The Kim Ng era of Marlins baseball officially began Friday. Her hiring drew near-universal praise from across the sports world (and far beyond). It’s not an exaggeration to say that it invigorated the existing fanbase and even earned the franchise new supporters. Particularly for women, for Asian-Americans, for any non-white and non-cis male people, I understand why you’d want to bask in the joy of this achievement for as long as possible.
But from what we know of Ng, she’s already getting to work. She is determined to build a championship-caliber team; despite an encouraging 2020 postseason berth, the Marlins are not close to that level.
Frustrating as it must have been for Ng to wait this long to be an MLB general manager, she has joined the Fish at a fascinating time. They have an elite farm system and extraordinary long-term payroll flexibility. They’re poised to make a big splash.
Oh, hey, Francisco Lindor! (and happy 27th birthday)
The Indians will be trading their superstar shortstop, certainly within the next year—he’s eligible for free agency following the 2021 season—and very likely before Opening Day, according to numerous reports.
The Marlins should be aggressive in those negotiations because...
- Lindor is good—Dating back to his rookie campaign of 2015, “Mr. Smile” has been the most valuable shortstop in the majors (28.9 fWAR). He’s got the ideal combination of consistency and durability. Even this past summer, which was his least effective one in Cleveland, his production was above average for the position.
- Lindor can co-exist with Captain Miggy—Astonishingly, Miguel Rojas (.304/.392/.496, 142 wRC+, 1.6 fWAR) was the superior player in 2020. His performance and leadership held the Marlins together. Thanks to Rojas, shortstop was a strength of the team. But can he replicate those results over the course of a full-length season at age 32? It is unreasonable to count on that—Steamer, for what it’s worth, projects Rojas to revert to his 2019 form. And if that’s the case, he would still be a key contributor, but there is no obligation to lock him in at SS when he’s demonstrated the versatility to handle any of the infield spots.
- Lindor is an attraction—Only a select few MLB position players can move the needle in terms of fan attendance and viewership and sponsorship interest. Lindor is among them. He has the skills, the style, the flare, the temperment, and especially important for a South Florida athlete, he’s fully bilingual. There has never been an everyday Marlins player who checks each of those boxes. A marketer’s dream.
- Moderate trade value—The Marlins would not have to “mortgage their future” for Lindor. He’s a pending free agent who is due an arbitration raise after making a pro-rated $17.5 million salary last season. The recent history of traded superstars combined with this uniquely awful economic climate depress his value. The Indians have been postseason participants four of the last five years and still have the special talents of Shane Bieber and José Ramirez to count on, so this isn’t a conventional rebuilding situation. In return, they’re presumably seeking multiple controllable, major league-ready players with legitimate upside. Does Trevor Rogers and Monte Harrison plus a young lottery-ticket type get it done? Isan Díaz is a potential change-of-scenery candidate who’d make sense in such a package, too. Point is, the Marlins have compiled enough quality prospects to comfortably pull this off.
- Experienced negotiator—Outside of this article, the Marlins have been mostly ignored as a Lindor landing spot. Why? Well, the Indians are of the mindset that they cannot afford to pay him his market value for 2021 and beyond, so a Miami team with its own troubling revenue outlook would presumably feel the same. Lindor’s career to this point is on a similar trajectory to Manny Machado’s. If his walk year numbers resemble his historical norms with a great October as an exclamation point, he would head to the open market with expectations of receiving a Machado-like contract (10 years, $300 million). However, the word “if” is doing some heavy lifting in that sentence—so much could change for Lindor between now and then, including factors that are beyond his control. The Marlins do not need to immediately agree with him on a long-term extension to justify the trade...though if he is open to it, keep in mind that Kim Ng had a pivotal role 20 years ago in locking up another in-his-prime, face-of-the-franchise shortstop who was on the verge of free agency. That guy was Derek Jeter.
- NL East alternatives—The rival Mets and Phillies can’t measure up to the Fish when it comes to young trade chips, but as explained above, it will not require a star-studded haul to satisfy the Indians’ demands. Both big-market clubs were humiliated in 2020 and are under intense pressure to rebound. It should go without saying that their financial clout makes it far easier to provide Lindor with his desired contract while still having enough left over to construct a deep supporting cast. He could haunt the Marlins year after year for a decade or more en route to the Hall of Fame...unless they block that happening by acquiring him themselves.
Brilliant as Kim Ng may be, she will need significant resources from Marlins ownership to bring this rebuild full circle. Even Francisco Lindor isn’t a one-man solution for the club’s flaws. To give themselves at least a puncher’s chance of contending for the NL East title, they must also get another catcher and several more experienced relief pitchers and hope that some of their gifted 2020 rookies take positive strides. But he single-handedly helps bridge the gap.
The Marlins endured years of lopsided losses and bad PR in the process of expunging inefficient contracts and developing layers of organizational talent...and for what?
For somebody exactly like Lindor.