in the history of Major League Baseball. The following is a non-comprehensive list of the individuals potentially making it to the open market all at once: Mike Trout, Mookie Betts, Jacob DeGrom, Trevor Bauer, George Springer, Yoenis Cespedes, J.T. Realmuto, Andrelton Simmons, Jackie Bradley Jr., Joc Pederson, Giancarlo Stanton (opt-out).
If Bowers and the Marlins play their business and financial cards right, the Marlins may have “stupid money” to spend on this free agency class.
OF Mike Trout
Before you laugh, consider that 1) Mike Trout has a special relationship with Derek Jeter, 2) Major League Baseball and Trout himself have likely wanted him to move to the east coast for a while, and 3) the Marlins—until the Bryce Harper signing—awarded the largest contract in baseball history when they signed Stanton.
#OperationBigFish (copyright pending) is the plan to go after Mike Trout in the 2021 free agency class, and shock the world by bringing the best MLB player to South Florida. If the Marlins young core begins showing its teeth by 2021, the addition of Trout transforms Miami into a rabid baseball market.
I wholeheartedly believe that Jeter will entertain the madness of #OperationBigFish and all the recruiting and spending necessary to make it possible.
In a vacuum, investing in a 31-year-old shortstop is not efficient team building. However, the exception would be if they believe Simmons is the missing piece to a young core that is ready to compete. Simmons has long been the MLB premium defender at shortstop, and as of recent years, his offensive output has also shown to be above average.
The major concern here is the significant regression that you can anticipate from an aging shortstop being inked to a long deal. I’ll re-iterate, I would not shy away from such a signing if the Marlins are close and hypothetically missing a shortstop prospect to fill in at the position. The years and contract would have to be tactfully designed, but barring any development in the farm, shortstop is a position Miami should be continuously looking at in the market, and Simmons is amongst the best available.
OF Mookie Betts
If the Red Sox allow Betts to reach free agency, he will do so at age 28, a year younger than Trout. Betts being in the same free agency market as Trout will be interesting to monitor, but if Trout goes to his hometown of Philadelphia—as some speculate may happen—then Betts is a terrific A1 option. The 2018 AL MVP has developed into a generational player in his own right, and will demand money close to what Trout will eventually sign for.
For those that scoff at the Marlins being in these types of 2021 conversations, your skepticism is understandable. But for all the reasons previously described in this article, Sherman and Jeter should be determined to bring a superstar to Miami to pair with the young upcoming core.
Other Candidates: 1B Yuli Gurriel, SS/2B Jurickson Profar, OF George Springer, OF Joc Pederson, RHP Jacob DeGrom, RHP Trevor Bauer, LHP Robbie Ray, RHP Blake Treinen
2022 Free Agency
In a scenario where the Marlins either choose to not invest in 2020 and 2021, or fail to reel in their big fish, turn to 2022 as the latest that the Marlins make their splash.
By 2022, the Marlins competitive window is most certainly open. For better or worse, they would know what type of talent they have in OF Lewis Brinson, 2B Isan Díaz, OF Monte Harrison, RHP Sandy Alcántara, and some of the other highly-touted prospects. Players such as RHP Sixto Sánchez, OF Connor Scott, and even the unknown 2019 draft picks would also be close to making their impact at the major league level.
There are no more excuses to hold off on spending. Fans can only be expected to remain patient for so long.
This is the perfect marriage. At age 28, the Puerto Rican shortstop who played high school ball less than four hours away from what is now Marlins Park, would become an immediate cornerstone in Miami, and the best Marlins shortstop since Hanley Ramírez.
A three-time All-Star and runner-up for Rookie of the Year in 2015 (behind Carlos Correa), Lindor does it all on the diamond, and is known for being one of the kindest and genuinely happy people in all of sports. The Marlins could give Lindor a 10-year deal, and still receive more than sufficient return throughout the contract.
If they fail to lock up Lindor, the 2022 free agent market is filled with other talented cornerstones at shortstop—Carlos Correa, Corey Seager, Trevor Story, Addison Russell, Elvis Andrus (player option) and Javier Báez are all potential free agents.
If Miami passes on Bogaerts and Simmons, then look for 2022 to be the year to spend big at short. The one variable in that plan is whether prospects José Devers, Osiris Johnson, or a 2019 draftee prove that they can address this all-important position internally.
Starting and Relief Pitching
I decided against identifying one particular player for this section. Pitcher health and contractual situations are impossible to project this far in advance. For now, the biggest names heading into 2022 include Noah Syndergaard, Aroldis Chapman, Lance McCullers, Clayton Kershaw, Max Scherzer, Raisel Iglesias, Chris Archer, and so forth.
Age may be a red flag for most of these starting pitchers, but in a year where the Marlins likely would feel close to World Series contention, you are knowingly accepting the risk of overpaying on the back end of a deal. Think of them as the finishing touch to a hopeful playoff team.
South Florida native Anthony Rizzo would be the final piece to fill the first-base void. Age would be a valid concern in a long-term contract, as Rizzo would enter the market at age 32, but his position, bat, and the potential for a National League DH lessen those concerns.
Rizzo returning home would create significant buzz at Marlins Park, particularly if they are building off of younger players showing that the team is ready to seriously compete. While other first-base options may exist on the market that same year (e.g. Freddie Freeman, Brandon Belt, Greg Bird), the prized asset will likely remain Rizzo, and his local roots would be too much to pass up.
Other Candidates: OF Nomar Mazara, OF Michael Conforto, OF/DH Kyle Schwarber, 3B Kris Bryant
1. Which of these big free agents will the Marlins sign?
SS Francisco Lindor (2022)
2. What would a free-agent plan look like with Lindor?
1B Jose Abreu (2020), Starting Pitcher (2021), and SS Francisco Lindor (2022)
3. What would a free agent plan look like without Lindor?
SS Xander Bogearts (2020) or SS Andrelton Simmons (2021), Starting Pitcher (2022), and 1B Anthony Rizzo (2022)
The Marlins are entering a window with immense financial flexibility and available free agent talent worth investing in. In three years, if the Marlins have failed to acquire any of the mentioned talent, then either they loaded up on Tier 2 or Tier 3 players, or have failed to spend accordingly.
However, if they keep to their word and spend when the time arrives, there are a myriad of possibilities to choose from. Many things will change from now to then, but it doesn’t mean we cannot have fun in our speculation and projections!
Who is the biggest free agent you can see Miami bringing to South Florida? What would your primary and backup free agency plans look like for the next three offseasons? Let me know in the comments.