Days before another disappointing season ended, Miami Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria knew his team needed hitters if the Marlins were going to improve in 2014.
When Loria told Marlins special assistant Andre Dawson about this, Dawson told him the three priorities where Loria needs to acquire bats are at third base, first base and catcher.
“You are in dire need of offense, and it’s going to cost money,” Dawson, the 1987 National League Most Valuable Player and Hall of Fame inductee, told the Miami Herald. “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.”
Well, last season's payroll was around $37 million, so if Loria plans to bring in some players with heavy lumber, payroll will have to increase. Now, we're not expecting Loria to break the bank, but we do expect more impact signings than, say, inking Placido Polanco to a $2.75 million contract. After all, Loria can sign anyone he wants, including you and I to minor league deals.
But who can Loria find at those three positions Dawson pointed out? And how much will it cost? And even if Loria finds the right player within his currently unknown 2014 budget, would that free agent even want to play for Loria?
Let's delve in and see what's available at those positions, in terms of most needed, and what realistic move the Marlins could make to acquire the bat they need.
The easiest position for the Marlins to fill this offseason is at third base.
The only reasons it's the easiest is because Polanco is a free agent and the Marlins don't have anyone who could play there right away. Marlins prospect Colin Moran isn't expected to arrive to the big leagues until 2016, but he could get the call sooner depending on how he progresses.
This means the Marlins are probably looking to sign someone to a deal no longer than two years at this position. The good news is it looks like a third baseman in this market could be quite affordable. The bad news is the lack of quality on the market.
Currently, the best third base bat, believe it or not, is Juan Uribe, who finished the final year of his three-year, $21 million contract with a slash line of .278/.331/.438 with 12 home runs and 50 RBI with the Los Angeles Dodgers. Keep in mind, though, that Uribe accomplished this in a contract year and in the previous two years, the 33-year-old batted a collective .199 with six home runs an 45 RBI. While Uribe flashes a solid glove and is affordable, he's hardly an inspiring selection.
The best candidate might be Arizona's Eric Chavez.
The former six-time Gold Glove winner was productive as a part-time player as he had a slash line of .281/.332/.478 with nine home runs and 44 RBI. Moreover, Chavez recently told the Arizona Republic he only wants a one-year deal. This past season, he made $3 million.
However, the negatives for the Marlins is Chavez prefers to stay on the West Coast to stay closer to his family and his No. 1 priority is winning, which the Diamondbacks are closer to than the Marlins.
Other candidates include Michael Young, Jerry Hairston Jr., and Kevin Youkilis.
Young (.279/.335/.395, eight home runs, 46 RBI) could retire or latch on to a contender for another shot at a World Series title.
According to ESPNLosAngeles.com's Mark Saxon, Hairston Jr. will be 38 next May and he has been bothered by serious injuries each of the past two seasons.
It's hard to blame the Marlins if they feel none of those guys will help, which is why a trade could be in order.
One name floating out there is the Baltimore Orioles' Danny Valencia. Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal said Valencia's late surge (.379/.402/.598 with three home runs and 13 RBI in 87 at-bats after Aug. 19) could make him an attractive candidate. Furthermore, Valencia was born in Miami, grew up in Boca Raton and attended the University of Miami.
Another name the Marlins might explore is former Marlin Dan Uggla.
MLB.com's Joe Frisaro said the Braves are shopping the Marlins' all-time home run leader and the Braves' hope is to find a team who will pick up $6 million of the $26 million Uggla is owed the next two seasons. Perhaps to get another club to pick up more of the contract, Atlanta would throw in a prospect. Although Uggla has smashed 41 home runs in the last two seasons, the second baseman has also struck out 339 times in 971 at-bats and has batted .201 with a .330 on-base and .374 slugging percentage. Uggla was so bad, he was left off the Braves' NLDS roster against the Dodgers.
If the Marlins acquire Uggla, Donovan Solano and/or Derek Dietrich would move to third base.
The Marlins were willing to open the bank for Jose Dariel Abreu before Abreu signed with the Chicago White Sox for $68 million over six years. As Frisaro tweeted, the Marlins bowed out of the bidding when it went past $60 million.
With Abreu off the market, there are some appealing options at first base, from most unrealistic to the most realistic:
1. Kendrys Morales (.277/.336/.449, 23 home runs, 80 RBI)
2. Justin Morneau (.259/.323/.411, 17 home runs, 77 RBI)
3. Mike Napoli (.259/.360/.482, 23 home runs, 92 RBI)
4. Lyle Overbay (.240/.295/.393, 14 home runs, 59 RBI)
5. James Loney (.299/.348/.430, 13 home runs, 75 RBI)
6. Mike Morse (.215/.270/.381, 13 home runs, 27 RBI)
Morales is without a shadow of a doubt the easiest to cross off on the Marlins shopping list. First, CBS Sports' Jon Heyman reports the Seattle Mariners intend to extend a one-year qualifying offer to Morales, which will cost any team a draft pick to sign Morales. Next when the Mariners attempted to sign Morales to a long-term extension during the season, the Mariners balked at the asking price and never made a formal offer, sources with knowledge of the discussions told Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal. Since Morales is likely to reject the one-year qualifying offer, it seems likely Morales is expecting to make more than $14.1 million. And did we mention Scott Boras is his agent?
