After a letdown of a 2011 season, which ended in a last-place finish in the NL East (72-90), the Marlins have already set their sights on 2012 and that was evidenced by the hiring of Ozzie Guillen prior to the season and stadium finale of the "Florida Marlins."
Give them credit, they basically completed a task that normally takes until the World Series to accomplish for most teams and now have all of October to focus on potential additions and decisions on current players.
Here is an outlook on the status of current Marlins players:
Free Agents: Greg Dobbs (corner infielder), Jose Lopez (infielder) and Javier Vazquez (right-handed starting pitcher)
Javier Vazquez has already made it known he will retire and Jose Lopez might end up going to a team willing to give him a chance to start, something he won't get here. Dobbs was the Marlins surprise find of last offseason and the team will try to bring him back.
Arbitration Eligible: P Burke Badenhop, C John Baker, OF/IF Emilio Bonifacio, P Clay Hensley, P Edward Mujica, IF Donnie Murphy, P Juan Carlos Oveido, P Brian Sanches, P Anibal Sanchez and P Chris Volstad.
Out of these names, Edward Mujica, Anibal Sanchez and Emilio Bonifacio are locks to return to the Marlins next season. Beyond that, Badenhop, Baker, Hensley, Murphy, Oveido, Sanches and Volstad are question marks but I expect a few of them to return.
Team Control: IF Chris Coghlan, OF Scott Cousins, P Mike Dunn, C Brett Hayes, OF Logan Morrison, OF Bryan Petersen, 1B Gaby Sanchez, OF Mike Stanton and P Ryan Webb.
Marlins have these players under control, meaning they can elect to pay them the value they see fit for the 2012 season, which is at least the league minimum salary.
2012 Payroll Commitment: Hanley Ramirez ($15 million), Josh Johnson ($13.75 million), Ricky Nolasco ($9 million), John Buck ($6 million), Omar Infante ($4 million) and Randy Choate ($1.5 million) for total of $49.2 million.
Considering the team control players ($5 million—estimation), arbitration players ($11 million), and if you throw in Dobbs ($1-2 million), you have a payroll just over $65 million with roughly $20 million left to spend.
Needs: The Marlins would have to play with that much for either a center fielder or third baseman (Bonifacio can play either position), a pair of veteran starting pitchers and a closer (with uncertainty of Leo Nunez aka Juan Carlos Oveido).
Based off that, don't be surprised if the Marlins wheel and deal some of their current starters and some names could include starters Ricky Nolasco and Chris Volstad, first baseman Gaby Sanchez and oft-injured outfielder Chris Coghlan to lighten payroll while improving other areas of the team.
That said, here is a look at five moves which will keep the Marlins payroll at a high but respectable level while improving all aspects of the team.
Okay so trading for the hothead Zambrano might not be the brightest of things to do but for a team that's desperate for starting pitching in a thin market, you take it.
The Chicago Cubs owe Carlos Zambrano $18 million for the 2012 season and aren't keen on keeping him after he walked out on the team after a disastrous outing against the Atlanta Braves on August 12th.
Now that the Marlins have officially hired Ozzie Guillen, who has a close relationship to fellow countryman Carlos Zambrano, it only makes sense to get the Venezuelan right-hander, who you'd only have for a single season unless he ends up with the Cy Young award in 2012 (which would kick in his 2013 option).
Prior to the 2011 season, Zambrano had a sub 4.00 ERA since the 2002 season, his sophomore season, and that's saying something when you talk about consistency.
The Cubs would gladly eat up the majority of the salary, albeit $16 million if they got a decent return. A trade that could happen is dealing the once highly regarded Chris Volstad and a Sandy Rosario for Zambrano who would be the team's fourth or fifth guy.
But the underlying factor would be Zambrano's ability to be the ninth hitter in the lineup every fifth day, he hit .318 (44 at-bats) with two home runs and five RBIs.
The free-agent market is extremely thin with front-line starting pitchers this offseason. The Marlins, who enter a new ballpark in 2012, will consider every option like they should, but are they really going to cork up a huge watt of cash for a CJ Wilson or Mark Buehrle when the bidding is going to be out of control?
The Marlins have had a history of shying away from offering long-term contracts to starting pitchers because they fear for injuries. It's why they never gave AJ Burnett or Josh Beckett one and both had injuries when with the Marlins and were almost about to deal Josh Johnson and Ricky Nolasco until they came to a compromise.
Enter the trade market.
Two names are who candidates to be traded are the Giants Jonathan Sanchez and the Twins Francisco Liriano, both southpaws.
Both lefties earned roughly the same salary in 2011, Liriano ($4.3 million) and Sanchez ($4.8 million), and are arbitration eligible.
It will be tougher to trade for the Twins lefty but not so for Sanchez as the Giants have a loaded rotation and would want a bat to add to their lineup.
One name the Marlins could entertain in this scenario is Chris Coghlan, who has been plagued by injuries the last two seasons but could give the Giants a spark in their outfield.
One can't stress enough that this offseason is a chance to mend fences with fans who have a bitter take on the front office, who has dealt away the team's fan favorites. Team president David Samson says he expects to see the ballpark filled to near capacity every night in 2012, really? While the comfort of a new ballpark is great and all, it won't be worth the ticket price if their isn't a product on the field worth watching.
Yes, the Marlins must sign Prince Fielder. It may be a long shot but then again so was the Marlins getting a stadium deal after the 2005 season and the Heat landing three superstars on the same team in 2010.
Fielder, the Melbourne product, would be right at home (three hours away from Miami) and would benefit from not having a state income tax.
