Derek Jeter had his introductory press conference as Marlins “owner” (really, “recognizable guy who put a small amount of money into an ownership group”), and he talked about his plans for the franchise now that the largely reviled Jeffrey Loria is no longer running the show.
Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald recapped the presser, and here are the most interesting snippits for Marlins (and baseball, for that matter) fans.
They did not confirm the anticipated payroll slashing but implied payroll reduction was likely. The Marlins lost more than $50 million with a $115 million payroll this season.
Sherman: “We are going to try to operate the team financially responsibly and successfully on the field.”
Jeter said he doesn’t like to use the words ‘tear down.’ But he acknowledged: “Moving forward there will be at times unpopular decisions” that will be made for the “betterment” of the franchise.
The Marlins already have $95 million committed to their payroll in 2018, and $84 million committed to the 2019 payroll. $10 million of the 2018 payroll (and $20 million of the 2019 payroll) is earmarked for Wei-Yin Chen, who has an opt-out in his contract following this season. Given that Chen threw just 33 innings this year, I don’t think he’ll be leaving that money on the table.
Giancarlo Stanton is the big earner on the Marlins, making $25 million in 2018 and $26 million in 2019 before his opt-out following the 2020 season. Dealing Stanton would clear the most payroll and likely bring back a strong package of players, but it would also make the Marlins a pretty bad team in 2018.
A trio of players are free agents after 2018, and are signed to relatively high contracts next season: Junichi Tazawa, Edinson Volquez, and Brad Ziegler. None had a particularly great season in 2017, and Miami wouldn’t receive much value in return for any of the three if they dealt them (especially if they expected to dump their whole contract in the trade).
After a 37 game 2017 that saw him slash .250/.279/.357, Martin Prado’s value is in the toilet, and the Marlins wouldn’t receive much of anything in return for him if they looked to dump the $28.5 million he’s owed over the next two seasons.
That brings me to the next key quote from Jeter, about the focus of reforming the Marlins, and three players who could help him with that focus in multiple ways.
Asked about his plans with the team, he said: “Some things you keep private. We will sit down with me and [president/baseball operations] Mike Hill and his staff [and decide a plan]. We do have to rebuild the organization. It starts with player development and scouting. We will build it from top down and bottom up.”
Dee Gordon is signed for three more seasons at a total salary of $38.9 million (which includes the buyout on a 2021 club option).
Marcell Ozuna will enter his second of three arbitration years this offseason, and made just $3.5 million in 2017.
Christian Yelich is signed for four more years at a total cost of $44.5 million (which includes the buyout on a 2022 club option).
These three players would have an incredible amount of value on the open market for the Marlins. All three have also been productive players for Miami and can be core players for the team going forward. If the Marlins want to cut salaries, trading Ozuna or Yelich won’t make much of a dent in their 2018 payroll (though trading Gordon would). But it would allow them to bring back a bounty of young, talented players in return, all without having to eat salary and accept a lesser package (like they would trading any of the four pitchers, Prado, or even Stanton and his mega-contract).
What happens with those three players (specifically the two outfielders) will tell us a lot about the future of the Marlins under Jeter. Are they simply looking to dump payroll and run the team on a shoestring budget, like Loria had for years? Or are they looking to build a young core, supplement it with their established stars, and actually contend? If the Marlins are willing to dump some of their more undesirable contracts for minimal return in order to clear payroll, that’s a great sign for their future. If they instead try to move some of their more attractive pieces, the team can vastly replenish their farm system – at the cost of contending in the near future.
It really is going to be a tough decision. And based on Jeter’s comment about “unpopular decisions” in the future, I wouldn’t be surprised if some of Miami’s best players have new homes in 2018.