What to expect from first phase of Marlins offseason roster moves

The Miami Marlins have had a chance to catch their breath, but that quiet period is soon coming to an end.

The Miami Marlins have had a chance to catch their breath during the week since they parted ways with general manager Kim Ng, but the Major League Baseball transaction calendar will soon require them to get back to business. Interim GM Brian Chattin and principal owner Bruce Sherman have moves to make between now and early November.

Entering Monday, the Marlins 40-man roster is at 39 players. Several of them are goners following the World Series as the team makes room to reinstate members of the 60-day injured list.

Yuli Gurriel, David Robertson and Joey Wendle are pending free agents. Although there is an exclusive five-day negotiating window between free agents and their former clubs, it’s doubtful that new deals will be consummated so soon in these cases. Gurriel and Wendle are low-priority bench players. Robertson surely will want to test the open market after a rocky experience in Miami.

Johnny Cueto and Matt Barnes will join them in free agency after their 2024 club options are declined. Due to injuries and illness, Cueto was limited to 13 sub-replacement-level appearances in 2023. As much as the Marlins need a veteran innings-eater next season, Cueto ain’t that guy. They’ll pay him a $2.5 million buyout to go away rather than pick up his $10.5 million option. Barnes is coming off a slightly better season than Cueto and has a slightly cheaper option ($9 million), but he’s also a middle reliever coming off hip surgery. No reason to overthink this. Barnes will take home a $2.75 million buyout.

Barnes wasn’t counting against the 40-man, but Gurriel, Robertson, Wendle and Cueto were. Their subtractions take the roster count from 39 to 35.

Anthony Bender (Tommy John surgery), Jonathan Davis (right meniscus surgery), Max Meyer (Tommy John surgery) and Trevor Rogers (right lat strain) will each be reinstated from the 60-day IL. Barring setbacks, all four are expected to be ready for spring training and hold positive trade value. It’s an easy call to re-add them to the 40-man, bringing the Marlins back up to 39 players.

Tommy Nance‘s campaign began with a shoulder strain, ended with an oblique strain, and in between, he never threw a pitch for the Marlins (though he was effective on minor league rehab assignments). I don’t have a feel for what the Marlins will do with him. They temporarily have room for him on the roster and he’ll be cheap in 2024 (pre-arb), so no urgency to get rid of him during “Phase I” of offseason transactions.

All-Star Jorge Soler is opting out of his contract, forgoing the $13 million salary he’s currently in line for, knowing there will be more money out there for him. I recommend that the Marlins extend a qualifying offer to Soler, retaining him for approximately $20.5 million if he accepts and making themselves eligible to receive draft-pick compensation if he declines and signs elsewhere. Will they? Likely not.

No outcome would surprise me in the case of Josh Bell. Like Soler, he can opt out and test the market as one of the most talented run producers in the 2023-24 free agent class. Unlike Soler, he would not be bogged down by draft-pick compensation because he’s ineligible for a qualifying offer. However, his existing contract already calls for a $16.5 million salary and his 2023 production was below average by first base/designated hitter standards, although he finished on a very high note.

Bell’s agent, Scott Boras, has historically encouraged his clients to enter free agency when they’re on the fence. My best guess is he’ll opt out.

Lastly, there is Jon Berti’s situation. In February, he signed a contract that included a club option for 2024. The option’s value has increased from $3.5 million to $3.625 million based on his total plate appearances from this past season, and it comes with a $25k buyout.

I mention Berti last because he’ll be on the 40-man either way and remain under the Marlins’ control. If they decline the option, it just means they feel he would settle for less than $3.6 million to avoid arbitration. After posting a shiny .294 batting average and setting career highs in most counting stats (other than stolen bases), I predict that the Marlins will pick up the option.

Previewing “Phase II”

Coming up in mid-November, MLB teams have to determine which Rule 5 Draft-eligible prospects to protect on their 40-man roster and which pre-arb and arbitration-eligible major leaguers they want to tender 2024 contracts to. It’s unclear whether the Marlins’ new baseball operations chief will be in place by then.

Regardless of who’s calling the shots, expect outfielder Victor Mesa Jr. to be protected and Jacob Stallings to be non-tendered. I’ll have another article out explaining why in greater detail after Phase I is complete.

Photo by Jasen Vinlove/Miami Marlins

4 responses to “What to expect from first phase of Marlins offseason roster moves”

  1. Josh Bell’s decision is not so straightforward. This year, he was below average before coming to the Marlins (4 months); was on a tear in August and then just fine in September (.740 OPS). I mean, he has been traded during midseason for two consecutive years, and there has been a good half and a bad one. Luckily, the Fish got the good part this season.

    And then you look further back and you find a good 2021, a bad 2020 (who didn’t?), a tremendous 2019 (who didn’t?), an OK 2018, and a good rookie 2017 season. In general, he has been inconsistent throughout his career.

    For sure teams will look into that he elects to be a FA. I believe that’s kind of the reason he didn’t get “a bag” last winter when he signed for the Guardians. Maybe he should try to have a solid season in Miami and then hit Free Agency again.

    On the other hand, he is not gonna get any younger and there will be some big-spending teams needing a 1B this offseason: NYY, SEA, HOU, LAA, and CHC, for example. Apart from Bellinger, there are no superstar power Free Agents…

    I think he stays because there is not a lot of difference hitting the market if you are 31 or 32, but there will be a difference if you come off a career season or not.

    1. What seems clear is Bell won’t be able to match the $33M guarantee he got last winter. I think there will be some kind of 2-year offer out there for him though.

      I lean toward him testing the market because he is a Scott Boras client. Boras isn’t always right! There have been times where his aggressiveness has backfired, but that hasn’t changed his behavior. Of course, Bell can reject Boras’ recommendation if he’s fully comfortable in Miami.

  2. Great post! But do we need a full article explaining why Stallings will be non-tendered lol?

    1. I think everyone knows why Jacob Stallings will be non-tendered. It’s such a no-brainer move, lol.

      I think it’ll all be about Victor Mesa Jr. His prospect stock went up a lot. He’s actually developed into a power bat to look out for. He has some concerns, though. He doesn’t get on base enough, and his strikeout rate ballooned to 22% after recording 19% last season. But that’s a lot more encouraging than some of the outfield prospects we had before. (Paging: Jerar Encarnacion…)

      Also, protecting Troy Johnston is a total no-brainer. I don’t see how a MLB team could pass up on legitimate talent such as he. Even if his defense is hot trash, they need to figure out a way to give him ABs.

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