Florida Marlins: An Exclusive Offseason Blueprint on What Needs to Happen

James Bondman@@james_bondmanCorrespondent ISeptember 5, 2011

Florida Marlins: An Exclusive Offseason Blueprint on What Needs to Happen

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    It's no secret that the Marlins have not performed to their expectations in 2011 after yet another spring training riddled of high hopes of making and exceeding in the postseason to drive momentum into the new ballpark in 2012. Now with a month left in the season, the Marlins are aiming for 2012 and hoping to spark a momentum with offseason moves.

    The Marlins have a slew of injuries which began with outfielder Logan Morrison, who had a foot injury in early May. Then came pitcher Josh Johnson's shoulder strain in mid-May, followed by Hanley Ramirez's back strain in early June and Chris Coghlan's recurring knee troubles in June.

    Now in September, the Marlins have been without Josh Johnson, Hanley Ramirez, Randy Choate and Chris Coghlan for an extended period and their absences have been felt as the team is in the cellar of the NL East.

    The poor season has shown the Marlins the lack of depth in their rotation all year (juggling acts with Clay Hensley, Brad Hand and other minor leaguers) and the Marlins have missed the experienced bat of Hanley Ramirez dearly (50-39 with him in lineup and 12-38 without him) despite his low numbers this year.

    Owner Jeffrey Loria recently voiced his opinion in a Marlins telecast and said fans will be pleased with the team next season and according to Joe Frisaro of MLB.com, Loria is prepared to "do what it takes" to upgrade the organization from top to bottom.

    As of this moment, the payroll is already slated to be at $45 million with the contracts of Johnson, Ramirez, Buck, Choate and Nolasco in the books. If you take into consideration the contracts of current players under club control and those in store for an extension, it could stand at nearly $60 million with roughly $20-25 million left to spend after that if the Marlins stick with their guns on their earlier promises of a "middle of the pack" payroll.

    With all that said and done, let's take a look at what the Marlins need to do this offseason in order to get back into contention in 2012.

Hire Ozzie Guillen

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    This is a no-brainer. Ozzie Guillen's name has been attached to the Marlins job for the last 14 months and he would bring a lot to the table for the Marlins in terms of valuable experience, which they covet in their next manager. Guillen has been to the World Series and won it with the White Sox in 2005.

    Lately the rumors have intensified that the White Sox might cut ties with the eight-year manager or trade him to the Marlins for compensation, something the ballclub balked at last offseason when attempting to approach Chicago for a chat with Ozzie.

    Guillen has been asked about the Marlins job in countless interviews and in particular saying that it "would be an honor to manage the Marlins" to Graham Bensinger of Yahoo! Sports.

    Guillen brings a spark to a team which has seen an improvement with Emilio Bonifacio because of Jack McKeon's no-nonsense attitude that Guillen has in him as well. His presence would surely not lack spark in a team that badly needs it.

    Guillen would be the Marlins' biggest splash in the offseason and would provide stability which hasn't seen under the Loria regime when it comes to managers. Loria fired Jeff Torborg in 2003 and hired McKeon, who took the team to the World Series and won. After 2005, Loria hired Joe Girardi and fired him after the 2006 season after an internal clash. Loria moved on to Fredi Gonzalez who stuck but even when the team made strides in 2008 and 2009, he wasn't satisfied and fired Fredi in June of 2010.

    This season, the Marlins have been with three different faces at manager, starting with Edwin Rodriguez—who quit the when team when on a downward spiral—Brandon Hyde for a single game and then Jack McKeon for an encore.

    Of course, you ask yourself, will it change even with a "celebrity" manager in Ozzie Guillen? You have to think so because his presence and influence are what will be the attraction in the new ballpark beyond the players on the field, the media will love when he rants about Steve Cishek making erratic throws to first base or talks about who uses Twitter the most on the team.

    All in all, Guillen is who the Marlins hierarchy covets the most to bring fans and attention to the team as they begin a brand new chapter, one they hope to build upon and essentially become the talk of the town for all the right reasons. 

Extending Mike Stanton

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    Beyond all the on-field improvements the team is poised to make, perhaps the biggest one should be extending Mike Stanton to a long-term extension, even though the 21-year-old outfielder will become a free agent after the 2016 season.

    Stanton gives the Marlins a superstar who will certainly make the opening years of the new ballpark memorable and down the road it may be the house Stanton built with his signature majestic home runs, some of which might hit the sliding glass panels in left field or leave the ballpark altogether when they are open.

