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More than enough has been said and written about the unexpected departure of Kim Ng. There is no need to further deepen into the subject, and if any of you still have questions about what happened, Wednesday’s Fish Unfiltered podcast interviewing Craig Mish is highly recommended.
That said, it is time to move on.
All this fuzz about directive changes makes one wonder what the strategy would be moving forward for this franchise. This writer believes, and somehow confirmed by Mr. Mish in the aforementioned interview, the team will continue the small-market approach for years to come. Farm system strengthening, international scouting and player development improvement, and conscious spending are the avenues to drive into for the next 5 years.
Bruce Sherman will continue running this team with a frugal budget, even knowing that financially, the conditions should be better than in late 2017 when he took over. Granted, the Fish has a projected 2023 payroll budget of $106 million, sitting 22nd in the Major Leagues between the D-backs and Reds. For reference, the average payroll for MLB teams this year is $166 million. It might be reasonable to think that the budget can go up to the $110-115 million range and would be surprising if it reaches $120M.
Upcoming player options will define that projected budget for next year. Soler will certainly opt out, and Miami will have to decide whether to extend a Qualifying Offer or not. Most likely Miami will offer him a QO, and Soler will decline it. The Marlins will then at least secure a draft pick compensation, coming in very handy given the weakness of their farm system regarding position players. In Bell’s case, that is a 50/50 as of today. If he stays, then there is one less problem to think about. If he does not, then the humble opinion here is that Troy Johnston will take over the 1B job, with Arráez sliding to first base as a backup plan.
The arbitration class is also a major factor. Out of 13 players coming, Jacob Stallings is the one most certain to not be offered a contract. There are another 3 or 4 players who might be non-tendered, but those players will not represent more than $4 million combined. If curious, you can have a look at the arbitration class here. In total, the arbitration class projects somewhere between $35-40 million, around a third of the total payroll. Spotrac has estimated the 2024 payroll at about $118 million, but it includes full salaries from Bell ($16.5 M), Cueto ($10.5 M), Soler, Barnes ($9M each), and Stallings ($3.6-3.8 M projected); those players will not be on the roster next year, at least not with the same salary (except for Bell, hopefully).
Free Agent-Spending Budget
Taking all of this into consideration, there is still a free agent spending window of around $15-20 million for 2024. With identified improvement opportunities in C, SS, and at least one SP, to mention the most important ones, it does seem a steep quest to vanquish this winter. One of the necessities can be addressed, perhaps two. Three? That might be a stretch.
Keep Swimming Upstream
With a depleted farm system, a tight payroll, a team without a General Manager, and a pitching-rich-yet-injury-plagued rotation, there are a lot more questions than answers before the Winter Meetings this early December in Nashville. Expect quiet meetings for the Fish, and probably not much will happen apart from the contract options, QOs, non-tender deadlines, and the Rule 5 draft. Yes, that means no trades, no free agents, no surprises before New Year’s. Let’s hope this is wrong.
Play General Manager
There is a lot of fun in playing with somebody else’s money, so let’s play a game:
If Sherman hires you as the brand-new GM and given the payroll and roster limitations described above, how would you approach this winter in terms of roster construction? What would be your 26-man roster entering next season?
Conditions are: Bell stays, but Soler, Cueto, Stallings, and Barnes are out. You have $20 million for signing free agents next year. I read you in the comments section.
Starting next week, the focus will shift to the roster and its biggest needs. Again, comments are much appreciated.
Photo by Ron Jenkins/Getty Images