Derek Jeter and Bruce Sherman have been owners of the Miami Marlins for almost three months now. With the MLB regular season having concluded in November (the Astros won the World Series, by the way), the transaction window officially opened.
Not until December and the always enjoyable Winter Meetings does the activity really start to ramp up. But for Jeter, Sherman and their Marlins, that activity has peaked in early December with two very big moves.
Backtracking a little bit, I wrote two separate but narratively linear articles on the Marlins last season. First, I ventured that the then Jeff Loria-owned club should beat the league to the punch and sell off pieces first.
My reasoning: the Marlins have a good team. A damn good team for one that finds themselves in such bleak fortune. Only the champion Astros and Coors Field tenant Rockies had a better team batting average than the Marlins in 2017. Only those two clubs racked up more hits.
Additionally, the Marlins were fifth in the National League in runs scored and fourth in RBI in the senior circuit.
This team can absolutely rake.
Unfortunately, pitching is a big problem in South Beach, the team finishing 26th in ERA last season. The tragic death of Jose Fernandez left the club helpless for a top-of-the-rotation arm and they’ve battled horrible luck with their recent top draft picks.
Tyler Kolek (2nd overall pick, 2014) and Braxton Garrett (6th, 2016) have both become Tommy John victims with Kolek’s stock at an all-time low and Garrett still holding on as one of the team’s best prospects...
The ownership situation —whether it be Loria’s ineptitude in roster building and/or cost-cutting or the fact that they really don’t have one in place— has finally been resolved.
But it appears Jeter and Sherman are off to a start that rings all too familiar. The team is stripping down again. You don’t have to play devil’s advocate to defend the decision, but the Marlins did manage 77 wins last season after starting out with what seemed like a winless April.
Alas, here we are. They’re tearing it down again to build it up. Teams have held onto more with less, but the Marlins have a legitimate core in place.
The latter, unfortunately, is a dump. Marlins’ ownership certainly tried their best (we presume) to squeeze some high-level prospects out of the St. Louis Cardinals, Los Angeles Dodgers, San Francisco Giants or the Yankees, but Stanton’s contract is just all sorts of terrible.
Even as a reigning NL MVP who just turned 28, entering the prime of his career as one of the league’s fiercest power hitters, the contract he signed in 2014 is this Marlins’ team’s undoing.
Stanton, of course, can opt out after 2020 which would have saved the Marlins from themselves, but only Dirk Nowitzki says no to that many millions. A quick breakdown shows Stanton earning $25 million in 2018, $26 million (shorthand from here on out) in 2019 and $26M in 2020.
After he certainly opts in, he’s due $29M in 2021 and 2022, $32M in 2023 through 2025, $29M in 2026, $25M in 2027 and then finally a club option for $25M in 2028 before he hits unrestricted free agency in 2028 at age 40.
The absurd amount of money could have defended even from the Marlins, but the minute they gave him a contract for well over a decade, they were tying their own hands in a Florida-sized knot.
So here we are, Giancarlo Stanton is now teammates with Aaron Judge in New York. The Bronx Bombers are even bomb-ier (sue me) and if it were up to me I’d let both players play right field and just see what the hell happens.
By eating the contract —and reportedly receiving a casual $30 million dollars to alleviate their pain— the Yankees didn’t even touch their league-best farm system. Their payroll will return to its hellish ways but it’s something Brian Cashman is certainly willing to do for a championship, something the Yankees will likely enter 2018 as a prime favorite for.
From the prospects side, Miami is wrangling in Rafael Devers...!...cousin Jose but the real get here is Jorge Guzman. Acquired last off-season from the Astros with Albert Abreu for Brian McCann, the flame-throwing Guzman immediately slots in as one of the Marlins’ best arms in the minors. Guzman started 2017 hot and then cooled down but at least salvages some of the return here.
At the big league level, the Marlins will receive Marlin Castro, pardon me, Starlin Castro, to become their new second baseman. They could even move him back to shortstop and flip JT Riddle to second. On paper, the Marlins got themselves a very good player who will also be entering his age 28 season.
Miami will also reportedly be collecting some veterans from the Yankees, more than likely allowing the Yankees to shed salary as they take on the giant Giancarlo deal. With all the organization depth the Yankees have amassed over their lightning quick rebuild, this isn’t a problem for them.
Add Castro to Christian Yelich, Marcell Ozuna, JT Realmuto and Justin Bour and you still have a mighty fine offensive core. However, the pitching staff is still... how to put this nicely... led by Dan Straily, so Castro may not want to get too comfortable.
The essential dumping of Stanton’s contract signals a full-out sell job in Miami. This comes a half-decade from the arrival of shiny Marlins Park.
On the bright side, if the Marlins have (another) fire sale, they have some extremely attractive pieces. Yelich (whose contract is a 180 from Stanton’s) can and will fetch the Marlins the tools to revamp their farm system if a. he’s traded and b. the team doesn’t get hosed.
Ozuna and Realmuto are also going to warrant a huge return. Bour can get you something as well, but the previous three names are serious trade chips if the Marlins do indeed decide to clean house.
New Mariners center fielder Dee Gordon netted the Marlins a nice trio of prospects. Unlike the Stanton deal, they got prospects here they sorely need. Nick Neidert could jettison to the back of Miami’s rotation in due time while fellow pitcher Robert Dugger is a converted starter who had an excellent 2017.
Infielder Christopher Torres was one of Seattle’s best position player prospects (although not saying a whole lot given Jerry Dipoto’s mass exodus since taking over as GM) but has considerable upside as an offensive project up the middle and is already one of Miami’s top prospects.
These two deals have definitely, er, changed the outlook of the Marlins. The Gordon deal adds desperately needed farm depth but you wonder what a little patience and exposure at the Winter Meetings might have helped you get for him.
As for the Stanton deal, I hope I’m wrong here and the financial freedom it grants Jeter’s Marlins cannot be ignored, but the lack of any blue chip prospect return from an absolutely loaded Yankees system is nothing short of disappointing.
Which is what Marlins fans must be feeling...if they’re out there.