Whoever takes over the Miami Marlins front office in the coming weeks has an intimidating assignment ahead of them. Even for the most brilliant mind, it will take a long time to put the organization on stable ground. This article details how I would spend the first winter in charge if Bruce Sherman were misguided enough to listen to me.
MLB teams must constantly self-assess where they stand on the present vs. future spectrum: “How are you prioritizing major league success during the current season compared to the long term?”
By the second half of the 2023 season, the Marlins had made an extreme shift toward the “present” side. They traded away several of their top prospects in win-now moves, challenged young pitchers with heavy workloads and paid half a million bucks for four innings’ worth of Matt Moore to push them across the finish line. On a scale of one to ten, where one represents a full-on rebuild and ten represents going all-in to win, the Marlins were a nine. As enjoyable as it was to cover, it felt over-aggressive. If Kim Ng had been operating with legit job security, I have to imagine the club’s approach would’ve been more measured.
My offseason plan involves recalibrating to a seven out of ten on that aforementioned scale. The Marlins have alienated their fans in the past by taking a significant step back following every postseason appearance. There needs to be some urgency about snapping that cycle in 2024, while also stopping short of depleting an already-weak farm system and accepting that Sherman’s budget will be lower than that of most other MLB teams.
The blueprint below basically goes in chronological order from early November through pre-Opening Day extension talks, concluding with an overview of what my version of the 2024 Marlins would look like.
2024 Contract Options
- 1B Josh Bell opts out
- Marlins exercise UTIL Jon Berti‘s club option ($3.625M salary)
- Marlins decline RHP Matt Barnes‘ club option ($2.75M buyout)
- Marlins decline RHP Johnny Cueto‘s club option ($2.5M buyout)
I have spent too much time trying to anticipate what Bell will do with his option. It could go either way. He’s been a replacement-level player over his last 200 games, which ordinarily would merit far less than a $16.5M salary. On the other hand, his most recent two months of performance fell in line with his above-average career norms. If forced to pick a side, I predict he’ll opt out.
Jorge Soler already made his decision to test free agency, as announced by the Marlins on Thursday. It was a no-brainer. Some team should be willing to give him Mitch Haniger money (3/$43.5M) given the dearth of high-end power bats in this free agent class.
Despite their valuable contributions to the Marlins offense this season, I’m not eager to retain Bell or Soler at their fair market price. It’s just too inefficient. They have both had prolonged stretches of inconsistency in their recent past. Also, I inevitably will be going outside the organization to address the team’s premium defensive positions and pitching staff—resources need to be preserved for those items.
I have previously written about Miami’s 2024 club options. Those are easy calls.
Rule 5 Draft Protections
- Marlins select Victor Mesa Jr., Troy Johnston, Nasim Nuñez and Anthony Maldonado to the 40-man roster
You’re probably thinking, “Are there really that many players from this struggling farm system who are worth protecting?” In a vacuum, no. I don’t think all of them would be selected in the Rule 5, but it’s better to be safe than sorry when there is so little interesting depth behind them in the pipeline.
Mesa is going to be my everyday center fielder at Triple-A Jacksonville. Johnston is making the Marlins Opening Day roster unless he poops the bed during spring training. I’d like to find out whether he can fake it in left field in addition to playing first base. Give Nuñez’s bat another year to develop and ensure that teams enamored with his defense and baserunning can’t snatch him away to fill out their bench. Maldonado will be in serious contention to crack the major league bullpen after steamrolling Triple-A competition.
Other notable Rule 5 guys coming off productive 2023 campaigns include Will Banfield, Luarbert Arias and Griffin Conine.
This far in advance, it would be pure guesswork to project which quality prospects will be eligible to draft from other organizations. Considering that the Marlins find themselves in the bottom half of the draft order and—under my direction—are still motivated to win now, I’m sitting out the major league phase of the Rule 5.
After accommodating Mesa, Johnston, Nuñez and Maldonado while also bringing back Max Meyer, Trevor Rogers, Anthony Bender and Tommy Nance from the 60-day injured list, the Marlins 40-man roster is full.
To create more breathing room, I’m ready to turn the page on two veterans who are far removed from their respective primes after back-to-back disappointing seasons.
It is time to bite the bullet on García, whose acquisition was the worst free agent deal in Marlins history. He is a classic sunk cost, having struck out in 30% of his Marlins plate appearances—he hasn’t provided nearly enough run production to offset that. Can’t count on him staying healthy, either. Is it possible that something clicks with his plate approach and he rediscovers his previous form as a lifetime average-ish MLB hitter? Yes, but that likelihood is so remote, I’d rather have the extra roster spot. I still owe García $29M, including $12M in 2024.
