Derek Jeter is at an early fork in the road of his ownership
By Jason Nowik
First impressions mean everything. How Derek Jeter decides to proceed this offseason will define his ownership in the short-term.
Derek Jeter made it pretty clear in his introductory interview that he is looking to rebuild the Miami Marlins organization. The process will start from the ground up. The Marlins have been making progress in becoming a contender, but because of their poor pitching staff, they appear to be on the verge of another rebuild.
There are reports that Jeter is looking to cut payroll down to $90 million; last years opening day payroll of just under $112MM. On the surface that doesn’t sound all that bad. But with Giancarlo Stanton‘s salary jumping up to $25MM this season, Jeter will be forced to move the home run and RBI champion this off-season.
Another issue Jeter will face is the abundance of bad contracts on the books made by the old ownership team. The Miami Marlins have $95MM committed to just 8 signed players, not counting the players eligible for arbitration this off-season. With projected arbitration amounts, Miami would have a payroll of right around $136MM.
If Jeter does indeed want to shed payroll down to $90MM, he would have to cut payroll by one-third.
Jeter’s two options
Assuming Jeter will indeed rebuild the Marlins, he will be forced to choose between two options. What he decides will define how the regime will be viewed in the near future.
The “More of the Same Old Marlins” Move
The Marlins previous ownership group often moved bad contracts to its tradable assets to get them off the books. In doing so, they received less value in return. This is in large part why the Marlins have always been in “rebuilding” mode all of these years.
There are several contracts on the Miami Marlins pay sheet that are outstandingly bad. Wei-Yen Chen (player option for three years, $52 million), Martin Prado ($13.5 million), Brad Ziegler ($9 million), Junichi Tazawa ($7 million), and Edinson Volquez ($13 million and out for the 2018 season.
To move those contracts, they’d have to give up their most valuable trade assets. Fan favorites like Stanton, Christian Yelich, Marcell Ozuna, Dee Gordon, Dan Straily, and JT Realmuto would all be dealt.
The Marlins would receive little prospect value in return because the teams would be taking on dead money.
As a born and raised Marlins fan, I am praying for a different approach. This one would keep the Marlins out of the playoffs for the near future.
The ‘best of a bad situation’ move
Hopefully Jeter is willing to eat dead money short term. When he trades away assets that he does not see fitting into the future, it should be for MLB-caliber players. Stanton alone should net several players integral to the next core.
Even if the Marlins have another year or two of sub-par performance, they would rebuild their poor farm system and build for the future.
There is no situation where the Marlins core can stay intact completely. Trades for Gordon, Stanton, Straily and Ozuna seem highly likely this off-season. Their value is incredibly high, and they do not seem affordable for the Marlins going forward.
Ozuna is still arbitration-eligible for two seasons. But he is a Scott Boras Client, an agent notorious for pushing his clients towards free agency.
With little chance of inking an extension, the Marlins would get nothing more than a draft pick or two as compensation.
Trading Ozuna would net Miami multiple blue-chip prospects. The would immediately have a negative effect on the offense, but there is a slim chance the Marlins would be able to retain him anyway.
Trading Stanton would be the biggest blow for the Marlins fan base. But realistically, his value has never be higher, and they can parlay his stellar MVP caliber season into a strong return. They might be able to get out from under much of the money remaining on his contract.
Considering his production, a 10 year, $295 million contract isn’t so absurd if he were on the open market. The massive amounts of money thrown around for guys like Manny Machado and Bryce Harper will reach the $400 million range before too long.
Padding the farm
Trades of Gordon and Straily could bring back some decent prospects. They won’t be blue chip, but should reasonably develop big league contributors. The Marlins have made a lot out of their “poor” farm system in the past by developing players like Stanton, Realmuto, Ozuna, Justin Bour, Jose Urena.
The new Miami Marlins core would be Christian Yelich, JT Realmuto, and Jose Urena. Stellar starts by Chen, Prado, Ziegler, and Tazawa cold help getting their contracts off the books. There would be little return, but dumping portions of their salary would be worth its weight.
At this point, Edison Volquez is a lost cause. But he only has one year left on his contract, and after a year recovering from Tommy John surgery, he’ll be a free agent.
Next: Miami Marlins payroll slash won't be as bad as expected
On a closing note, Jeter should bring back “Trader Jack” McKeon, Jeff Conine, and the other fan favorites who were fired but mean so much to Marlins fans. The Marlins legacy is a young one, but these names are the building blocks of that legacy.