As owner Jeffrey Loria contemplates on whether or not to fire manager Ozzie Guillen after a disappointing 69-93 campaign, the Miami Marlins face the monumental task this offseason of fixing a ballclub that greatly underachieved in what was supposed to be a contending year.
The Marlins will reportedly cut back on their $95 million payroll to the $70-80 million range, certainly not a drastic freefall, but nevertheless, a modest drop which will certainly signal quite the shakeup with the roster.
According to Cot's Baseball Contracts, the Marlins have payroll obligations topping out at $67.48 million before arbitration and team-controlled (league minimum) contracts enter the fold.
The huge chunk of it belongs to the pitching staff, and topping the list is pitcher Josh Johnson ($13.75 million) followed by Mark Buehrle ($12 million), Ricky Nolasco ($11.5 million), Heath Bell ($10 million) and shortstop Jose Reyes ($10 million).
That amounts to $57.25 committed to just five players, tack on underperforming catcher John Buck ($6.5 million), and that's pushing $64 million.
Despite all the struggles, Heath Bell looked like a lock to be here next season a few months ago because, let's face it, who is gonna trade for a struggling reliever in his mid 30s who is owed $20 million for two years?
However, his string of finger pointing when it came to his struggles including outing Ozzie Guillen in the media a month ago because his role as a setup man and supposed lack of honesty brought the Bell saga to a boiling point.
If the franchise were to rid themselves of Bell one way or the other, Steve Cishek is the odds-on favorite to retain the role of closer. Neverthless, the Marlins will probably scour the market for a cheap veteran arm or two to add to the bullpen.
John Buck is entering the final year of contract but with Rob Brantly (.290 BA, 3 HR) making a case to get more playing time, the Marlins find themselves at a crossroads on what to do with Buck.
Certainly no one will absorb the $6.5 million outright to have him hit below the Mendoza Line (.192, 11 HR, 41 RBI). With that said, the Marlins have plenty of holes to patch up around the diamond, as the Marlins have question marks at third base, center field, left field and second base.
We know right field is settled with Giancarlo Stanton comfortably nestled out there, but the task for whoever is manning the front office come the Winter Meetings will be what becomes of center field?
Emilio Bonifacio is likely a strong favorite for any of the aforementioned openings, but with his speed being a big part of his game, he will likely man the outfield more often than not. But if the Marlins manage to create some room in their budget for 2013, it could open the door to possibly sign B.J. Upton or Angel Pagan, both of whom would fit in center field.
Even despite a promising campaign by Justin Ruggiano, 30, (.313, 13 HR, 36 RBI), the front office might not be content by naming him a starter in 2013 and might feel better having as the fourth outfielder and insurance policy especially since Giancarlo Stanton missed 39 games last season.
It is widely expected that the team will move left fielder Logan Morrison to first base to ease the knee troubles he has had from playing out of position in favor of Gaby Sanchez, who is now gone. Carlos Lee, whom the Marlins dealt for in July, is not expected to be retained for a starting role in 2013, even though he has expressed his preference to return next season.
Infielder Donovan Solano stepped up after Omar Infante was traded away, batting .295, two home runs and 28 RBIs in 285 at-bats. He will likely go into Spring Training being the favorite for the position unless the Marlins bring in a bigger name to play second base.
The Marlins face quite the challenge to patch a position they've had trouble keeping stable ever since the franchise infamously dealt Miguel Cabrera in December of 2007. Since then, they've gone through Jorge Cantu, Donnie Murphy, Emilio Bonifacio, Greg Dobbs, Hanley Ramirez and most recently Gil Velazquez to end the season.
Free agency doesn't provide much of an opportunity to fix the problem for the long-term. Eric Chavez (35), Mark DeRosa (38), Placido Polanco (37) , and Kevin Youkilis (34) have their best days behind them.
Unlikely, but possible, trade scenarios involving New York third basemen David Wright and Alex Rodriguez seem to be out of the Marlins reach.
