Keeping the core: How to cut cost and staying relevant

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NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 01: Former New York Yankee Derek Jeter is seen on Day Two of the 2015 US Open at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center on September 1, 2015 in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 01: Former New York Yankee Derek Jeter is seen on Day Two of the 2015 US Open at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center on September 1, 2015 in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images) /
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Payroll cuts appear to be on the way for the Miami Marlins. But that doesn’t necessarily mean starting from scratch again.

Firesale and talks of “blowing it up” have plagued the Miami Marlins all season. After getting off to slow start in the second month of the year, they’ve been the subject of endless trade scrutiny. That hasn’t slowed as the season enters it’s final chapter.

Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald recently reported that the incoming ownership group led by Derek Jeter intends to cut payroll significantly. According to the report, into the $50 million range if they trade Stanton, into the $80-85 million range if they keep him.

With the young talent they have on hand, that’s enough to build a playoff team in Miami.

It’s going to take some clever and shrewd negotiating from a new owner who has no experience in the field. But Derek Jeter knows baseball. He’s built an impressive brand of himself. It’s safe to say he isn’t a total business tenderfoot.

By shedding the salary of overpaid veteran players that aren’t part of the Marlins future anyway, and keeping the young, team controllable core, the Miami Marlins can field a playoff worthy club next season. What’s best, it fits cleanly into that $80-$85 million range Jackson cites.

As a matter of practicality, the Miami Marlins absolutely need to cut payroll. That news shouldn’t have come as a surprise to fans. Apparently realizing that he wasn’t long for MLB ownership, Jeffery Loria finally pulled out the wallet.

And wouldn’t you believe it, he screwed the franchise in a major way. The Miami Marlins roster is replete with players who don’t need to be there. What’s worse, they’re being paid handsomely for the imposition.

Here’s how the Miami Marlins can keep their talented young core, shed payroll, and compete for a playoff spot next season:

On the infield

This is a subject that was touched on earlier this week. But the Miami Marlins have two players on the infield that will become expendable after this season. One of them is Dee Gordon, a fan favorite and lighting rod of excitement. The other is team captain Martin Prado.

Trading both of these players will hurt in an emotional sense, but are savvy roster moves.

Gordon’s calling card is his speed, and he’ll be 33-years old when his contract expires. If his speed diminishes even slightly, his OBP will plummet. Gordon doesn’t work enough walks to sustain his free swinging ways. For his career, he’s reached base on balls in just 4.9-percent of his at bats.

Not enough, particularly for a lead off hitter.

Prado’s trade is more straightforward and obvious. The Miami Marlins now have Brian Anderson ready to step into the role full-time. At his price point and potential, he’s a virtual lock to start at third base coming out of spring training.

Gordon is owed $10.8 million next season, and $51.9 through the end of his contract in 2021. Prado is owed $13.5 million next season, and $28.5 in a contract that runs through 2019.

Dumping both their salaries relieves the Marlins of $24.3 million, or about 26.66-percent of their already committed 2018 salary.

Slash count: $24.3 million

In the outfield

Since the entire purpose of this post is to argue for keeping the core together, the Miami Marlins outfield remains mostly intact. Giancarlo Stanton, Christian Yelich, and Marcell Ozuna all return in Miami Marlins uniforms.

Likely turnover takes place in the fourth outfield spot though. Baseball legend Ichiro will continue playing baseball at the highest level, but not in Miami. Ichiro won’t be signed to a new contract this offseason. He’ll want at least the same amount as his current contract: $2 million. Too much.

The Marlins have youngster Braxton Lee ready to make the jump. Lee works the count, gets on base, and runs like the wind. Add the fact that he hits from the left side and will be playing on a rookie contract and this is a no-brainer. Get to the park and watch Ichiro while you can.

Note: The omission of a contract extension is worth adding to the slash count because of the price of his replacement. Lee will cost the minimum, essentially the same as if the Marlins traded away Ichiro’s contract.

