Stop me if you have heard this before, the Marlins have traded away their star player for peanuts and are once again in the midst of a fire sale. While this fire sale is not as shocking as those following their World Series victories in 1997 and 2003, it remains unsettling that a professional sports franchise could dismantle itself so many times in such a brief history.
Despite playing in a stadium that is only five years old and located near downtown Miami, the Marlins finished dead last in the National League in attendance. Miami drew just 1,583,014 fans, or 20,295 per home game. The ownership of Jeffrey Loria took a toll on the Marlins and their fans, and many hoped the new ownership group, with Yankees legend Derek Jeter as the face, would change the fortunes of the organization. Those hopes have died a quick and unceremonious death. Despite paying over $1 billion for the team, the new ownership group is reportedly seeking to slash the team payroll to from $121 million in 2017 to $55 million in 2018. Jeter and the rest of the ownership group are looking to cut roughly $66 million this offseason.
It is not difficult to trim $66 million from Miami’s payroll, so let’s look at what the team has already done and what is likely still to come to get down to that magical number. The signal by the new ownership to run a barebones operations makes using league minimum salary replacements all but certain any time a player is traded, released, or allowed to become a free agent. The minimum salary for Major League Baseball in 2018 will be $555,000. Drastically reducing salary in 2018, also means fewer committed dollars in the future, thus Miami’s payroll will remain low until the new ownership decides to raise it.
The beginning of Derek Jeter’s tenure with the Miami Marlins has not been smooth. (Jasen Vinlove/ USA TODAY Sports)
Looking at what Miami has already done this offseason, the gutting of the Fish has been quick, yet painful. First, the Marlins allowed three players to walk away in free agency. Veterans Ichiro Suzuki and A.J. Ellis, and reliever Dustin McGowan. While not the superstar he once was, Ichiro was still a productive fourth outfielder and pinch hitter for the Marlins. A.J. Ellis is a veteran backup catcher who can still play off the bench to give J.T. Realmuto (who is reportedly wants to be traded) a day off from time to time. McGowan was a workhorse for the Marlins coming out of the bullpen appearing in 63 games for the Marlins last year. In 2017, Ichiro was paid $2 million, Ellis $2.5 million, and McGowan $1.75 million; totaling $6.25 million. Replacing them with three players at league minimum, the Marlins will save $4.585 million in 2018, bringing the team payroll down to $116.415 million.
Next, Miami traded Dee Gordon to the Seattle Mariners for three minor league players; Robert Dugger, Nick Neidert, and Christopher Torres. Dugger is a 22 years old pitcher, who briefly pitched at AAA before being sent to A ball without sustaining an injury. Neidert is a 20 years old pitcher with a 6.56 ERA in 23 ⅓ innings at AA. Torres is 19 year old infielder who hit .238 in 52 games with a .895 fielding percentage in 190 chances, while committing 20 errors at low A ball. None of these prospects are Gordon’s replacement in Miami. The Marlins dumped Gordon’s $7.8 million salary to Seattle and saved $7.245 million. Bringing the Marlins payroll down to $109.17 million.
The biggest catch of the offseason was Miami trading Giancarlo Stanton to the Yankees for two minor leagues and Starlin Castro. Minor league pitcher Jorge Guzman and infielder Jose Devers. Guzman will be 22 at start of the 2018 season, and has never pitched above low A Staten Island. Devers is an 18 years old middle infielder who hit .246 and had a .932 fielding percentage in Rookie ball this season. Neither player is remotely close to making it to the Majors. Castro is a 27 year old middle infielder who can hit, which is a good, but is not a great return for Stanton. In reality he is Gordon’s replacement at second base. However, Castro has two years and $22.7 million left on his contract, with a $1 million buyout before the 2020 season. Most likely the Marlins will either flip Castro for more prospects or buy him out. Even if the Marlins have to pay Castro $10 million to go away by releasing him or paying another team to take him in a trade there is little chance he ever suits up for Miami. Despite an increase in salary over Gordon for 2018, the Marlins will save money moving forward as Castro’s contract is short and Miami avoids paying Stanton long-term, thus the short-term hit makes sense. The Marlins 2018 payroll is up to $119.17 million.
Giancarlo Stanton’s talent did not matter, it was his paycheck that caused him to be traded away from south Florida. (AP Photo/ Wilfredo Lee)
Ultimately the Stanton trade was a salary dump. The new ownership wanting out of potentially paying Stanton $295 million over the next 11 years. Trading their star slugger to the Yankees saved the Marlins a mint. The Yankees will pay $265 million, with the Marlins picking up the remaining $30 million. Stanton made $14.5 million in 2017, and replacing him at league minimum will save the Marlins $13.945 million in 2018. This brings Miami’s payroll down to $105.225 million.
