The most important offseason for any franchise since the 2010 NBA free agent bonanza is right around the corner for the Florida Marlins, who come November 11th will be known as the "Miami Marlins".
Jayson Stark of ESPN recently wrote an article detailing the possibility of the Marlins being a surprise spender this offseason in the wake of their move to a new ballpark.
In that article, team President David Samson let it be known that: "With our payroll going up, we have a chance to put together a team at a payroll level we don't currently have and that could involve anything -- trades, free agents or a combination of both."
It's a statement we've heard since the days where the front office were finagling over financing for a new ballpark—that as soon as that dream was a reality, the payroll would soon rise. But can we take Samson's word for it?
Last offseason, the Marlins refused to give Dan Uggla a fifth year on a contract extension, which eventually led to the slugger's trade. But in the wake of that, the Marlins allocated that "Uggla money" towards catcher John Buck and pitcher Javier Vazquez, who after poor starts have turned their years around.
The Marlins gave Buck a three-year deal worth $18 million and Vazquez a one-year deal worth $7 million.
In many ways, they felt they had patched the problems that plagued the ballclub throughout 2010: lack of an offensive catching presence, veteran starter, and a below-average bullpen.
The team felt its offense, led by Hanley Ramirez and Mike Stanton, would be fine and that the rotation would be complete with JJ leading the way ahead of Nolasco, Sanchez, Vazquez, and Volstad.
Flash forward to September, the Marlins' offensive has been stagnant, so much so, they are on a pace to have one of worst seasons in that department since the strike-shortened 1994 season and the team now has serious rotation issues.
Javier Vazquez has made it known he is strongly leaning towards retirement at the end of the season and the Marlins are dealing with the shoulder injuries to both Josh Johnson and Hanley Ramirez.
In the same article, Stark mentions that the Marlins "will only get open their new park once....to attract people to check out the scenery as the new tourist attraction it is." And he is totally correct, the Marlins will have only one chance to reboot the franchise and the only way to make a splash beyond bringing Ozzie Guillen and that's to prove the fanbase wrong and shock the media and all of the sport by signing a big name free agent, in what will surely be a thin market.
With that, here are six names and the chances the Marlins have at them and what they will be looking to pay if they are prepared to shock the world, like the neighbor Miami Heat did 14 months ago.
Fielder recently mentioned this is "probably" his last season with the Milwaukee Brewers and has big name alongside Albert Pujols who will be biggest free agents this winter.
Right now, the Marlins have Gaby Sanchez at first and at a price that doesn't even crack the $1 million mark for 2012 so you'd think they would be smart about staying with him rather than spending the big bucks on Prince.
But Gaby is a year older than Prince and the Marlins could deal Gaby for pitching help while upgrading their offensive in a major way.
Signing Fielder would be akin to be Marlins surprising many when they went ahead and snatched first baseman Carlos Delgado to pair with Miguel Cabrera and Mike Lowell in January of 2005. Mind you, that contract worth nearly $60, is roughly half of what Fielder will at least garner.
Nevertheless he would be the ideal sandwich guy between Hanley Ramirez (3rd) and Mike Stanton (5th) at cleanup spot and would make the offense instantly dangerous.
New Contract Range: 6-7 years, $140-160 million
His stature will be a concern for many teams and because big market teams like the Mets, Yankees, Red Sox, and Dodgers will be out of the race due to already having first basemen or impending financial situations, it opens the door for middle of the market teams to enter the race but at a reasonable price.
There are many factors going against the Marlins here, for one, they need to resolve their pitching issues, they already have a first baseman, and the Marlins have never given out a contract worth more than $80 million to anyone in their history. The only factor in the Marlins favor is that Prince Fielder does in live in Florida in the off-season and there is that perk of not having a state income tax.
Jose Reyes to the Marlins doesn't make much sense when you consider the team has Hanley Ramirez but just recently Ramirez himself said he would move to third base if the team signed Jose Reyes this offseason. Apparently, he supports they make him a higher paid player than him and that he take his spot at short.
Reyes would create a spark at the top of the Marlins order as he would be the leadoff hitter with Emilio Bonifacio hitting second and Ramirez possibly third. What you have is a top of the order that will be a threat for a combined 100 stolen bases or so in a season.
His arrival would move Ramirez to third and Bonifacio to center field but it would create a lineup more speed driven with a moderate mix of power powered by Stanton, Morrison, and Ramirez when healthy.
New Contract Range: 5-6 years, $115-130 million
After the disappointing season Carl Crawford is having and the injury-riddled campaign Reyes has had despite his .332 batting average and .377 on-base percentage, he won't get quite the number of years and salary that Crawford got last season because of it.
