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.
Being home to one of the better known and somewhat hostile rivalries in baseball, if not all major sports leagues, the AL East has some of the heaviest spending teams in MLB. This usually means that a blockbuster trade will occur every offseason from one of these teams. Since 2000, the Yankees and Red Sox have had one of the top 10 largest payrolls in MLB. Let’s be honest, it’s probably easier to count the number of seasons when the Yankees didn’t have the largest payroll in the league than when they did. However, championships can’t simply be bought. You can probably argue that a big payroll is a contributing factor towards winning a championship but that’s a discussion for another day.
To say the Boston Red Sox had pitching headaches last season is like saying that President Obama gets annoyed by Congressional standoffs. Clay Buchholz doesn’t quite have the stuff to be the ace in the rotation but he’s definitely a viable 2-3 man when he can stay healthy. So in classic AL East fashion, the Red Sox smashed the piggy bank to pick up David Price, as solid an ace as you can find. There might be mixed reactions about the third year opt-out clause but it seems like a good incentive to get the best out of Price in the next few years.
David Price is the biggest signing in the AL East this offseason, will he have a major impact at Fenway in 2016? (Fred Thornhill-Pool Photo via USA TODAY Sports)
This move really overshadows the acquisition of some bullpen help in Craig Kimbrel and Carson Smith to support Koji Uehara. David Ortiz’s impending retirement leaves questions about how they’re going to hit next season but this might be one of the better off-season pitching overhauls. Maybe we’ll see some of Boston’s speedsters go for more stolen bases knowing that their pitching staff will keep the pressure on the other side.
The Yankees are the best known team in MLB for throwing down money to get hot free agents or make monumental trades. Since acquiring the services of Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira, big money moves started slowing down since it didn’t seem like the money was making the Yankees any more competitive than they had been.
With that said, the acquisitions of Starlin Castro and Aroldis Chapman are fairly conservative moves by a team that stumbled into the playoffs and handily defeated by a dominant Dallas Keuchel leading the surging Houston Astros. Castro actually addresses a problem issue for the Yankees in their struggles to make contact and generate runs. Didi Gregorius is a fine defensive SS but the Yankees have been accustomed to a productive hitter at SS for so long that they just weren’t built for this. Maybe, similar to A-Rod moving to 3B when joining, Castro will make a transition and play 2B. The Yankees should try to keep Gregorius on the field though.
Starlin Castro should help produce the hits and score the runs the Yankees need. (www.articles.chicagotribune.com)
Aroldis Chapman may seem like damaged goods but the Yankees run a pretty tight ship. So we’ll see if Chapman is deserving of a the benefit of the doubt/second chance because if he can’t keep his personal life under control as a Yankee then there’s no place that will be able to do it. This pick up seems more like taking advantage of an opportunity than addressing a problem. Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances already made up one of the toughest bullpens to get through. Bringing in Chapman means that the Yankees now have all of the closers that racked up more than 100 Ks in the 2015 season into one bullpen. At the very least, the Yankees have trade fodder to address other issues next season if they need to do some gut-check work during the trade windows.
Toronto Blue Jays
BL – The Blue Jays have heavy hitting and practically lapped the rest of the league in run differential for the season. There’s a lot of infield position play by coalition and David Price’s departure from the rotation leaves a hole for a genuine elite ace. Something Toronto needs to be a serious playoff contender. Marcus Stroman and Drew Hutchison are young and either may develop into a solid ace but it’s too early to tell. Troy Tulowitzki probably isn’t the answer at shortstop but maybe Toronto’s trainers can find a way to keep from needing so many days off.
Marcus Stroman could be the ace the Blue Jays need to complement their offense. (www.forums.prosportsdaily.com)
DJ – Toronto was a machine in 2015, but, run hard enough, all machines eventually break down. The Blue Jays did not make it to the World Series, but should be a contender again in 2016. Starting pitching needs to be the focus this offseason. Toronto did get 28 or more starts out of four starters in 2015, however Drew Hutchison struggled. He only pitched 148 innings with a 5.47 ERA. Mark Buehrle was his usual workhorse making 32 starts and pitching 198.2 innings, however he is now a free agent contemplating retirement. David Price only made 11 starts for the Blue Jays, but he was dominant in those starts. R.A. Dickey and Marco Estrada are the foundation for this rotation and the return of Marcus Stroman from injury gives them three solid pitchers. Hutchison could be in the mix for the fifth starter, but this still leaves the Blue Jays short of an ace. Toronto would be smart to look at signing a pitcher like Yovani Gallardo or Justin Masterson. An ace like David Price is tough to come by, but a Dickey, Estrada, and potentially Stroman could be the de facto ace for the Blue Jays.
BL – At the start of the 2015 season, I really thought the Orioles would win the AL East. I can’t explain the early or late season losing streaks. Perhaps Baltimore entered the season a little too cocky and expected things to simply fall into place. Inconsistency at catcher between Caleb Joseph and Matt Wieters could not have been easy for the rotation to deal with. If the Orioles can steady that position up and get some team psychologists to keep the team on an even keel, next season could be a great one for Baltimore.
Matt Weiters needs to return to his All Star and Gold Glove ways to help the Orioles compete in the AL East. (Photo by: Todd Olszewski)
DJ – The Orioles starting pitching ate up plenty of innings in 2015. Ubaldo Jimenez, Wei-Yin Chen, and Chris Tillman all made at least 31 starts and pitched at least 173 innings. However with a combined 4.12 ERA the trio were 34-29. Jimenez led the team with 12 wins with Chen and Tillman contributing 11 wins each. If Baltimore is going to compete for the AL East in 2016, their starters need to find ways to win more games. Any easy way to win more games is for the starters to pitch deeper into games. Jimenez, Chen, and Tillman averaged less than 6 innings per start. The Orioles need the majority of their rotation to pitch at least 6 innings per start in order preserve the bullpen and save those arms for close games and late in the season.
Tampa Bay Rays
BL – They’re not the Miami Marlins, but the Tampa Bay Rays haven’t been really great to their fan base over the years by consistently trading away some great pitching and fielding talent. I’m continually surprised that Evan Longoria is still there. It’s not in quite as dramatic a fashion as the Marlins’ fire sales after every World Series win but the Rays are consistently bleeding themselves into talent anemia. Chris Archer can anchor a rotation and a bullpen boasting a scrappy closer like Brad Boxberger means there’s development potential here. Manager Kevin Cash needs to pick a direction for the batting lineup then adjust the rest of the team accordingly.
Kevin Kiermaier’s Gold Glove defense is just as vital as his bat for the Rays to be successful. (Photo by Mitchell Layton/ Getty Images)
DJ – Tampa Bay needs a leadoff hitter. The Rays had 22 different players bat leadoff in 2015. Combined these players hit .258. Only Brandon Guyer played at least 50 games batting leadoff, and he hit .274 with a .379 OBP. The logical choice for the Rays would be to move Guyer or Kevin Kiermaier there permanently. Guyer hit .265 overall in 2015 with a .359 OBP, 10 SB, and only 61 SO in 332 AB. Kiermaier hit .263, with a .298 OBP, 18 SB, and 95 SO in 505 AB. The stability at the top of the lineup could trickle down the order. Tampa Bay has to manufacture runs to support the pitching staff. Evan Longoria and Logan Forsythe provide the power. If Guyer and/or Kiermaier can get on ahead of them, the offense could combine with the pitching staff to balance the Rays overall team approach.
BL & DJ