2015 Miami Marlins Offseason Review- Team Looks to Contend Now

With pitchers and catchers reporting in a few days and all of the major offseason acquisitions finished off, I think it is a great time to start thinking about this Miami Marlins team on a more global scale. Especially in terms of what their chances are in the NL East and in the Wild Card race in 2015, and also in the longer term. Also as it relates to the position the team finds itself in as a result of the roster shakeup; let’s take a good look at it all.  It doesn’t matter if the Blue Jays trade was a sell-off or a genius move that resulted in the Marlins reloading their farm system. What matters is that all the strength that the Marlins gained from that trade is now gone.

Jake Marisnick is now in Houston, Anthony DeSclafani is in Cincinnati, Adeiny Hechavarria is a barely replacement level player. The only bright spot is Henderson Alvarez, who has stats largely comparable with the best ground ball pitchers in the Majors in his tenure as a Marlin.

This is not a team preview but instead an offseason overview and how it’ll affect the team in the next few years. There are a few themes to be taken away from this offseason namely the Marlins mortgaged their future in order to contend now.  This was symbolized by the Dee Gordon trade on the negative side and signing Giancarlo Stanton long term on the positive end.

We sold the Farm for Dee Gordon who had a career high .704 OPS in 2014

I don’t think I can emphasize enough how much I don’t like the trade that netted Dee Gordon from the Dodgers.  The Marlins traded a premiere left-handed pitching prospect in Andrew Heaney and two multidimensional infielders in Austin Barnes and Enrique Hernandez to the Dodgers in return for a guy who had a breakout year in 2014 and a marginal, aging, back of the rotation guy.

I understand what Michael Hill and Dan Jennings saw: 64 stolen bases, a very impressive speed tool and a guy who had a career high .289 batting average on a very generous .346 BABIP. But to reiterate Gordon had a .704 OPS in his breakout year. This is even more worrying when you consider that Gordon has no power with a career .345 slugging percentage and a career 5.2% walk rate. It is easier for players to succeed when they excel at more than one thing and with no plate discipline and no power Gordon will struggle if he has bad batted-ball luck and can’t get on the base paths to swipe bags.

All that young cost-controlled pitching is gone.

One of the most important takeaways for the Marlins after the 2012 sell-off was how much cost-controlled pitching the Marlins were able to acquire from the Dodgers, Tigers and Blue Jays.  The Marlins stocked their farm system with the like of Alvarez, DeSclafani, Jacob Turner and Nathan Eovaldi.  Put those guys together with Heaney, Justin Nicolino and Jose Fernandez and the Marlins had a veritable bevy of young, talented and, most importantly, cost-controlled pitching. Today as Spring Training dawns in Jupiter Fernandez seems set to leave in free agency and will be historically expensive to keep happy in arbitration and all of the other pitchers are gone except for Nicolino and Alvarez.

Now it doesn’t a genius to understand that a team like the Marlins needs to keep as many cost-controlled pitchers as possible on the roster. Thanks to Jeffrey Loria the team must try to compete with an unnaturally low payroll and spending money on something that wasn’t a need last summer seems to be an unwise decision. I guess it is a symptom of trying to make a playoff run as soon as possible though. The Marlins turned DeSclafani into what many still consider a front of the rotation arm in Mat Latos, Eovaldi into their best and easily most accomplished infielder Martin Prado and Heaney into Gordon, for better or worse.

Young pitching is often the currency besides actual money that makes the baseball economy function and the Marlins had a surplus of young pitching that they could leverage into a revamped roster. Now how wise of a decision this turns out to be in the medium-to-long term is a whole other issue. In my opinion the Marlins could have stood pat and tried to contend in another way but ultimately if adding Latos, Prado and Gordon among others leads the Marlins to the playoffs, even just a Wild Card game, I guess I would be wrong.

Giancarlo Stanton will be hitting dongs for the Marlins for a long time to come or until he opts out and goes to Detroit.

 I think the further away we move from the actual moment of the Marlins and Stanton agreeing to their monster 13-year, $325 million contract the less we seem to be amazed by it. The past two seasons it seemed like a fait accompli that Stanton would take the first opportunity and go ply his trade for a massive market team like the Red Sox, Yankees or Tigers. But the Marlins ownership and baseball people did the impossibleand signed Stanton to a fair market value, yet back-loaded (read: team friendly) contract.  The Marlins actually signed Stanton to a six-year, $107 million deal before he has the chance to opt out.  This covers the last two years of Stanton’s arbitration eligibility as well as four free agent years.

There has been much research done into how much  a win costs on the open market and it’s between $5-7 million. Assuming that the Marlins signed Stanton out of four of his free agency years at about $23 million per year would assume a production of 3-4 WAR per year during his peak seasons from age 27-30.  The Marlins got a positive bargain considering that Stanton will be probably easily outperform a three win valuation during his peak.

The deal gets even sweeter for the Marlins because the team is not on the hook for the decline phase of his contract. If Stanton opts out and chooses to test the free agency market some other team will have to plunk down some insane amount of money to acquire a player who’s most important tool, power, will surely decline starting in his mid-30’s. A team will sign Giancarlo Stanton for the 2021 season and end up with Adam Dunn by 2025.

The Marlins will have to be competitive in the free agent market to contend in the future.

The other upshot of trying to compete right now is that the Marlins will have to be competitive in free agency in order to replenish their team from this point forward. Latos, Prado, Morse and Saltalamacchia all have contracts expiring in the near future and the Marlins don’t have any legitimate prospects in the farm system to replace them with. The Marlins love Nicolino but he’ll probably never be as good as even the current version of Latos. The Marlins traded Colin Moran and Marisnick and would have to hope that J.T. Realmuto quickly becomes an everyday option at catcher to have any shot at replacing these few guys I mentioned.

The free agency market is as pumped as the Dow was in 2000 right now, and the worst part is that there is no market correction coming. If the Royals, Giants and other successful teams have taught us anything is that is a foolhardy endeavor to try and compete and build a team through free agency in this current market. Unless Loria decides to massively increase the payroll, sells the team or dies, the Marlins have no shot of competing with the large market teams in this environment.

Conclusion

The Marlins chose to compete now and while that is admirable and it makes me happy as a Marlins fan, it ultimately leaves the team in a precarious position. While Stanton is now a sure thing, the Marlins still haven’t signed either Christian Yelich or Fernandez to a long-term contract. It would be very disappointing if this team was able to compete and even make a legitimate run deep into October in the near future and then would have to sell-off all of their stars because they won’t be able to keep them long-term. If I’m Michael Hill and Dan Jennings my primary focus would be to extend the Marlins other young stars and then focus on replenishing the farm system. They should do this by focusing more on the international free agency market, both in the Caribbean as well as in Asia, and then making better choices in the draft.

Overall I think the Marlins are in a better position to win the World Series in the next five years than they were when the offseason started, even if it came at some cost.