After shipping Stanton to the Bronx for next to nothing Miami traded Marcell Ozuna to the Cardinals for four minor leagues. Miami received Sandy Alcantara, Magneuris Sierra, Zac Gallen, and Daniel Castano. Alcantara appeared in 8 games for the Cardinals in 2017, posting a 4.32 ERA over 8 ⅓ innings. Sierra played 22 games for St. Louis in 2017 hitting .317 in 64 Plate Appearances. Gallen moved up from high A to AAA in 2017, posting a 2.93 ERA in 147 ⅔ innings. Castano pitched in low A in 2017 posting a 2.57 ERA in 91 innings. Arguably the Marlins got more in return for Ozuna than for Stanton. Ozuna made $3.5 million in arbitration in 2017, and that number will only going to go up. Ozuna has years of team control left, thus the Marlins were willing to move him before he got more expensive. The Marlins payroll has shrunk to $102.28 million.
Following Ozuna out the Marlins clubhouse was Edinson Volquez. Miami released Volquez, who is recovering from Tommy John surgery and will not pitch until late 2018 if at all. Releasing Volquez as he entered the final year of his contract trimmed another $13 million from the Marlins payroll, bringing them down to $89.835 million.
Trimming the remaining $34.835 million from the Marlins payroll involves several unimaginative moves, none of which are as jolting as the Stanton, Gordon, or Ozuna trades. The next logical move for the tight fisted Marlins would be to trade Martin Prado. Derek Dietrich all but solidified himself as the Marlins third baseman in 2017 after Prado played just 37 games due to injury. Prado is 34 years old with two years left on his contract. He would be inviting for teams looking to win now, who could use a super utility player. Switching Dietrich, $1.7 million, for Prado, $13.5 million, would save Miami $11.8 million and bring their 2018 payroll to $78.035 million.
Injuries in 2017 showed that Derek Dietrich could replace Martin Prado at third for the Marlins and save Miami millions. (Mark Brown/ Getty Images)
The remaining core players in the field at this point are J.T. Realmuto, Derek Dietrich, and Christian Yelich. Realmuto is making only slightly above league minimum entering his third season in the Majors, thus his salary is still low and his value is all but certain to continue to grow before the Marlins can trade him for several prospects, although Realmuto wants out of Miami now. Dietrich is an emerging young player that the Marlins can afford for several more years and the team can point to as hope for the future. While Yelich’s salary goes up to $7 million in 2018, the Marlins know they cannot trade him. Miami signed Yelich through the 2022 season and attempting to trade him this offseason could cause Major League Baseball to step in for the good of baseball. Yelich is not happy with Miami’s offseason fire sale, but there is little he can do. The Marlins can salary dump but they do have to pay someone something and pretend they are trying to win.
Every team wanting to contend needs bullpen depth. The Marlins could cut cost by trading Brad Ziegler and Junichi Tazawa to teams looking for bullpen arms. Ziegler appeared in 53 games and Tazawa 55 games. Both showed durability which teams need late in the season. Miami does not need great middle relief with the rest of the team has been gutted, it is best to trade away these arms too. Trading these relievers for prospects would mean shedding $14 million in payroll, and saving $12.89 million. The Marlins would go into the 2018 season with a team payroll of $65.145 million.
The final piece to the tear down would be trading away Wei-Yin Chen. Chen is a solid starter in his early 30’s who could solidify the back-end of a rotation. Teams could take a chance that Chen has a bounce back season in 2018. Miami should expect trade offers on par with Kerry Lightenberg, who the Atlanta Braves received for twelve dozen baseballs and two dozen bats from the Minneapolis Loons. Miami should find takers for Chen, thus saving themselves another $10 million, putting their 2018 payroll at $55.7 million. Trimming that last $700,000 should not be too difficult.
It does not take a wild imagination to create a world where the Marlins have a $55 million payroll at the start of the 2018 season. Allowing older players to walk in free agency, trading current stars for theoretically good prospects, trading solid major league players for prospects, and buying out veterans to not play for you is how you gut a team. The Marlins could be under $55 million if Castro is willing to take less than half what is owed him to walk away from Miami.
This is at least the third time the Marlins have rebuilt since they began play in 1993. It is shameful that Major League Baseball did not do its due diligence in how the new ownership would run the team. The Dodgers got a new owner who was focused on winning after Major League Baseball stepped in and all but forced their old owner to sell after it became clear he was focused on only making money not fielding a competitive team. Why has this not happened in south Florida? Time will tell if Miami will ever have a respectable owner that cares about winning. If early returns are any indication of future results it is not looking great for Marlins fan, if there are any left.