    But the significance of signing a long-term deal now is important because delaying an extension results in perhaps giving the slugger a larger contract when you can give him a cheaper contract now and save millions. 

    The long-term extension fad began with Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki back in 2008 and trickled down to then-rookie third baseman Evan Longoria of the Rays and Brewers sophomore outfielder Ryan Braun soon after that.

    Here is a look at what they received in their initial extensions:

    Troy Tulowitzki

    In January 2008, signed a six-year, $31-million contract with club option for 2014. 

    Evan Longoria

    In April 2008, signed a six-year, $17.5-million contract with club options for 2014, 2015 and 2016 (essentially making it a nine-year deal).

    Ryan Braun

    In May 2008, signed an eight-year, $45-51 million contract (contingent on super-two status after 2009).

    But both Tulowitzki and Braun have been extended beyond those extensions, with Tulowitzki earning an additional six years (with an option year) for nearly $120 million and Braun getting a five-year contract extension worth $105 million that puts both franchise players with their current teams through the 2020 season. 

    Now, the Marlins gave Hanley Ramirez a contract extension after his second season, a six-year, $70 million extension, the richest contract in Marlins history but it hails in comparison to the contract Tulowitzki got for the same amount of years.

    The Marlins would be fools to keep on waiting and playing the year-to-year basis with Stanton because he can easily command a bigger salary with a big year. Imagine he hits 50 home runs next season—instead of paying in $3-4 million in 2013, you might end up paying him $6-7 million.

    Although Stanton is just only 21, the Marlins should learn their lesson from another young slugger in Miguel Cabrera, whom if the Marlins had extended like Braun, Tulowitzki or Longoria might still be here and earning less than what he is now.

    Stanton is a blessing for the Marlins, a second chance to do right—and they must execute. If I were the general manager, I'd approach Stanton after the season and tell him that we are starting over, a new chapter and we want you to come along for the ride and be a star in Miami and in the new ballpark.

    If I Were the GM

    If I had the call I'd give Stanton a 10-year deal that would lock Stanton up through the 2021 season, worth nearly $90 million. The contract would include team options for the 2018, 2019 and 2020 seasons and a mutual option for the 2021 season.

    Here is out it plays out: $1 million (2012), $1.5 million (2013), $4 million (2014), $6 million (2015), $8.5 million (2016), $10 million (2017), $11.5 million (2018), $13.5 million (2019), $15 million (2020) and $17 million (2021).

    At the end of the contract, Stanton will only be 31 years old and in play for another big contract so if he were faced with those numbers he'd take this deal.

    Ultimately, if the Marlins front office wants to send a message to the fans that they are serious and want to tell the fanbase that they can be assured of having Stanton for a long time, this is the only way to do it.

Aggressive but Smart Approach Towards Starting Pitchers

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    The biggest area of focus in the offseason will be revamping the starting rotation which has ultimately been the cause of the lost season.

    The Marlins will certainly be in the market for a left-handed starter but they will have to open their wallets big time if they intend to pursue CJ Wilson and even CC Sabathia (if he opts out of his Yankees contract). With Wilson, you are looking at a $90-100 million contract and with Sabathia those figures nearly double.

    Other cheap routes the Marlins can look at are signing Mark Buehrle which can help if Ozzie Guillen is manager and pitching coach Don Cooper is at his side. Or the Marlins could sign Barry Zito (if the Giants release him), Chris Capuano coming off a solid comeback year with the Mets or maybe even bring back a fan favorite in Dontrelle Willis.

    The Marlins typically aren't the type of team who will sign pitchers to long-term deals; they despise doing so for injury concerns. You saw that with Josh Johnson after the 2009 season (nearly got traded) and Ricky Nolasco after 2010 (he nearly got traded).

    This is why even though you want to be aggressive, you have to be smart because this is a crucial offseason in the direction of the franchise and how they are going to sink or swim in the new ballpark. One bad contract could derail future financial goals and hinder possible signings. 

    With Josh Johnson slated to be No. 1 or No. 2, you have Anibal Sanchez and RIcky Nolasco, in my opinion, as your team's No. 3 or No. 4 starters. Why not No. 2? After what we've seen between the pair in the wake of JJ's injury, neither has been a stable force in the rotation enough to be considered in my mind as a legitimate No. 2 starter on the team.

    That means the Marlins are going to have to pursue a pair of starters in the offseason and build depth regardless if Brad Hand does well or Chris Volstad turns it around; they have to have that veteran depth.

