Penny-pinching Marlins offer no apologies

Editor's note: Yahoo! Sports will examine the offseason of every MLB team before spring training begins in mid-February. Our series is in reverse order of team quality and continues at No. 10 with the Florida Marlins.

2009 record: 87-75
2009 finish: Second place, National League East
2009 final payroll: $37 million
Estimated 2010 opening-day payroll: $45 million


If the Marlins took their recent compliance pledge to an unforeseen level and within a year or two hiked payroll beyond that of the Braves ($97 million in 2009) and Phillies ($113 million) and into the rarefied strata of the Mets ($149 million), would they run away with the NL East? It stands to reason. The Fish finished 12 games over .500 with baseball's stingiest – and perhaps most adept – front office.

We'll never know, of course, because Florida has no intention of spending that much. The Marlins' estimated 2010 payroll already is three times higher than the paltry $15 million they spent on salaries in 2006. With Major League Baseball monitoring their budget the next three years as part of an agreement to ensure revenue-sharing funds are spent on players, the Marlins might nominally increase payroll. But even when they move into their $650 million new ballpark in 2012, they will operate on a tight budget.

And why shouldn't they? Built around starting pitching and baseball's best shortstop, the Marlins compete just fine the way they are. They've finished over .500 in five of the past seven seasons, beginning with their World Series title in 2003. Maybe the addition of an expensive free agent or two every year would make them the best team in the National League. Maybe not.

This offseason, they sewed up No. 1 starter Josh Johnson(notes) with a four-year, $39 million contract. Second starter Ricky Nolasco(notes) could get a similar deal if he turns in another strong season. Franchise shortstop Hanley Ramirez(notes) is under contract through 2014. Slugging second baseman Dan Uggla(notes), the team's highest paid player in 2010 at $7.8 million, hasn't been traded – yet.

The roster will be set once another reliever and perhaps a bargain first baseman are added. Or maybe the reliever will come from a slew of formerly effective pitchers brought in on minor league contracts, including Derrick Turnbow(notes), Seth McClung(notes) and Jose Veras(notes). Free agent Russell Branyan(notes) is a possibility at first if the Marlins aren't convinced prospects Gaby Sanchez(notes) and Logan Morrison are ready.


Nine team employees recently returned from the ultimate reality check: a visit to Iraq and Kuwait to support U.S. military troops. The Marlins are the only MLB team to make such a trip. By all accounts, the visit was well received, in part because NL Rookie of the Year Chris Coghlan(notes) was one of two players who went (catcher John Baker(notes) was the other). Coghlan's brother, Kevin, is a Marine who served two terms of duty in Iraq.

Coghlan, the team's left fielder, is emblematic of the way the Marlins like to do business – he's homegrown, under team control for the next five years and already productive. Next in the pipeline is center fielder Cameron Maybin(notes), a top prospect who has faltered in two auditions since being acquired from Detroit before the 2008 season but who is only 22. Behind Maybin are two exciting 20-year-old prospects: Mike Stanton(notes), an outfielder with tremendous power who needs another year of seasoning, and Matt Dominguez, a third baseman whose bat must catch up with his glove.

The unwillingness of the front office to spend on free agents has left the Marlins thin in areas where the farm system hasn't produced quality major leaguers. Leo Nunez(notes) again will be the closer despite blowing seven saves last year. The back of the starting rotation has question marks. And the addition of a power bat to complement Uggla and overachieving Jorge Cantu(notes) in the middle of the lineup would seem necessary for the Marlins to have a realistic chance of catching the Phillies.

Marlins in Haiku
Scolded by Selig
For not paying guys enough?
Sounds fishy to me

Next: Chicago Cubs

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