Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports
The amount of money owner Jeffrey Loria allocates for payroll could dictate who the Marlins keep for 2014.
The biggest question of all, though, is the amount Loria will spend in 2014.
And so far, it seems the budget has yet to be determined.
The payroll is important because whatever number Loria decides to put in the budget could dictate what players stay or go.
In 2013, the payroll was around $37 million, and that didn't include the $12.5 million the Marlins paid to the Toronto Blue Jays and Arizona Diamondbacks to take Josh Johnson, Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle and Heath Bell in last year's trades.
This year, it looks as though there are going to be at least $8.2 million committed already assuming the Marlins pick up Jacob Turner's $1 million team option. The others the Marlins are paying for are Greg Dobbs ($1.7 million), Jeff Mathis ($1.5 million) and Diamondbacks reliever Heath Bell ($4 million).
By outrighting Slowey and catcher Koyie Hill to the minors, that's two players the Marlins don't have to worry about paying through arbitration. Slowey agreed to return while Hill opted for free agency instead.
Assuming the Marlins don't re-sign Matt Diaz, Austin Kearns, Juan Pierre, Placido Polanco and Chad Qualls, that leaves the Marlins roughly 15 roster spots, excluding the seven players remaining on the club who are eligible for arbitration. Assuming all 15 players make the major league minimum, which is around $500,000, that means the Marlins have another $7.5 million committed to payroll.
According to MLB Trade Rumors, the seven Marlins (Giancarlo Stanton, Steve Cishek, Justin Ruggiano, Logan Morrison, Ryan Webb, Mike Dunn and Chris Coghlan) who are eligible for arbitration are estimated to cost the Marlins $15.2 million. So far, this means the Marlins' 25-man roster is expected to cost around $30.9 million. That's less than last season.
So you probably think our work is done. In the words of Lee Corso, not so fast.
Last month, the Miami Herald's Barry Jackson reported Marlins special assistant Andre Dawson said Loria told him he plans to acquire hitters, and Dawson said the three priorities are third base, first base and catcher.
“You are in dire need of offense, and it’s going to cost money,” Dawson said. “You have to spend to win, and you might have to overpay.… Jeffrey said on the last homestead that we have to get hitters in here and he’s going to.”
Keep in mind, the Marlins finished last in the majors in runs scored (513), home runs (95), and OPS (.231 batting average/.293 on-base percentage/.335 slugging percentage).
Jackson speculates the Marlins could fill those areas through trades because they could have issues in free agency. Jackson said the three problems with luring high-quality free agents are that the Marlins are coming off a horrible season, Loria is viewed suspiciously by players after trading Jose Reyes and Mark Buehrle a year after signing them and the ballpark dimensions are a major turnoff to hitters.
So far, it looks as though the Marlins are willing to expand payroll beyond 2013's figures. Frisaro reported Loria and the Marlins were "all-in" on first baseman Jose Daniel Abreu before the Cuban defector agreed to a six-year, $68 million deal with the Chicago White Sox. Frisaro tweeted the Marlins bowed out of the bidding when it went past $60 million.
Even if the Marlins sign free agents to moderate salaries in the $5 to $8 million range, payroll will need to expand to at least $50 million if Loria plans to acquire the hitters he wants.
But until Loria tells his staff what payroll is, it remains to be seen what the 2014 team will look like.