The Miami Marlins want to be active in free agency this offseason.
Adding a top of the rotation starter is high on the team’s shopping list. That could mean making a serious push for pending free agent James Shields. Fernandez isn’t expected back until around next All-Star Break, and the club wants to build a championship-caliber rotation in anticipation of his return.
I'm struggling to find the right words. The Internet isn't helping.
The right words are probably, "Dammit, Marlins." The right words are probably always "Dammit, Marlins." Let's explore the Marlins' theoretical plan to spend money in the offseason.
1. It's probably the right thing to do
From a baseball perspective, that is. This is a team that's close, a team that's stockpiled all sorts of talent in all facets of the game. They have a young outfield of the gods, and with any luck, there will be nerdy, frothy debates in 30 years about the respective outfields of the Marlins and Pirates. The Marlins might have the best outfield in the game right now, and the oldest regular is 24-year-old Giancarlo Stanton. They'll also get puckish wonder Jose Fernandez back, hopefully in the same condition he was before he left.
There are pieces worth building around immediately. Jon Lester with Fernandez, Nathan Eovaldi, and Henderson Alvarez would be a delightful rotation. Swap Lester out for James Shields or Max Scherzer. It all makes sense.
The risk of free agent pitchers is obvious, and they're all likely to go kerflooey halfway through the deal, if not sooner. That leaves two sets of organizations that should even bother with them:
Teams rich enough to brush the misses off
Teams without a lot of future payroll commitments and a young core
Take the Mariners for that last point. They looked at the relative youth on the roster, projected what they would make in arbitration, and figured they could take on Robinson Cano's $24 million salary for the next 10 years, even if there is absolutely no way he'll be worth it for the last four or five seasons. They're not regretful about it just yet.
That's what the Marlins can do. They can take a shot, a real shot on a premium starter with the roster they have in place. They have time to figure out extensions for Stanton and Fernandez later. They're probably ready to contend now, though, and a Lester/Shields/Scherzer would help.
2. There is only one reason for a free agent to sign with the Marlins
Money. Which is why most free agents sign where they do. But I can't imagine feeling comfortable committing to the Marlins for five, six, or seven years, when they couldn't commit to the role of large-market team for more than a season. When the Marlins sent their new free agents off to Canada, I wrote this about the fans:
The Marlins are different, though. They weren't selling just baseball games in their new park. They were selling trust.
The second wild card is great, stupid
Unless it's stupid, great.
Watch the Phanatic play banjo with his butt
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The second wild card is great, stupid Watch the Phanatic play banjo with his butt
This applies to potential free agents, too. The Marlins have been around for just 21 seasons, yet they've already gone through three horribly timed fire sales. If there's a top-10 list for "Worst-timed fire sales in MLB history," the Marlins certainly have three of the top five spots. Twice after a championship, when the region was gushing with pride and sneezing confetti, and once after a new "We're different now!" push in free agency to support a glittery, publicly financed ballpark. Three completely tone deaf, oblivious PR disasters in 21 years. That's prodigious.
But, say, James Shields, this time will be different. Can they give you a backloaded deal? Can they pay a little bit more not to have a no-trade clause? What? What? Hey, they're just askin', just riffin', why are you so upset?
Even with a fat deal and a no-trade clause, there has to be a huge concern with what happens with the rest of the team. No-trade security isn't much help when the good players without it are teleported around the league. If there's anything worse than being dealt by the Marlins when they start jettisoning talent, it's staying with the Marlins when they're jettisoning talent. Being the rotation workhorse for a team filled with pimply n00bs making the league minimum probably isn't the career ideal for the best pitchers in baseball.
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That doesn't mean that pitchers won't take the money. Again, I would eat the contents of Tommy Lasorda's hamper for a million dollars, so I'm pretty sure I'd move to a new city and work for a company I'm not so sure about for an extra five million. Yet I'm still skeptical that the Marlins can actually pull it off, or that free agents would ever feel comfortable with them until Jeffrey Loria sells the team.
This is somewhere between tangentially related and a non-sequitur, but it just hit me. The Marlins are looking to upgrade the rotation? To get some help in their efforts to contend? I'll help with some ideas.
First: Get someone steady in the rotation who can make sure that there won't be a parade of replacement-level starters every fifth day.
Second: Get Adeiny Hechavarria, one of the worst regulars in baseball for two years running, out of the lineup and replace him with a solid-to-excellent shortstop.
Say, that's what they already had. This one-to-one comparison is a little disingenuous because without the selloff, the Marlins don't have Henderson Alvarez, who is mighty talented. Still, the larger point stands: They would have a better team, and they would still have the trust of the fans and the free agents. They're just a few games out of the second wild card now, and it's not crazy to think that Reyes replacing Hechavarria, combined with continued support from ownership, would have put them in excellent position to make the playoffs this year.
Instead, it's probably wait until next year. When they'll really try. It's true that the Marlins should go after a premium free agent. They'll need to find one who is completely unconcerned with recent history, though. Good luck with that.
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