Fans of professional sports can’t help but pay attention to payroll, especially in Major League Baseball, where teams are unaffected by a hard salary cap or floor. What is the appropriate amount for them to spend each season? That question is even more complicated than usual due to the COVID-19 pandemic which wiped out traditional gate revenue in 2020 and will almost certainly limit attendance in 2021.
On or around the 15th day of each month, we will analyze current commitments and any upcoming decisions that the Marlins face.
- Corey Dickerson—$9.5 million
- Miguel Rojas—$5 million
- Starling Marte—$1 million (if club option is bought out)
- Brandon Kintzler—$250k (if club option is bought out)
Four players in their 30s, three of whom are coming off very successful seasons. When he wasn’t sidelined by the virus, Rojas quietly performed like one of MLB’s best all-around shortstops. Marte slashed .281/.340/.430 as the everyday center fielder for the Diamondbacks and Marlins, thriving in clutch situations following the trade. And Kintzler provided much-needed continuity in the closer’s role.
Dickerson, on the other hand, is coming off a disappointing age-31 campaign, both offensively and defensively. Even so, the combination of his track record and the poor production from Marlins outfield prospects who debuted in 2020 still makes him useful as a placeholder with bounce-back potential.
The expectation is that both Marte’s option ($12.5M) and Kintzler’s option ($4M) will be exercised following the World Series. That would put the Marlins on the hook for a total of $31 million in salaries for these four veterans.
The arbitration process is going to be extra messy in 2021, as Matt Swartz of MLB Trade Rumors explains. It is intended to set player salaries according to the previous season’s production and accolades, but those samples are so much smaller than usual this year thanks to the 60-game schedule. My theory is that counting stats will be extrapolated, leading to year-to-year raises that are comparable to normal conditions.
MLBTR is expecting there to be nine arb-eligible Marlins players, with Elieser Hernandez and Lewis Brinson both falling short of qualifying for “Super Two” status. Here are Swartz’s projections for those nine using the extrapolated stats method (2020 salaries in parentheses):
- Jesús Aguilar—$6.3M (pro-rated $2.58M)
- Brian Anderson—$4.3M (pro-rated $615k)
- José Ureña—$4.2M (pro-rated $3.75M)
- Garrett Cooper—$2.2M (pro-rated $580k)
- Jorge Alfaro—$2.2M (pro-rated $595k)
- Yimi García—$1.8M (pro-rated $1.1M)
- Richard Bleier—$1.5M (pro-rated $915k)
- Ryne Stanek—$800k (pro-rated $604k)
- Drew Steckenrider—$800k (pro-rated $577k)
The Marlins have until Dec. 2 to decide whether or not to tender them contracts. These high-end projections combined with COVID-19 related financial issues and the club’s 40-man roster crunch would make it unlikely that all nine get tendered.
Steckenrider has little hope of making it past the deadline after missing all of 2020 with right triceps tendinitis and struggling in limited action the year before. Besides, this Marlins front office has operated under the philosophy that relief pitchers are mostly interchangeable.
Ureña’s season ended abruptly on Sept. 27 when a line drive fractured his right forearm. He has posted a 5.25 ERA and 5.02 FIP since the beginning of 2019. With so many internal candidates contending for starting rotation spots, the Marlins could part ways with him as well.
The most fascinating player case will be Aguilar’s. He was an essential piece to the 2020 team, but maybe the Marlins are confident in using Cooper and Lewin Díaz to split first-base duties moving forward? They’d undoubtedly have a better chance to return to the postseason with the 30-year-old on the roster. However, that price could prove problematic.
One incentive for the Marlins to agree with Anderson on a contract extension this offseason is that it’d allow them to save money on him in 2021 (making it up to him with long-term security).
I will be able to forecast the 2021 payroll with more precision once MLB confirms the active roster size and if we get additional reporting regarding arbitration negotiations. Barring panic-driven/pandemic-related cost-cutting, the Marlins are poised to spend north of $50 million on major league players.