Wright is in contract negotiations with the Mets on a long-term pact and the Yankees would have to chew up the majority of A-Rod's tricky contract ($30 million in marketing bonuses tied to home run milestones), five years and $114 million in order to get any team to bite. And after the Marlins dealt Hanley Ramirez for underperforming his contract, they aren't likely to touch this subject especially since A-Rod, 37, hasn't shown an ability to stay healthy and the DH-less National League.
While you can't rule out a quick fix, perhaps a platoon, the more likely outcome is that the Marlins would have to craft a trade for a third baseman.
Spurred on by Josh Johnson, newcomer Mark Buehrle performed to his contract to be a reliable, innings-eating, Gold Glove presence on the mound. Ricky Nolasco continued his plateau posting disappointing numbers (12-13, 4.48 ERA, 125 SO), and his SO/9 continued its steep drop for a fourth consecutive season.
Jacob Turner, acquired in the Sanchez/Infante trade, was a bright spot, boasting a 1-4 record ans a 3.38 ERA in seven starts with a 0.98 WHIP in 42.2 innings. Nathan Eovaldi, acquired in the Ramirez trade, wowed many with his overpowering 96-98 MPH fastball, but his numbers show he still has some growing to do (4-13, 4.30 ERA, 1.51 WHIP).
With Carlos Zambrano not returning and Wade Leblanc better suited for a long relief role, Jacob Turner and Nathan Eovaldi will compete for rotation spots along with Brad Hand and Alex Sanabia, who spent their seasons at AAA New Orleans in 2012.
Pitcher Ricky Nolasco ($11.5 million owed in 2013) could be a goner for a willing taker of part of his salary, and even Buehrle and Johnson aren't 100 percent guaranteed of remaining on the team.
Josh Johnson, Trade Bait?
This inevitably takes us to Josh Johnson who was dangled in July for reportedly a "Mark Texieria" package (four to five high-ceiling prospects). Johnson, 28, enters the final year of a four-year contract and will be paid $13.75 million in 2013.
The Marlins will almost certainly have a hard time making their dreams of a prospect motherload haul for J.J. come true, given the injury concerns over his career (elbow, back, shoulder and legs).
A comparable player for Josh Johnson in terms of a trade might be the one of pitcher Shaun Marcum, who was dealt by the Toronto Blue Jays to the Milwaukee Brewers for top prospect Brett Lawrie in the winter of 2010.
Like Johnson, Marcum was marred with durability concerns, managing roughly 150 innings in each of the 2007 and 2008 seasons. Like Johnson, Marcum dealt with an elbow injury having Tommy John surgery in 2009, and Johnson boasts similar numbers to Marcum in the season before he was traded. Win-loss record aside, the resemblance is nearly there.
Shaun Marcum (2010): 13-8, 3.64 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 165 strikeouts in 195.1 innings.
Josh Johnson (2012): 8-14, 3.81 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 165 strikeouts in 191.1 innings.
The difference between the two pitchers besides the track record (Johnson, a two-time All-Star, doesn't yield many home runs), is that Marcum was dealt with two years of arbitration remaining (roughly $12 million) and Johnson would be dealt with a year remaining (roughly $14 million), complicating matters.
The Blue Jays, Dodgers, Indians, Rangers, Red Sox, Royals, Twins and Yankees might all have a level of interest in the right hander. The best matchup still remains with the Texas Rangers involving prized prospect Mike Olt, who had an underwhelming cup of coffee at the major league level (.152 BA in 33 at-bats).
However, the Marlins might have competition from their cross-town rival Rays, as they ponder trading James Shields or David Price as both are more appealing to prospective teams because of salary and durability.
That being said, the key to the Marlins offseason lies with Josh Johnson.
Trading him doesn't necessarily spell rebuilding as it does remodeling, but it could greatly help the Marlins recharge themselves if the right pieces enter the fold.
With premier prospects Christian Yelich and Jose Fernandez inbound, the future isn't as murky as it thought out to be, if the right moves are made it can be a quick turnaround for the Miami Marlins.
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