Billy the Marlin will probably high-five many Marlins fan if the organization has a successful offseason.
Sometimes, it's not the splashiest moves a team makes that result in a successful offseason, but rather the subtle ones that land in the transactions column instead of the front page of a newspaper or website.
The Miami Marlins should understand this concept by now, as in the last two offseasons they have executed some huge deals that have backfired in some shape or form.
In 2011, the Marlins surprised many as they signed Heath Bell, Jose Reyes and Mark Buehrle to a combined $191 million in contracts, according to the Sun-Sentinel. Needless to say, the Marlins splurged for a team that ended up finishing 69-93.
Following the mediocre season, the Marlins dumped Bell to the Arizona Diamondbacks, as well as Reyes, Buehrle, Josh Johnson, John Buck and Emilio Bonifacio to the Toronto Blue Jays for infielders Yunel Escobar and Adeiny Hechavarria, pitchers Henderson Alvarez, Anthony DeSclafani and Justin Nicolino, catcher Jeff Mathis and outfielder Jake Marisnick. Shortly after, the Marlins flipped Escobar to the Tampa Bay Rays for prospect Derek Dietrich. It's safe to say Marlins fans were not happy with the blockbuster trade as they expressed their anger on Facebook.
Oh, and the Marlins continued their losing ways as they lost 100 games for the second time in franchise history.
But now, the Marlins have the opportunity to right the ship and steer themselves toward the path of success. Granted, it will probably take years for the Marlins to contend for a World Series title, let alone achieve relevancy, but they have to start somewhere.
So, the following is a blueprint the Marlins could execute if they plan to have not only a successful offseason but a better 2014 as well.
If the Marlins and Giancarlo Stanton can come to some type of long-term agreement, then this swing will stay in Miami for a while.
All right, all right. So this is a splashy move, but it's only seems that way because of the name involved.
Giancarlo Stanton won't become a free agent until after the 2016 season, but there needs to be some clarity as to his future with the Marlins. Otherwise, Stanton is a walking trade rumor mill.
MLB.com's Joe Frisaro reported a few months ago the Marlins brass of owner Jeffrey Loria, president of baseball operations Mike Hill and general manager Dan Jennings will approach Stanton and discuss the possibility of a long-term contract. Some, such as Yahoo Sports' Jeff Passan, think Stanton will reject the offer when it is proposed to him. Passan even went as far to say the Marlins are "well aware he'd likelier throw hot coals down his pants than wed himself to Thing 1 and Thing 2 in the owner's box."
Here's the deal: If the Marlins can get Stanton's signature on a contract extension, then the next shoe to fall is when the Marlins will trade him, just like they did with Hanley Ramirez. As you may recall, Ramirez and the Marlins agreed on a contract extension for six years and $70 million in 2008, but after failing to reach the playoffs, combined with a couple of subpar seasons from Ramirez, the Marlins dealt the All-Star shortstop to the Los Angeles Dodgers a few days before the 2012 trade deadline.
Of course, there is the small chance Stanton will be a lifelong Marlin, but a plenty of scenarios have to go in the Marlins' favor for that to happen.
On the flip side, if Stanton declines the Marlins offer, then the Marlins could let Stanton play on one-year contracts until he becomes a free agent or trade him to the highest bidder.
At this moment, if such a scenario presents itself, it looks as though the Marlins might be inclined to let Stanton play on one-year deals until he becomes too expensive. Basically, this is similar to the route the Marlins took with Miguel Cabrera before trading him to the Detroit Tigers. A few months after the trade, Cabrera inked a eight-year, $153.3 million contract extension.
Moreover, Jennings was adamant about not trading Stanton when he spoke to ESPN.com's Jim Bowden a few days ago.
"Mr. Stanton is NOT Available," Bowden tweeted Jennings' response to him. "He will be in RF at Marlins Park on Opening Day. We are building around him."
It would be fun to see what will win out, Loria's will or Loria's wallet. After all, 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.
In all seriousness, trading Stanton would be the better option, even though blockbuster transactions that involve dealing a star player for a bunch of quarters rarely work out. But that beats the alternative, which is to let Stanton walk.
So far this offseason, more Stanton trade ideas have been bandied about.
MLB.com's Peter Gammons tweeted Matt Vasgersian's idea of trading Yasiel Puig and anyone not named Clayton Kershaw for Stanton. Meanwhile, Scott Lauber of the Boston Herald feels Felix Doubront, a top pitching prospect such as Henry Owens, third baseman Will Middlebrooks and two mid-level prospects might be too much for the Marlins to turn down.
Whatever happens, whether Stanton stays long-term or is traded, the Marlins must resolve the situation.
Playing on one-year deals, though, is not solving the problem.
Could a pair of former Los Angeles Dodgers, catcher Dioner Navarro (30) and first baseman James Loney, reunite and ignite the Marlins offense? Probably not. But Marlins fans can dream, especially since both players could potentially fit into the Marlins budget.
Despite Stanton's presence and power in the lineup, the Marlins finished dead last in the majors in runs scored (513), home runs (95), and OPS (.231 batting average/.293 on-base percentage/.335 slugging percentage) in 2013.
In other words: HELP!!!
According to the Miami Herald, Loria recently 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. But with the Marlins aiming for a payroll of $38 million, the Marlins will have only between $5 million and $10 million left to play with after you add up the league-minimum salaries and expected raises earned by arbitration-eligible players.
In a best-case scenario, the Marlins will look at players who will command $5 million or less this season.
