At the end of the 2010 season, I released my thoughts on what the Marlins should do this offseason to improve the team. The list seemed very conservative, which is pretty typical given what the Fish usually do during the offseason. However, this year the Marlins have been quite active in the free agent and trade markets, dealing Dan Uggla and signing John Buck and Javier Vazquez to deals.
Given that much of what was listed in the previous checklist has already been completed (and then some), the team has few holes to fill heading into the annual Winter Meetings. That said, there are a few things the team wants to address, and I think it is fair to reexamine these items and draw out a plan for the remainder of the offseason.
The 25-man roster appears to be something like this at the moment (with empty slots representing areas where the Marlins will be looking to improve):
C John Buck
1B Gaby Sanchez
2B Omar Infante
3B Emilio Bonifacio (sigh)
SS Hanley Ramirez
LF Logan Morrison
CF Chris Coghlan (sigh)
RF Mike Stanton
C John Baker/Brett Hayes
1B/3B Wes Helms
Empty Bench Slot (Infield)
Empty Bench Slot (Outfield)
RHP Josh Johnson
RHP Ricky Nolasco
RHP Javier Vazquez
RHP Anibal Sanchez
RHP Chris Volstad
RHP Leo Nunez
RHP Clay Hensley
RHP Ryan Webb
RHP Brian Sanches
RHP Burke Badenhop
RHP Edward Mujica
LHP Mike Dunn
Empty LHP slot
The Marlins appear to be all but set in their starting rotation and mostly content (no matter how much I disagree) with their starting lineup. The only likely additions are, in the words of the Palm Beach Post’s Joe Capozzi:
…more bullpen help (especially a veteran left-hander), a left-handed bat off the bench and options for improving their outfield.
Luckily for Larry Beinfest, Mike Hill, and the rest of the Florida Marlins front office, I have just the options they are looking for. Someone call their attention to me.
1. Sign two of the following players: Jim Edmonds, Scott Hairston, Tony Gwynn Jr. (All of them at 1 year / between $1-2M)
It was difficult for me to come up with an exact combination of the three names listed above, but I’d like to see two of them join the team for the 2011 season as short-term options. Signing Edmonds, Hairston, and/or Gwynn will help out in two of the above holes the team is looking to fill; they will both provide help at the outfield position and assuredly get a left-handed bat off the bench. All three can play center field, though Edmonds did not look good in the outfield and might be relegated more to first base or the corners, and two of them (Edmonds and Gwynn) are lefties. Edmonds in particular was a surprisingly good hitter for his age, batting .276/.342/.504 in 272 PA last season and, two years prior, hitting .235/.343/.479 in just over 400 PA.
However, assistance in the outfield this season goes beyond just adding depth. The Marlins are currently planning to start Chris Coghlan in center field, despite the fact that he has not excelled in the significantly easier left field and has no experience in center in his professional career. No matter how much the Marlins say they have confidence in his defensive capabilities, this move has the potential for defensive disaster, which would be disappointing given the Marlins’ attempts to “go for it” this season. Rather than risk the team’s lone year with guys like Vazquez and Omar Infante on a defensive liability like Coghlan in center field, signing two of three of these players will allow the team to field an actual, capable center fielder who at least has manned the position before. Hairston is likely a below average defender at the position, but has played over 930 innings in center field in his career. Gwynn, on the other hand, appears to be a plus-plus glove in center, but carries an empty bat in return.
My personal preference would be to see the Marlins snag Hairston and Edmonds. Edmonds can then serve as the lefty off the bench, primarily working as a pinch hitter and occasional backup in the outfield and first base. Hairston can slide into the starting center field role, shifting Coghlan into the infield at either second or third base and ejecting Bonifacio or Helms from the starting role. Bonifacio would become the team’s primary bench backup for both the middle infield and outfield, with Edmonds serving as a fifth outfielder of sorts. If the team signs Gwynn instead of Hairston, the worst that could happen is that the club replaces Bonifacio with a similar bat but likely a much better glove in center field, with the added benefit of two additional team control years at the team’s disposal.
2. Sign a risky left-hander to an incentive-based one-year deal (1 year, $1M + incentives)
There are a few lefties available in the market right now, but the issue at this stage of the game for the Fish is the budget. After accounting for the Marlins’ multiple signings and other contracts currently on the team, including arbitration deals, I have the Fish at a projected payroll of $57.3M after the bench signings. If the Marlins could spend the extra $2M on a guy like Arthur Rhodes, that would be nice, but if not, the team should go for high-reward players. Two names of interest are J.P. Howell and George Sherrill. Both Howell and Sherrill are coming off less than desirable seasons for vastly different reasons; Howell is still recovering from shoulder surgery, while Sherrill is coming off an awful season. Neither should command much given their problems, but Sherrill is the more likely bet to sign for a low-cost rebuilding contract. He was never as good as his closer role with the Baltimore Orioles or his trade cost to the Los Angeles Dodgers indicated, but even in a terrible season he was still able to take out left-handers (3.32 FIP), and that is the sort of performance and role the Marlins are looking for.
3. Consider a Ricky Nolasco extension
Earlier in the offseason, the Marlins and agent Matt Sosnick were talking about an extension but were still $10M off. Nevertheless, this should not surprise us given the timing and pace of last year’s Josh Johnson deal. I’m glad to see the Marlins are considering a Nolasco signing, but I am sure that the team is as wary I am about actually going through with a deal. Nolasco has had two seasons in which his peripherals have shined but he has not performed to their expected levels. However, I am still of the opinion that he was a little more unlucky than he was legitimately troubled in 2009 and 2010, such that his talent level is certainly in between those shiny FIP totals and his much uglier ERA.
Consider that Nolasco’s true talent run-prevention capabilities are halfway between his 4.31 ERA from the last three years (4.84 ERA from the last two, if you’d prefer that) and his 3.66 FIP from that same time period (3.56 FIP if you want two years). That would peg him as a true-talent 3.99 ERA (4.20 ERA for the two-year estimate). At that level, he would be worth 3.0 wins per season given 200 innings of work in a league scoring 4.5 runs per game. At that level, you’d expect Nolasco to be paid just about $16M for his first free agent year in 2013. He is likely to earn $14-16M over the next two years from arbitration alone. As a result, if the Marlins offered a three-year deal worth $30M, they would probably be paying a fair price for Nolasco’s services. However, just as they did with the Johnson deal last offseason, the team could get away with paying significantly less than the market rate by adding the fourth year. A four year offer worth $39M (similar to the one offered to Johnson) that pays Nolasco for his final two arbitration years and two free agent seasons would be reasonable. The question is whether the Marlins trust Nolasco enough to deliver this kind of guaranteed money to him over going year-to-year with him.