Marlins president of baseball operations Michael Hill, right, and general manager Dan Jennings have a few decisions to make this offseason.
Decisions are made every offseason that not only dictate what happens when a season begins, but what path a franchise takes toward its ultimate goal—a World Series title.
For instance, the Boston Red Sox traded infielder Mike Aviles to the Toronto Blue Jays for manager John Farrell last October. That set the tone for the rest of the offseason as the Red Sox re-signed David Ortiz to a two-year deal and added Shane Victorino (who delivered the seventh-inning grand slam that clinched the Red Sox's 5-2 victory against the Detroit Tigers in Game 6 of the AL Championship Series), Mike Napoli (whose seventh-inning home run won a 1-0 affair in Game 3 of ALCS) , Stephen Drew, Jonny Gomes, Ryan Dempster and Koji Uehara (2013 ALCS MVP).
Now, the Red Sox are playing the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series.
The Miami Marlins are probably not going to be the eighth team since 1990 to reach the World Series following a season in which they finished in last place—the Red Sox are the seventh—but the decisions the Marlins make this offseason could determine how much longer it will be before the much-maligned franchise play for all the marbles again.
While the Marlins don't have many difficult decisions this offseason, there are a few that bears watching, beginning with the most important of them all.
And you can bet the mortgage all eyes will be on what happens with a certain 23-year-old All-Star.
This offseason will reveal if Giancarlo Stanton and the Marlins will have a long marriage or are headed for a divorce soon.
At some point during this offseason, some form of the trio of owner Jeffrey Loria, president of baseball operations Mike Hill and general manager Dan Jennings will approach Giancarlo Stanton and discuss the possibility of a long-term contract.
If and when that happens, the result could dictate where this franchise is headed.
Obviously, if Stanton and the Marlins could work out some kind of agreement, then the franchise will be stabilized with Stanton and pitching phenom Jose Fernandez for years to come. And as MLB.com's Joe Frisaro writes, the tag team of Josh Johnson and Hanley Ramirez helped carry the Marlins to 87 wins in 2009. Basically, a franchise with Stanton and Fernandez as its core can win.
But if Stanton doesn't have a long-term contract in hand once Spring Training begins, the Marlins have a couple of options.
Short-term, it looks as if the Marlins have no problems keeping Stanton for the 2014 even though he will be in his first year of arbitration. MLB Trade Rumors projects Stanton's 2014 salary at $4.8 million, while Frisaro thinks it could be closer to $7 million. Nonetheless, the Marlins deem Stanton's 2014 salary to be affordable.
Plus, sources told Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal a few months ago Loria is hell-bent on winning in the near future—and proving that he made the right baseball decisions when he tore apart his roster.
Long-term, trade rumors will persist until Stanton is traded—and that can happen at any given moment. Moreover, Stanton's salary will climb steadily if the two sides decide Stanton will stay on a year-to-year basis until Stanton is eligible for free agency in 2016.
At the trade deadline, Rob Biertempfel of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reported the Pirates made repeated attempts to work a deal for Stanton and, according to another source, made an offer that caught the attention of Miami's front office.
Another report, according to MLB.com's Joe Frisaro, claimed the Pirates offered Gerrit Cole, Starling Marte, Jameson Taillon and Stetson Allie for Stanton, Steve Cishek and Justin Ruggiano. However, such an offer was never made.
Meanwhile, Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro stated last month he's tried to trade for Stanton at least 10 times, but to no avail. And the Rangers at one point, sources told Rosenthal, have called the Marlins about Stanton every week.
Stanton is a valuable commodity, and if he and the Marlins can't come to some kind of union past 2014, other teams would be glad to take Stanton off the Marlins' hands.
Tom Koehler was the Marlins No. 5 starting pitcher in 2013, but it remains to be seen if he will continue in that role in 2014.
Jose Fernandez wasn't able to legally purchase alcohol until this past July 31, when he turned 21 years old.
Meanwhile, Jacob Turner is just 22, while Nathan Eovaldi and Henderson Alvarez are currently 23.
In other words, Kevin Brown can come out of retirement at the age of 48, and the Marlins might still have the youngest starting pitching rotation in all of baseball.
The Marlins need some veteran help no matter how talented Fernandez, Turner, Eovaldi and Alvarez are as a quartet.
In 2013, the Marlins used Kevin Slowey in that role, and Slowey came out hot as he posted a 2.15 ERA in six April starts spanning 37.2 innings. But for the rest of the season, Slowey had a 5.47 ERA before he was placed on the 15-day disabled list with right forearm discomfort on July 28. After the season, the Marlins outrighted Slowey to the minors, which means he will have to work his way back from a non-roster position, according to Frisaro.
One veteran free agent the franchise could go after is former Marlin right-hander Josh Johnson. The two-time All-Star finished this season 2-8 with a 6.20 ERA with the Toronto Blue Jays, but the Sun-Sentinel's Juan Rodriguez tweeted the Marlins won't bring back Johnson.
If the Marlins don't bring in any quality veterans to compete for the No. 5 starting pitcher spot, it looks like they will look at Tom Koehler, Brad Hand, Brian Flynn and Slowey as the experienced players, and Andrew Heaney, Justin Nicolino, Adam Conley and Anthony DeSclafani as the prospects competing for that job, according to Frisaro.
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.