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.
One of the biggest issues facing Major League Baseball is the regionalization of the sport. Yankee fans watch Yankee games, Rockie fans watch Rockie games, and Twin fans what Twin games. Fans tend to watch the game their team is playing. This could be partly due to local television deals, which make it difficult to watch out of market games. It could also be due to the nature of the sport. Teams play almost every day during the season so keeping up with multiple teams at once can be daunting and time consuming. I have my teams who I root for, my one primary team and a few backups who I cheer for unless they are playing my main team. I keep an eye on the standings and can tell you which teams are good and which teams are starting their vacations early this year. However I cannot tell you about every player and how good or bad they are playing this season or during their careers. The sheer volume of games, combined with the regionalization of the sport, and the finite amount of time I have to spend looking at the sport each day prevents this from happening.
Despite all the forces working against me, there is something, which has expanded my view of the day-to-day happenings from around Major League Baseball. Playing Fantasy Baseball has taught me a lot about daily baseball in a short amount of time. The Fantasy Baseball League I play in, Infield Lies, makes you set a line up every day. You start understanding how great a player is after you look every day to see how they did the previous day. The competition of the league drives me to continually look for someone who is hot and can help me win the week or the season. You start looking around and you see these phenomenal players who do not get national press on a regular basis, or at all. These are not the Mike Trout’s or Andrew McCutchen’s of the world. These are the versatile players like Martin Prado who can essentially play everywhere on the diamond. You lock on to Prado, also known as Nitram Odarp, because he can fill so many gaps for you on your roster. Then you start seeing his ability with his bat show up on the daily stat line, and then you start watching a few minutes of the game he is playing in with the Diamondbacks and now the Yankees. Despite his not being on my fantasy team this year, I still follow him and will continue to do so because I “discovered” such a great player that I might otherwise have never known about.
Every year I hope to make the rest of the people who are in my league upset by finding that player who come out of nowhere to have a career year or to be a breakout star. I am not always successful in this mission, but it does not mean that players other league members “discovered” do not interest me. Trying to have more steals each week meant the “discovery” of the Dodgers’ Dee Gordon. Prior to 2014, Gordon had average 60 games, 223 plate appearances, 27 runs scored, 22 stolen bases, 6 doubles, 2 triples, 12 walks, 11 RBI, a .256 batting average, a .301 On-base Percentage in parts of three seasons with Los Angeles. In 2014, Gordon has his break out year. He played in 148 games, had 650 plate appearances, scored 92 runs, stole 64 bases, had 24 doubles, 12 triples, walked 31 times, had 34 RBI, a .289 batting average, and a .326 On-Base Percentage. Aside from the triples and stolen bases, which led all of baseball, Gordon could have gone unnoticed unless you are a fan of the Dodgers.
Looking to find the reliever that could put his team over the top in 2013, Jesse picked up Jason Grilli of the Pittsburgh Pirates after his hot start. Prior to the 2013 season, Grilli had collected five saves, a 4.34 ERA, 1.413 WHIP, and a 1.96 Strikeout to Walk Ratio in 10 seasons. The Pirates returned to the playoffs for the first time since 1992 and having a shutdown closer like Grilli helped them secure the Wild Card. Grilli had an All Star season with 33 saves, a 2.40 ERA, 1.040 WHIP, and 5.69 Strikeout to Walk Ratio. “Discovering” Grilli during his best season has led Jesse, John, and me to follow his career as it has moved forward. I hope that Grilli has a few more good seasons, but if not we were able to appreciate his greatest season while it was in progress.
After learning that Charlie Blackmon went to one of the local high schools near his house, John did the dutiful thing and picked him up. The 2014 season was Blackmon’s first full season in the Majors and it turned out an All Star year. He hit .288, with 19 homeruns, 72 RBI, 28 steals, 82 runs scored, 27 doubles, 31 walks, and an On-Base Percentage of .335. Not much in his stat line leaps out at you except for the steals. However, digging a little deeper and you see that Blackmon had 171 hits in 648 plate appearances. His batting average can be a bit deceptive, as it masks the success Blackmon had at the plate. The simple connection that occurs, like growing up in the same area, can help you “discover” players that you might otherwise overlook.
I generally cheer for all players; if they make a great play it does not dissuade my excitement even if they are playing against my team. There are exceptions though, mainly Alex Rodriguez and Ryan Braun both for their PED use and their lies about their PED usage. I was at the game in Yankee Stadium against the San Francisco Giants when Rodriguez broke Lou Gehrig’s career Grand Slam record. The entire stadium went nuts because it was a big home run in a big moment, but I knew what it meant and I just could not bring myself to cheer. I felt the pit in my stomach, which only sadness can bring. People did not understand the moment; they focused only on that single game. This singular focus on winning also seems to exist within fantasy sports in general. You are trying to win this week, so you are not so much concerned about next week or next year. People who become overly obsessed with their fantasy sports begin to root against their team, because someone on the opposing team in on their fantasy team. I have personally seen this and heard stories of this, which boggled my mind. I root for my teams and this will not change. I want the players to do well, but if I have to choose, I want the team I cheer for the win more than my fantasy team.