Reyes is injury prone so this hinders the chances he gets here but if most avenues are closed off, he will be one guy the Marlins will look at to bring a spark to the lineup.
Reyes is close friends with Ramirez and it only makes sense that Ramirez try to lure his buddy in. Considering the Met crowds during Marlins games, it could bring those fans to the games to a former player play for a new team.
Aramis Ramirez would be the makeup for not acquiring Michael Young before the beginning of the season. The Marlins decided to hold their ground and not give up impact prospects for the veteran infielder and have felt the aftereffects this season.
Ramirez would delay Matt Dominguez's progress but it would be for the better. Dominguez never had eye-catching numbers at AAA New Orleans and the 21 year old needs more seasoning, and at least a year more would help.
Ramirez would bring a missing bat at not cost in the way of draft picks and would move Bonifacio to centerfield or second base (depending on Infante contract extension) or keep him at short if Hanley Ramirez's shoulder rehab stalls.
New Contract Range: 2-3 years, $25-32 million
This figure might be higher in a thin market but Ramirez has the advantage of being closer to his native Dominican Republic and to countryman Hanley Ramirez.
Wilson would instantly bring balance to the starting rotation and would slide in as either the #1 or #2 starter in the rotation.
Out of all these names, CJ Wilson is the wild card in part because he has no real connection to the Marlins or Miami for that fact.
CJ Wilson is a California guy and is likely to be courted by teams such as the Angels or by east coast teams such as the Red Sox and Yankees who will pony up figures close to $100 million.
It would be surprising to say the least if Wilson came here because of those reasons.
New Contract Range: 5-6 years, $90-100 million
Wilson is the Marlins top target in the pitching market, that much is obvious but he is for basically every other team looking for a starting pitcher.
When you have the Red Sox or even Yankees as possible bidders it complicates matters and Wilson is basically the only ace out there as of this moment.
I have a hard time believing the Marlins will give big bucks to a pitcher in Wilson who has only been a starting pitcher for two seasons when they can put the money towards a durable and more established pitcher in CC Sabathia.
He hasn't opted out yet but all indications are that he will so that the market can be tested but can the Marlins, who once defeated the Yankees in the World Series possibly do it nearly a decade later in the free agency market? Maybe.
The Marlins have money to spend, whether Jeffrey Loria finally has the guts to use it remains unseen but if you are going to use your financial reserves on a pitcher (which the ballclub doesn't enjoy doing), might as well use it on a pitcher who is on a pace to win 300 games.
Sabathia instantly be their ace and would place the Marlins rotation right up with the best in the Major Leagues.
New Contract Range: 6-7 years, $150-170 million
Basically, Sabathia is opting out because his former teammate Cliff Lee got a deal last offseason, worth $24 million a season while CC is currently in one that pays him an average of nearly $21.7 million throughout the length of the deal.
Sabathia will be looking at an average of $25 million a season in his new deal.
If Marlins want to land CC Sabathia, they out to give LeBron James a call. While James did not listen to Sabathia when he tried to woo him to New York, maybe Sabathia will be a good friend and listen to James and come to South Beach.
Unlike James, Sabathia already has a ring but the Marlins will have to compete with quite possibly the Angels, Rangers, and even the Yankees, who will stop at nothing to try to retain their ace.
The biggest prize on the free agent market is that of Albert Pujols.
For the Marlins, Pujols would mean a lot, he would be a ticket seller yes but his bat and the impact he would have on guys like Mike Stanton and Logan Morrison is undeniable.
One has to wonder whether Loria is ready to come guns blazing and try to make the most shocking move in baseball history.
Pujols has been the most consistent player in the Major Leagues since his rookie season so giving him a justifiable contract that would span nearly a decade and cost nearly $250 million would be reasonable.
But here is another reason why you sign Pujols, he will be breaking milestones, his 500th home run, 600th, then 700th home run which will bring crowds to the ballpark. He will be the pillar of consistency in the lineup and it will be a once in a lifetime opportunity (like the Heat) to land a Hall of Famer with chance to be in the conversation for top 10 best position players of all-time.
New Contract Range: 8-9 years, $230-250 million
I can't see Pujols getting 10 years, that is forbidden territory for any team not named the Yankees or Red Sox. And the $300 million salary, forget about that, Pujols has never hit 50 home runs in his career and he has never been a 30-30 guy, so there is no way he gets those salary numbers.
The Marlins have never given a contract of $80 million or more, that is poised to change and I guarantee they will within the next year or so but to make the leap from that to $200 million or more?
The more pressing need is starting pitching and for that I see Sabathia being chosen by Marlins if they had their pick.
It's anyone's guess what the notoriously frugal franchise will do but Pujols is the game changer, and the Marlins signing him would erase the terrible memories of the franchise giving away their talent.