For Justin Morneau, his top priority is winning, as he told the Star Tribune. So unless Morneau wants to sign a one-year deal with the Marlins with the promise of he'll be traded to a contender at the trade deadline, it's unlikely a match between the 2006 American League Most Valuable Player and the Marlins.
After a physical discovered Mike Napoli had avascular necrosis in both hips, which is the same degenerative condition that ended the career of two-sport star Bo Jackson, Napoli's three-year, $39 million deal with the Boston Red Sox last offseason turned into a a one-year, $5 million deal that could be worth $13 million with performance bonuses.
Brian Grieper, Napoli's agent, doesn’t anticipate his client will have to settle for a one-year deal or qualifying offer. Moreover, one general manager thinks Napoli will receive a lucrative offer.
“If the Red Sox don’t tie him up for three years, someone will. He’s a power righthanded bat," the GM told the Boston Globe's Nick Cafardo. "If the risk of his hip condition getting worse is minimal, and that’s what everyone would have to find out, the righthanded power bat is pretty enticing.”
If there's any reason for Napoli to sign with the Marlins, it's because Napoli resides in Pembroke Pines and values time with his family, according to MLB Trade Rumors.
Lyle Overbay didn't have a great year, but he did yeoman's work for the New York Yankees. Although it's unknown what his plans are, it seems like he enjoyed playing with the Yankees.
“Do I want to play every day and be miserable?” Overbay told the New York Post back in May. “That opportunity might not be as good as it is here. I think it will work itself out.”
James Loney re-established his value, but it remains to be seen whether that equates to a long-term deal in excess of $10 million per season. Tampa Bay Times' Marc Topkin reports Loney wants to explore the free agent market after earning a mere $2 million in 2013. If Loney is looking for financial stability, the Marlins could be a match if he doesn't price himself out of the Marlins' range.
And we finally reach Mike Morse. Roch Kubatko of MASN Sports said the Baltimore Orioles aren't expected to retain Morse because the Orioles want someone who can play a few positions rather than clog up the DH spot.
From 2010-12, Morse posted a .296/.345/.516 with 64 home runs and 198 RBI. As the Miami Herald's Barry Jackson writes, the Marlins like taking chances on players one season removed from good years, such as the Fort Lauderdale native, because they tend to come cheaply.
Technically, the Marlins are set at catcher for next season. That is, if they don't mind it being a black hole of offense.
Rob Brantly failed to progress on his .290/.372/.460 slash line in 100 at-bats in 2012 while Jeff Mathis batted under the Mendoza line for the fourth time in seven years.
And of course, catcher just happens to be one of the hardest positions to find offense at. But if Loria intends to add quality bats, then this is a priority he can't ignore.
That said, let's get the obvious out of the way. Brian McCann probably won't sign with the Marlins, especially if a GM told ESPN New York's Andrew Marchand could receive a deal for six years and $100 million. The GM reasoned that McCann is a top-five catcher and could transition to first and DH toward the end of the deal.
The more reasonable, productive big names are Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Carlos Ruiz and A.J. Pierzynski. Even then, they seem like a reach.
Jarrod Saltalamacchia (.273/.338/.466, 14 home runs, 65 RBI) is the next best catcher after McCann. MLB Trade Rumors believes Saltalamacchia's floor is three years, $24 million, while ESPN.com's Keith Law said he would be willing to stretch to four years and possibly in the neighborhood of $10 million a year as a function of the dearth of everyday catchers on the market. Depending on Loria's budget, that might be attainable if the West Palm Beach native wants to come home.
Carlos Ruiz could be had if he hits the open market.
"I hope I don't have to go through that," Ruiz told MLB.com about free agency. "But if nothing happens before the World Series, I'm going to see what the market is. But like I said, I hope to have something done before then."
Within the same piece, Phillies GM Ruben Amaro Jr. said Ruiz (.268/.320/.368, five home runs, 37 RBI) is a priority because of the position he plays.
In his last contract, the soon-to-be 35-year-old Ruiz earned $13.35 million over four years, but MLB Trade Rumors predicts Ruiz's next deal will be for two years, $14 million. It's a nice chunk of change, but it shouldn't break Loria's back.
If Ruiz isn't available, the Marlins could inquire about A.J. Pierzynski. The soon-to-be 37-year-old left-handed bat had a slash line of .272/.297/.425 with 17 home runs and 70 RBI after signing a one-year, $7.5 million deal with the Texas Rangers. It seems as though Pierzynski wants to return to the Rangers, according to ESPNDallas.com's Todd Wills, but the Rangers have their sights on McCann.
Those are the big names, but two guys who the Marlins might be able to get at an affordable price are Dioner Navarro and Geovany Soto.
Navarro, a former All-Star, had a career-year after signing a one-year, $1.75 million deal with the Chicago Cubs as he posted a career-high 13 home runs to go with his .300/.365/.492 slash line in 240 at-bats. Navarro told the Chicago Tribune back in July he would like to be an everyday catcher again, a role he hasn't held since 2009.
As for Soto, the 2008 National League Rookie of the Year, he earned $2.75 million and was Pierzynski's back up in 2013. Like Pierzynski, Soto (.245/.328/.466, nine home runs, 22 RBI) wants to return to the Rangers. But if he wants a pitching staff of his own, like Navarro, then the Marlins could be an appealing option for Soto.