I understand that ultimately this allegiance to real life teams and players is in its own way a fantasy. However, it is a fantasy that does not continuously change. Once I begin cheering for a team or player, they have to do something terrible for me to stop, and I do not mean wins and losses. My dislike for Alex Rodriguez and Ryan Braun is because they both cheated and then lied about cheating multiple times, not the uniform they wear. Honesty goes a long way for me. Even if a player like a Rick Ankiel, when he was still a pitcher, clearly can no longer play at a Major League level, I will not stop rooting for them so long as they are honest and give it their best effort. Ultimately, every player deserves to be treated as a person, so why would I boo someone who is struggling, yet trying their best?
Fantasy Baseball has expanded the sport for me. It has exposed me to a slew of great players, who I may otherwise have never seen or noticed. Some see fantasy as a way to ruin the game, but for me Fantasy Baseball has made me a better fan of the entire game. The improvements of teams like the Mets the past few years or a player like Casey McGehee, and his career year last season, allow me to love baseball more and to be a true fan of the game, not just or a few teams. Fantasy Baseball is what you allow it to be, and for me it has allowed me to look into the game of baseball like never before.
The New York Yankees signed Chase Headley to a 4 year contract worth $52 million. This solidifies the Yankees at third through 2018. When the deal was announced, ESPN’s Buster Olney made the observation that this meant the Yankees did not have an everyday role for Alex Rodriguez. The 2015 Yankees would have a lineup of CF Jacoby Ellsbury, LF Brett Gardner, 2B Martin Prado, 3B Chase Headley, DH Carlos Beltran, C Brian McCann, 1B Mark Teixeira, RF Chris Young, SS Didi Gregorius.
Notice anyone missing from the Yankee lineup? What about Alex Rodriguez? Where will Rodriguez fit into the Yankees plans for 2015 and beyond? At this point in his career, Rodriguez has three options as far as playing. He can continue at third, move to first, or be the DH.
At third, Rodriguez will most likely serve as the backup for Headley. As a switch hitter, Headley will not yield at bats to Rodriguez based upon match ups. However, even if Headley were to get hurt or needs a day off, the Yankees could have moved Prado from second to third to keep the defense in the infield solid and give some time at second to young Jose Pirela. Prado’s trade to the Marlins means Pirela or Brendan Ryan will be at second. I believe the Yankees should put Pirela at second and have Ryan as the infield back up. The Yankees need some sort of youth movement if they are to continue playing competitively moving forward. Honestly, as Rodriguez approaches his 40-year-old season, after a year away from the game, and the preceding year cut short by yet another hip injury, it is doubtful Rodriguez still has the range to play an average third base defensively. Third seems does not look like a home, even temporarily, for Rodriguez.
At first base, Rodriguez would either be the backup to Mark Teixeira or platoon with him. I would vote to avoid the platoon. When healthy, Teixeira is a major asset to the Yankees and their success. A potential hindrance for Rodriguez at first could be if the Yankees try to begin transitioning Brian McCann from behind the plate to first, which they should. Teixeira only has two years remaining on his contract, so the Yankees will have to begin the process of finding his replacement either from their system, through trade or free agency, or from their roster. The Yankees need the most from their investment in McCann and continuing to catch will reduce his playing time and effectiveness. As a lefty, McCann’s power to the right field porch should give him an edge over Rodriguez. Again, Rodriguez’s hips and age, plus the move to a new position could greatly hinder his ability to play an average first base defensively.
As the DH, Rodriguez is facing some stiff competition. Carlos Beltran seems to be the preferred DH for the Yankees. Beltran is a switch hitter, this he will not be pinch hit for due to matchups late in games. Even when Beltran plays the outfield to give Brett Gardner, Jacoby Ellsbury, or Chris Young a day off this does not mean there is an opening at DH. Any of these outfielders could be the DH instead of Beltran. Additionally, when Beltran needs a day off, McCann could DH, so could Teixeira, and Headley. Rodriguez has to six players to jump over to claim at bats as the DH. Strangely, this is his best option for at bats.
These three positions do not leave Rodriguez many opportunities to play every day. At this point in his career the likelihood of Rodriguez’s health allows him to play every day are growing smaller and smaller. He has essentially missed the past two seasons; it may be difficult for Rodriguez to rebound. He played 44 games in 2013 due to injury and served a suspension for all of the 2014 season. In addition to the aches and pains of entering his 40-year-old season, Rodriguez has undergone multiple hip surgeries. This has hampered his speed, range, and his ability to stay on the field. Rodriguez is showing his age and the impact of 20 seasons in Major League Baseball.
