Infielder Jonathan Villar, right-hander José Ureña and left-hander Adam Conley are now officially under contract with the Marlins for the 2020 season, settling on one-year deals with the team on Friday. First baseman Jesús Aguilar appears to be heading to an arbitration hearing—both sides exchanged salary figures and couldn’t find common ground.
The newly acquired Villar got a nice raise for himself, per Jon Heyman of MLB Network. He earned $4.825 million from the Orioles in 2019, but a productive “platform year” bumps him up to $8.2 million. It’s still an excellent value for the Fish if he comes anywhere close to replicating his age-28 performance (.274/.339/.453, 107 wRC+, 4.0 fWAR in 714 PA). And that salary comes in lower than what had been projected by MLB Trade Rumors and Cot’s Baseball Contracts. Villar will be eligible for free agency next winter.
FNTSY Sports Radio host Craig Mish reports that Conley and the Marlins settled at $1.525 million; MLBTR had projected $1.6 million. Despite a very disappointing 2019 campaign, Conley’s team-leading 60 appearances were rewarded with a $400,000 raise. Should the lefty rebound in 2020, he’ll remain team-controlled through arbitration the next two years. On the other hand, continued struggles would make him a clear non-tender candidate.
Aguilar is arbitration eligible for the first time in his career. A 2018 NL All-Star, he took a big step back in 2019, slashing .236/.325/.389, 88 wRC+, -0.1 fWAR in 369 PA with the Brewers and Rays. He filed at $2.575 million, Jon Heyman reports, with the Marlins countering at $2.325 million. While $250,000 may seem like an enormous chunk of change to you and I, it’s difficult to understand why the two sides couldn’t compromise—the MLB Trade Rumors arbitration tracker shows this to be the smallest gap between any team and player this year.
There are several weeks between now and the first MLB arbitration hearings, but the Marlins consistently use a “file-and-trial” approach, cutting off negotiations at the figure-exchange deadline. The only exception to that in recent memory was in 2015, when they avoided a hearing with Mike Dunn by agreeing to a two-year, $5.8 million deal. Aguilar is not an extension candidate, though.
Ureña will make $3.75 million in 2020, according to Heyman, after taking home a $3.2 million salary previously. He has one more year of arbitration eligibility remaining.
On this date in 2019, the Marlins reached settlements with Conley, Ureña, Miguel Rojas, J.T. Realmuto and Dan Straily to avoid arbitration. Rojas has since been signed to a contract extension, Realmuto was traded to the Phillies the following month and Straily was released shortly before Opening Day (with the club owing him 45 days’ worth of termination pay).
Aside from Villar, it’s too soon to lock in any members of the 2020 class for the regular season. The Marlins are being non-committal about Ureña’s role on the pitching staff—he could receive the Straily treatment if a trade partner isn’t found. Several relievers (most recently Austin Brice) have been squeezed off the roster this winter, with Conley facing a similar fate if he doesn’t seem poised to bounce back from last season’s 6.53 ERA/5.19 FIP form. Aguilar is here to compete with Garrett Cooper at first base and to serve as a stopgap until promising prospect Lewin Díaz proves his major league readiness. Should Cooper and/or Díaz exceed expectations in spring training, that could make Aguilar expendable.
As usual, I will publish a more comprehensive Marlins payroll update on the 15th day of the month (next Wednesday) to put these developments in their full context.