MLB.com's Joe Frisaro thinks a potential scenario could involve the Marlins acquiring Los Angeles Angels infielder Mark Trumbo and catcher Chris Iannetta in a package involving at least one or more of Miami's starting pitchers and/or maybe closer Steve Cishek. Trumbo is in his first year of arbitration after hitting 34 home runs and driving in 100 runs in 2013, but his slash line was .234/.294/.453. Iannetta hit 11 home runs with 39 RBI to go with a slash line of .225/.358/.372, and he has two years and $10.5 million left on his contract.
On the free agent front, there are a couple of options.
The most logical player to pursue at catcher is Dioner Navarro, who is coming off of a .300/.365/.492 season with 13 home runs and 34 RBI as a part-time starter with the Chicago Cubs. Navarro earned $1.75 million in 2013 and the former All-Star told the Chicago Tribune back in July he would like to be an everyday catcher again, a role he hasn't held since 2009. At the very least, he could split time with the defensive-minded Jeff Mathis.
At first base, if the Marlins decide to replace Logan Morrison or pair him up with a right-handed bat in a platoon because Morrison bats left-handed and has not been able to stay healthy, the Marlins could look at Corey Hart. The two-time All-Star missed all of 2013 after undergoing surgery on both knees, making his availability for full-time duty in 2014 something of a question mark, but making him one of the better high-risk/high-reward plays on the market, according to ESPN.com's Keith Law. Hart is a career .276 hitter with 154 home runs, and he averaged nearly 24 home runs a season from 2007 to 2012 before the knee surgeries.
Another first baseman the Marlins could monitor is James Loney, who had a slash line of .299/.348/.430 with 13 home runs and 75 RBI in 2013. Tampa Bay Times' Marc Topkin reports Loney wants to explore the free-agent market after earning a mere $2 million in 2013. If the Marlins target and end up with Loney, Morrison will have to move back to the outfield or be moved elsewhere.
On the hot corner, Juan Uribe is probably the only name worth chasing, although his asking price might be too steep. Uribe had a slash line of .278/.331/.438 with 12 home runs and 50 RBI, and Law thinks he could command at least $8 million in this market. On the other hand, Uribe will turn 35 and isn't expected to garner more than a one-year deal, which would fit the Marlins as they wait for Colin Moran to develop into the third baseman of the future.
Keep in mind, signing Navarro and either Hart or Loney is a best-case scenario, and that's assuming any of those players would want to come play for Loria. Last year, the Marlins' bargain-bin shopping for bats netted them Juan Pierre and Placido Polanco.
Imagine if the Marlins had any chance of acquiring a free agent such as second baseman Robinson Cano. While the club isn't looking to make a huge splash, it needs to set itself up for when that day arrives, and that means being a serious bidder for some of the prominent free agents in this year's market.
The Marlins should call Jay Z's sports agency, Roc Nation, and inquire about what it would take to sign second baseman Robinson Cano.
The Marlins should also give Scott Boras a ring and ask if Jacoby Ellsbury would want to replicate the worst-to-World Series champion journey, but this time with the Marlins.
The Marlins should also buzz Ricky Nolasco and see if he's willing to return to Miami. On second thought, scratch that.
Basically, it's the 2011 offseason all over again. You know, the one where the Marlins signed Bell, Reyes and nearly Albert Pujols before settling on Mark Buehrle. The Marlins failed to sign Pujols because the club’s 10-year offer did not include a no-trade clause.
Ok, it will probably be a long shot for Loria and the Marlins to replicate the 2011 offseason. However, if the Marlins are smart and they plan to be World Series champions before the end of the decade, it might be wise for them to start laying the groundwork.
While building from within is the prudent way to go, at some point, the Marlins will need to bring in major free agents to put them over the top.
In 2003, the Marlins snatched Pudge Rodriguez with a one-year, $10 million deal. All the Marlins did was win the World Series that year.
Two years later, the Marlins kept the championship window open by signing first baseman Carlos Delgado to a four-year, $52 million contract. Unfortunately, Delgado was traded to the New York Mets at the end of the season after the Marlins finished 83-79 and decided to blow the roster up.
Outside of the guys mentioned earlier—Navarro, Hart, Loney, maybe Uribe—the Marlins should make serious offers to prospective free agents who did not receive a qualifying offer. If the Marlins submit the winning bid, like they did when they won the chase for Delgado, which the Sun-Sentinel's Juan C. Rodriguez chronicled in detail here, then they got themselves a marquee free agent to pair with this young, improving team. If the Marlins' bid isn't good enough, then what did they lose actually? The answer is nothing.
If anything, the Marlins should go after some of the higher-priced free agents with the same zeal they had when they went shopping for Jose Dariel Abreu. As you may recall, the Chicago White Sox signed Abreu to a six-year, $68 million contract last month. The Marlins bowed out of the bidding when it went north of $60 million, Frisaro tweeted. Rosenthal also tweeted four clubs submitted bids between $63 and $66 million.
The Marlins should be able to sign a $10 million-a-year player thanks to the new TV contract that will kick in beginning in the 2014 season.
Back in 2012, ESPN renewed their contract with Major League Baseball to the tune of $5.6 billion for eight years. FOX and Turner Sports followed suit as FOX paid $4 billion for eight years while Turner Sports chipped in $2.8 billion, also for eight years. That's basically $12.4 billion, which is $1.55 billion per year. Split the $1.55 billion among 30 teams and it equates to roughly $51.6 million.
Throw in the Marlins local TV deal, which the Sun-Sentinel believes to be in the $16 million-$18 million range, and it means the Marlins will rake in about $70 million just in TV revenue alone.
Considering the Marlins payroll is expected to be $38 million without any major additions, why can't the Marlins sign a higher-priced free agent?
Among players whom the Marlins should inquire about, within reason, are Matt Garza, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Jhonny Peralta, Scott Feldman and Scott Kazmir.