Rodriguez is not the same player he once was before his troubles with his hip, a PED suspension, and his popularity taking a nosedive. He has not hit above .276 since 2009. Rodriguez has played an average of 110 games a season since 2008, without playing more than 138 in any season, excluding his suspension for all of 2014. During his last three seasons played (2011-2013), Rodriguez has no more than 18 home runs and 62 RBIs in a season. His Offensive WAR has gone down every year since 2007, from a high of 9.5 to 0.8. Only once since 2005 has Rodriguez been above a 1.0 Defensive WAR, with four of those seasons being in the negative. He has only been over a 2.0 Defensive WAR once, in 2000 at 2.3. Clearly, his skills have deteriorated.
Alex Rodriguez was once one of the best players in all of Major League Baseball. However, growing older, injuries, PED use and suspension, and becoming the face of what is wrong with the game have left Rodriguez as a tired act. He is in the swan song of his career, and he has becoming the most polarizing figure in the game. Rodriguez is approaching some of the most hallowed numbers in the sport, which should create a buzz about the 2015 season. Instead, his march into history pains those who love this game. He sits 61 hits shy of 3,000. He is 6 home runs away from tying Willie Mays, 60 away from Babe Ruth, and 101 away from Hank Aaron. He currently has a career batting average of .299, if he has one more good year at the plate he could assure himself a .300 career batting average. He is 81 runs short of scoring 2,000 for his career. He is 31 RBI short of 2,000 for his career. All of these statistics place Rodriguez in the upper echelon of baseball history, but primarily through his own doing, many in baseball simply want him to go away.
Alex Rodriguez has served his time. Regardless if you think he should have gotten more or less time, or wish he had received a permanent ban from the game, Rodriguez will not be the last player to cut corners to gain an advantage over his competition. Hopefully, Rodriguez will be the final chapter of the Steroid era on the field. Rodriguez is a sad figure, much in the same way Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens have become. These players had Hall of Fame caliber talent, but they tried to hang on to their skills through various forms of cheating, and in so doing so they have ruined their legacies. Alex Rodriguez has earned more than $356 million, and unless he and the Yankees can reach an agreement to part ways, his earnings will surpass $400 million, which is the most career earnings in baseball history. Derek Jeter earned $265 million, the second highest career earnings in baseball history, the difference in the legacies of Rodriguez and Jeter are night and day. Will the extra $100 to $150 million Rodriguez will earn be worth it?
The return of Alex Rodriguez will soon be upon us, whether we like it or not. There does not seem to be many at bats awaiting him with the Yankees as he attempts to chase down some of the biggest names in baseball history. Does Rodriguez belong in the same conversation as the greats like Mays, Ruth, Aaron, Clemente, Gehrig, Williams? Statistically yes. On the field he has proven for 20 seasons he has Hall of Fame caliber skills and can do it all with the bat. No player ever accidentally amasses the sort of numbers he has collected.
Does Rodriguez belong alongside these Hall of Famers in terms of class? Not even close. He has cheated multiple times, and continues to play the victim. You can argue he is no better than Mays and his reported use of amphetamines, but what makes Rodriguez different is the amphetamines do not alter your abilities, steroids do. He admitted to using PEDs from 2001 through 2003. While we can debate whether one believes that after 2003 Rodriguez discontinued his use of PEDs, what is not up for debate is his admission to using them during these three seasons. These also, consequently were the most prolific three year span of his career. In 2010, Rodriguez was connected to Canadian doctor Anthony Galea, who at best has a checkered past with the law enforcement for providing and administering PEDs to elite athletes. The latest run in for Rodriguez has been through his association with Biogenesis and Anthony Bosch. While Rodriguez never failed a drug test, Commissioner Bud Selig suspended Rodriguez for 211 games, later reduced to the 2014 season. Major League Baseball suspended Rodriguez:
“for use and possession of numerous forms of prohibited performance-enhancing substances…over the course of multiple years” and “for attempting to cover-up his violations of the Program by engaging in a course of conduct intended to obstruct and frustrate the Office of the Commissioner’s investigation.”
The crime gets you in trouble; the cover up is what tears you down. Rodriguez later admitted to the Drug Enforcement Administration that he had indeed used PEDs. Rodriguez has a pattern of cheating, even after the installation of the Major League Baseball Drug Policy. Everyone makes mistakes, however Rodriguez does not seem to have learned from his mistakes.
It seems three strikes does not mean Alex Rodriguez is out. He has three seasons remaining on his contract with the Yankees. He has become so toxic within baseball, and outside of baseball, that after the 2017 season his career with baseball as a whole is almost certainly over. Unless the Yankees can work out a deal with Rodriguez to buy out the remainder of his contract, or his hips force his retirement, it is unlikely he will leave before his contract is up. Alex Rodriguez is a survivor, through it all he continues to come back for more. What a shame that this sort of resiliency is wasted on Rodriguez. There are so many great people in and around baseball; unfortunately, Rodriguez has the ability to survive regardless of the damage he does to the game. He takes the headline away from the people and events, which make baseball the great sport it is.