    Real Possibilities

    One intriguing possibility at the forefront of improving the rotation will be if the Marlins trade outfielder Logan Morrison for a starting pitcher. This is the only scenario in which I can envision the franchise trades him away. It would outrage the fanbase who lashed out at the front office for the move but it would not totally be out of the picture if the team can improve the rotation.

    Consider the abundance of outfield depth already within the Marlins system which includes Mike Stanton in right field along with Bryan Petersen, Chris Coghlan, Scott Cousins and minor leaguers Christian Yelich, Marcell Ozuna and Kyle Jensen, who is fast moving up the minor league ladder.

     One trade scenario that seems to make sense now would be trading Logan Morrison (and probably Chris Volstad) to the Los Angeles Dodgers for pitcher Chad Billingsley. Why? Well the Dodgers are in a financial mess with owner McCourt with no resolution anytime soon.

    The Dodgers will have to pay Cy Young favorite Clayton Kershaw ($500,000 in 2011) loads of money soon enough and you can't forget about MVP favorite Matt Kemp (earning $7 million this season) and for good measure let's throw in Andre Either.

    Billingsley would easily slide in the Marlins rotation as the No. 2 guy behind Johnson and ahead of Sanchez and Nolasco. Billingsley and Nolasco share nearly the same contract except that Billingsley's is a year longer for an affordable $12 million (with a $14 million team option for 2015).

    Morrison could find himself at first base and give the Dodgers a bat they desperately seek at an affordable price.

    Another possibility includes acquiring Carlos Zambrano with the Cubs eating up most if not all of his salary. Now the only scenario I envision this would be if the Marlins had fellow countryman Ozzie Guillen as manager, the only guy who can perhaps cool down Big Z for good.

Adding a Seasoned Bat in the Lineup

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    Last offseason, the Marlins failed to capitalize on acquiring Michael Young of the Rangers and couldn't convince the Diamondbacks of giving up Justin Upton. Now the Marlins might be in a position to acquire Upton's other brother B.J., currently with the Rays.

    The Rays discussed trading B.J. Upton at the trade deadline but didn't get a favorable offer then. The Marlins could make up for trading Cameron Maybin last offseason by acquiring B.J. Upton to play center field. 

    But I'm not sold on this being a done deal or anything near that because the Marlins will have to give up a lot to get him and in the history of both franchises a trade between the Rays and Marlins has never happened, not to say this a Yankees-Mets ordeal. 

    The Marlins could go for less costly and less risky routes by signing veterans Coco Crisp (.268, seven HRs, 39 SBs) or Angel Pagan (.263, seven HRs, 29 SBs), who is a non-tender candidate.

    Signing and acquiring any of these three players would give the Marlins another speed factor in a lineup that would feature Bonifacio and Ramirez among those who will reach 30.

    The Marlins could go after Aramis Ramirez but in a thin third-base market, his services will be pursued greatly by teams such as the Angels and Rockies and the Marlins might not want to sign him to a three- to four-year deal with Matt Dominguez a season or two away at the most from being a contributor to the Marlins.

    But beyond needing another everyday player, the Marlins will rely on Ramirez to return to All-Star form and for Morrison and Gaby to improve under a new atmosphere of a new ballpark.

Re-Signing Greg Dobbs, Omar Infante and Anibal Sanchez

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    Just as important as every other move the Marlins have to make will be re-signing the trio of Omar Infante, Greg Dobbs and Anibal Sanchez (who is in line for a contract extension).

    Omar Infante may have not been the offensive replacement for Dan Uggla but his glove reminded the ballclub and fans of former Marlin Luis Castillo. After a slow start with the bat, Infante has turned it around quite nicely to be in play for a two-year deal this offseason by the Marlins.

    After Greg Dobbs was only expected to be a bench player and lefty bat off the bench, he was immediately thrown in the fire as almost an everyday player and he has excelled. Dobbs has hit .285, with seven HRs and 44 RBI this season and would be a crucial player towards the Marlins' ascent into contention as perhaps the primary bench player. 

    Anibal Sanchez is in line for a contract extension this offseason and he could garner a contract similar to that of Ricky Nolasco, if not a bit less in total money due to durability concerns. Sanchez has yet to eclipse the 200-inning mark but has been healthy for nearly two full seasons and is on his way towards getting to that elusive mark this season.

    Besides Sanchez who won't be free agent this offseason, re-signing Infante and Dobbs is crucial because letting either of them leave could come back to hurt the ballclub if Dobbs happens to sign with the Phillies again and Infante goes back to the Braves

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