But beyond the fact that Fielder brings the glitz and glamour to a potentially potent lineup, where he would be the cleanup hitter with Hanley Ramirez batting ahead of him and Mike Stanton behind him, the reality is that the Marlins badly need him.
This season, the Marlins scored 625 runs, which if you take out the strike shortened 1994 season (468 runs through 115 games), the Marlins ended up with the second fewest runs scored in a season in franchise history. The only time the Marlins scored fewer was their inaugural 1993 season (581 runs), yes it's been that long.
So what will it take? Well for starters, Jeffrey Loria will have to have an epiphany and show the fans he really means business. Many have called Loria "The Dollar Store" version of George Steinbrenner but will he take that step into Ritz Carlton territory?
Fielder was offered six years and $120 million by the Brewers but he rejected that, so if you aim higher and offer Prince six years and $130-135 million maybe he'll take it because he knows the opportunity he has here to win with a new manager, new ballpark and new team.
The Marlins have had issues in center field for practically the past six seasons in the wake of the Juan Pierre trade.
They have gone with Reggie Abercrombie, Cameron Maybin, Cody Ross, Chris Coghlan, Emilio Bonifacio and Bryan Petersen to name a few.
BJ Upton is a name who might be available if the Rays decide to put him back on the trade block. Upton undeniably brings a blend of speed, defense and power which is exactly what the Marlins covet at that position, or should say what they were expecting to have but Maybin failed to live those expectations.
The Marlins have a chance to finally get a mainstay in center and Upton would be the perfect choice.
If the Marlins were to land Prince Fielder, it would almost certainly mean the end of Gaby Sanchez's tenure with the Marlins and that would pave the way for the team to deal him to the Rays for Upton.
It might take an additional piece such as a minor league reliever along with Gaby to get it done, but acquiring Upton would be a no brainier and would be the smarter choice over signing an older Aramis Ramirez to play third and have Bonifacio take whatever position is left vacant.
This is how potent the Marlins lineup (w/ 2011 stats) would look like if they signed Fielder and traded for Upton:
1. Bonifacio, 3B .296, 5 HRs, 40 steals
2. Morrison, LF .247, 23 HRs, 72 RBIs
3. Ramirez, SS .243, 10 HRs, 20 steals
4. Fielder, 1B .299, 38 HRs, 120 RBIs
5. Stanton, RF .262, 34 HRs, 87 RBIs
6. Upton, CF .243, 23 HRs, 36 steals
7. Infante, 2B .276, 7 HRs, 49 RBIs
8. Buck, C .227, 16 HRs, 57 RBIs
And just before you go off on how pitching should be the top priority, out of the top five teams who had the most runs scored, four of those (Yankees, Rangers, Tigers, Cardinals) made the playoffs (Red Sox led all of MLB but they collapsed).
The only way all of the aforementioned moves occur soundly is if the inconsistent Ricky Nolasco is dealt. I mentioned why last month and it's simple, the Marlins would save money and allocate it for other areas of need.
The Marlins could conceivably deal Nolasco to either the Yankees, who could move Phil Hughes and a Hector Noesi for him, or the Tigers, who could deal a Jacob Turner and a Dan Schlereth for him to give them a well rounded rotation spearheaded by Verlander, Scherzer, Porcello and Fister.
Regardless, the Marlins could net themselves a low end starter and a plus reliever for their all-time strikeout leader which would round out the Marlins needs. The team could audition a Jose Ceda, Steve Cishek, Clay Hensley or the reliever they net in a trade for Nolasco.
Even if the Marlins have to sign a cheap veteran to round out the rotation, the team saves money in dealing Nolasco so every other move can be made possible.
I wouldn't mind keeping Nolasco either but I absolutely can't stand his bad outings where it's like he's pitching blindfolded and against metal bats. It's a hard move, but at the same time it's a money saving maneuver that allows the Marlins to go in many avenues.
Here is a financial summary of each of the moves I mentioned with the salary the Marlins are likely to pay if they had the player:
Trading for Carlos Zambrano: +$2 million
Trading for Jonathan Sanchez or Francisco Liriano: +$5.5 million
Signing Prince Fielder: +$20 million
Trading for BJ Upton: +$7 million
Trading away Ricky Nolasco: -$9 million
Remember, I've said the Marlins would have a payroll in the neighborhood of the low to mid sixties (million) if they retain their core players prior to tacking on free agents.
If you subtract Gaby Sanchez's, Ricky Nolasco's, Chris Coghlan's and Chris Volstad's salary from the mix, you're looking at roughly $14 million off the books and a salary of close to $50 million.
Adding on the salaries of Upton, Fielder, Zambrano and the trade for either southpaw and you're looking at adding $35 million to the Marlins salary which adds up to $85 million folks, a middle of the pack payroll that doesn't come close to touching the century mark.
Of course you could go a little further and add some guys for your bench, cheap relievers and even a cheap starter which will push your payroll close to $90 million, but heck it's nowhere near $100 million which many have expected if the Marlins land a big name.
In the end, these moves allow the Marlins to make their splash (Prince Fielder) where they would be spending their money on a guy who plays every game not every fifth day and improve their rotation and bullpen at the same time at a low cost.
Yes, the rotation is the biggest area of focus but is their a Roy Halladay or Cliff Lee out on the market? No, and I can't trust that CJ Wilson or Mark Buehrle are going to be that. Albert Pujols is another big name but one who would cost more than $200 million, a territory that's in a different galaxy from what the Marlins have ever paid any player in their history.
But we will have to see what the unpredictable Marlins do a month from now. All eyes will be on them as they make the leap in grand fashion to a new era of baseball in Miami.