Entering his final year of arbitration eligibility, Stallings is projected for a $3.6M salary, per MLB Trade Rumors. That’s tolerable for an experienced, defense-first backup. Problem is, Stallings’ defense has been decisively below average as a Marlin, and even by catcher standards, his bat is impotent. With Sandy Alcantara sidelined throughout next season (Stallings caught every Alcantara pitch in 2022 and 2023), I cannot justify keeping the soon-to-be 34-year-old.
Now, for the fun stuff…
- DH/OF Jorge Soler rejects one-year, $20.3M qualifying offer from Marlins
- Marlins sign OF Adam Duvall to two-year, $16M deal
- Marlins sign LHP Wandy Peralta to two-year, $10M deal
- Marlins sign RHP Jack Flaherty to one-year, $9M deal with up to $4M in performance bonuses based on games started
- Marlins sign OF Jonathan Davis, DH/1B Miguel Sanó, RHP Spencer Turnbull and LHP Richard Bleier to minor league deals
I believe the qualifying offer value exceeds any 2024 salary that Soler will be presented with in free agency. However, there are far greater multi-year guarantees awaiting him. By rejecting the QO and ultimately landing elsewhere, the Marlins get a compensatory draft pick. That pick would likely come after Competitive Balance Round B, but there’s an outside shot of it falling between the first round and Competitive Balance Round A if the bidding war escalates to at least $50M.
Duvall comes with a steeper price tag than he did when the Marlins previously signed him three years ago. During the interim, he slashed .229/.286/.479 (102 wRC+) and produced 5.5 fWAR, homering 71 times in what amounted to two full seasons’ worth of playing time. He’s still capable of playing every outfield position at age 35. Best-case scenario, I get the 2021 version of Duvall, but the reasonable expectation for him is a good platoon player and clubhouse presence.
I won’t be scared away by Peralta’s 5.06 FIP. He’s a groundball machine who has repeatedly outperformed his peripherals. The veteran lefty’s fit with this Marlins roster will make more sense once you peruse my trades.
Every starting pitcher in Flaherty’s price range comes with some warts, but I like his upside way more than, say, Johnny Cueto, who got similar money last offseason. The right-hander’s fastball velocity has been in gradual decline. It would behoove him to put more trust in his changeup, and what better place to improve your changeup than the Marlins organization? The performance bonuses in this contract are $1M apiece for making 15, 20, 25 and 30 regular season starts.
I would be handing out more than four MiLB deals to fill up big league camp. I’m just highlighting Davis, Sanó, Turnbull and Bleier as viable candidates to squeeze onto the Opening Day roster depending on injuries and other unforeseen events.
- St. Louis Cardinals trade UTIL Tommy Edman and C Iván Herrera to Marlins for RHP Edward Cabrera, RHP Jacob Miller, OF/IF Javier Sanoja and C Joe Mack
- New York Yankees trade RHP Randy Vásquez, RHP Ian Hamilton and C Kyle Higashioka to Marlins for LHP Tanner Scott and OF Bryan De La Cruz
- Chicago White Sox trade DH/LF Eloy Jiménez and $3M to Marlins for RHP George Soriano and OF Kemp Alderman
- Milwaukee Brewers trade OF Hendry Mendez to Marlins for UTIL Garrett Hampson
- Houston Astros trade IF Tim Borden to Marlins for LHP Steven Okert
- Marlins trade RHP Tommy Nance to Tampa Bay Rays for cash considerations
Edman becomes my starting shortstop for 2024. Over the last two seasons, he has played more defensive innings there than at any other position, and he’s handled the assignment well. He’s a major upgrade over Joey Wendle in terms of run production and baserunning, plus he’s under club control through 2025. Herrera is a lifetime .280/.391/.432 hitter in the minors who’s coming off his best offensive season yet. He’ll battle against Nick Fortes for an Opening Day job.
I’m lower than most on Cabrera. I don’t see a scenario where he becomes a consistently great starting pitcher. I’m not even certain that he’s a top-five starter in my Sandy-less rotation. The Cardinals would undoubtedly appreciate him more. Miller is a 2022 draft pick who had an okay Low-A campaign. A contact-hitting utility guy, Sanoja is intriguing yet replaceable. Mack is far more talented than last season’s 69 wRC+ would imply. Compared to Herrera, his developmental timeline aligns better with Willson Contreras’ contract.
Vásquez likely opens up next season in the Triple-A rotation. He figures to be a frequent flyer between Jacksonville and Miami. Hamilton impressed as a rookie and will be our go-to right-handed reliever in most high-leverage situations. Despite limited playing time, Higashioka has reached double-digit homers in three straight years. Solid backup catcher.
Scott was too good in 2023. I don’t have the budget to be committing $10M+ per year to any reliever over multiple years, and that’s what he would be looking for in extension talks considering his degree of dominance and his status as a pending free agent. Who knows if his past control issues are fully behind him, anyway. Too much risk for me. Losing De La Cruz hurts as well because there is a higher level he could potentially ascend to, but he still doesn’t have a firm grasp of the fundamentals entering his age-27 season.