Slash count: $26.3 million

Behind the plate

Another veteran with an expiring contract that won’t come back. Catcher A.J. Ellis has come through in the clutch a few times for the Marlins this season. He’s served well in a reserve role behind budding superstar J.T. Realmuto and provides some veteran know-how.

But with his contract running out this season, the Marlins will have another additional $2.5 million off the books. The backup option going forward would likely be Tomas Telis, an unexciting but cheaper option. He hits from both sides and can play first base. There is value there.

There is an obvious drop off between the two players, but it saves a few million dollars on a player that doesn’t play everyday anyway.

Slash count: $28.8 million

In the starting rotation

This is where the Miami Marlins are getting caught up most. Edinson Volquez will be paid $11 million next year and won’t throw a pitch. He’s going to spend the year rehabbing after his second career Tommy John surgery. That’s dead money that can’t be taken off the books.

The good news is, it comes off after the 2018 season. As far as biting bullets go, one year isn’t all that bad.

The more worrisome is that of Wei-Yin Chen. The Marlins still owe him a lot of dough, and if he can’t get his arm right, it’s a much bigger blow than Volquez. Chen has missed most of the season with elbow discomfort, but has chosen not to have surgery on the arm.

Miami could still owe him as much as $75.8 million through the 2021 season. He’ll make a palatable $12.6 million next season, but then the value of his contract takes a monstrous leap in 2019 and 2020. Chen is owed $22.6 million in 2019, $24.6 the year after that.

There is an obvious need to get him off the books if at all possible.

For the sake of objectivity, let’s say the Marlins are unable to do so. They’ll need major production from Chen, and whatever has plagued his arm will have to magically disappear. It’s worth mentioning that he looked good in his return against the Nationals, albeit out of the bullpen.

There really isn’t much Miami can do to cut cost in their rotation. But Jeff Locke comes off the books, so thats $3 million saved.

Slash count: $31.8 million

Out of the bullpen

Now we’re getting down to the nitty gritty. Here’s where Miami can save some cash and be better than they were in 2017.

The Miami Marlins whiffed on signing Aroldis Chapman and Kenley Jansen this offseason. Instead, they decided to ink Brad Ziegler and Junichi Tazawa to deals that have proved to be ill-advised. Neither has been great, and the Marlins will try to deal them this offseason.

Ziegler is set to hit the Marlins for $9 million next year. Tazawa will make $7 million. If a team is going to take on either of those contracts in their entirety, they probably won’t want to give up much. But the trade is about salary relief anyway, not rebuilding.

As it turns out, they have more depth in the bullpen than they thought they did. Drew Steckenrider could be elite. Kyle Barraclough and Brian Ellington are plus. Turns out they had something in Jarlin Garcia that they didn’t know about. Justin Nicolino appears destined for bullpen duty.

Add the likely arrival of Tayron Guerrero next year and the bullpen is full up already.

Moving two veteran salaries that amount to $18 million would be just what the doctor ordered. Not to mention the fact that it’ll give younger players more opportunities. It’s a win from all angles for the Miami Marlins. Now they just have to put together an enticing enough package.

Slash count: $49.8 million/$80.4 million

Next: Why the Miami Marlins don't need to 'blow it up'

Conclusion

As it stands, the Miami Marlins figure to have a salary that is going to ballon into the $115 million range. That’s a lot of money to pay out to win 80-games. Speculation is swirling about dealing Giancarlo Stanton, among other franchise cornerstones.

That’s simply lopping the head off the monster without addressing the real issue. Even when his salary jumps to $32 million in 2019, it’s offset by the expiration of the contract of Edinson Volquez. The payroll situation isn’t nearly as dire as it seems at a glance.

If the Miami Marlins are able to move a few overpaid veterans that lay outside of their long-term plans anyway, they’ll hit their dollar amount. After making the moves described above, you arrive at a total somewhere in the neighborhood of $65 million for contracted payroll.

Arbitration will add a significant sum to that, probably in the $20-25 million range. You end up with a payroll hovering around $80-85 million.

What was that projected total if they kept Stanton on the club again?

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