Jiménez is my Soler replacement. Not as dangerous against lefties, but a better pure hitter who’s a lot younger. He has one more guaranteed year left on his then-historic, pre-debut extension. The White Sox have no path to contend in 2024, and frankly, Jiménez has had a frustrating career thus far. Due to injuries, he played even fewer games from 2021-2023 than Jazz Chisholm Jr. did. The cash in this trade represents the buyout of his 2025 or 2026 club option in case he disappoints, but I’m optimistic about getting three years out of him.
Soriano definitely upped his value over the last year. Sexy three-pitch mix. I still project him more as a middle reliever than a legit starter. Alderman is one of the few guys in the Marlins system with comparable raw power to Jiménez. Hasn’t played above Low-A yet, though.
Hampson, Okert and Nance are casualties of 40-man roster maintenance. Borden will report to Double-A and Mendez to High-A next season.
- Marlins sign Luis Arraez to six-year, $92M extension with $16M vesting option for 2030
- Marlins sign Jesús Luzardo to six-year, $77.5M extension with opt-out after 2027 season
- Marlins sign Trevor Rogers to three-year, $17M extension with $12.5M club option for 2027 and $12.5M club option for 2028
The breakdown of Arraez’s extension is $12M in 2024 and $16M annually from 2025-29. His 2030 option vests if he places top 10 in the 2029 National League batting title race. It’s based loosely on the contract that DJ LeMahieu signed with the Yankees during the 2020-21 offseason.
There’s simply nobody else quite like Arraez. I trust him to come fairly close to sustaining what he’s done to this point in his career. He wants to be here and the fanbase adores him. Even assuming that he will gradually transition from second base to first base/DH, he’s worth the investment.
The breakdown of Luzardo’s extension is $5M in 2024, $10M in 2025, $12.5M in 2026, $15M in 2027 and $17.5M annually from 2028-29. It’s a less exploitative version of the extension that Sandy Alcantara signed during the 2021-22 offseason and edges out Eduardo Rodriguez’s guarantee from his 2021-22 free agent signing with the Detroit Tigers.
This deal structure gives me at least one extra year of club control over Luzardo while allowing him to test free agency right after his 30th birthday if he desires. The back end of the deal could become burdensome in the event of catastrophic injury, but it won’t be truly crippling to my competitive chances regardless.
The breakdown of Rogers’ extension is $2M in 2024, $5M in 2025 and $8M in 2026 with $2M buyouts for both of the option years. It carries a maximum value of $40M over the next five seasons if both options are exercised. It’s based loosely on the extension that Chris Paddack signed with the Minnesota Twins during the 2022-23 offseason.
I love this buy-low opportunity on somebody who still has mid-rotation starter upside. The majority of Rogers’ missed time in 2023 came as the result of a fluky injury to his non-throwing arm. He struggled in 2022, though not quite as much as his 75 ERA+ would suggest. Worst-case scenario, I can see him reinventing himself as a two-pitch reliever.
I would also attempt to negotiate with Jazz Chisholm Jr. on a deal in the five-year, $50 million range, but I don’t think we’d be able to find common ground on that.
How these pieces fit together
I’m envisioning an Opening Day rotation of Jesús Luzardo, Eury Pérez, Braxton Garrett, Jack Flaherty and Trevor Rogers. The depth behind them includes Max Meyer, Ryan Weathers, Randy Vásquez and Patrick Monteverde.
Keep in mind, Skip Schumaker is still the Marlins manager in this hypothetical. He’s not beholden to using one specific guy as closer, but I figure he would put A.J. Puk first in line for save opportunities—Puk quietly finished 2023 on a high note.
Compared to where we stood at the end of 2023, the catcher and shortstop situations have been clearly upgraded. I feel left field is also in better hands, but there’s room for debate on that. Jazz Chisholm Jr. is overdue for a healthy season…right? Hopefully, Troy Johnston hits the ground running at first base. If he flops, the fallback plan would be for Jake Burger to take over and patch together third base with Jon Berti and Xavier Edwards.
Accounting for all of the guaranteed contracts, the buyouts of club options, the projected salaries of arbitration-eligible players via MLB Trade Rumors and the pre-arb players needed to fill out the roster, these Marlins would have an Opening Day payroll of approximately $107M. If the postseason is within reach, Sherman will give me some wiggle room to add more as the season progresses.
Despite my best efforts, I can’t say I’m confident in these Marlins immediately making it back to the postseason. There’s a lot of dead money on the books while Sandy Alcantara rehabs and Avisaíl García explores other opportunities. The departures of Jorge Soler and Josh Bell hurt, and even with them in the fold, they were outscored by opposing teams. Several talented but unestablished players must exceed expectations—I’m specifically looking at Meyer, Weathers and Herrera.
What’s your favorite move of mine? Your least favorite? The most unrealistic? Comment below to let me know.
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