Can the Marlins Really Sign Reyes, Pujols and Buehrle?

The Florida Marlins have never been known for having deep pockets. The team never enters an offseason eyeing the top free agents in the class. The Marlins combine talented homegrown prospects with cheap stopgap solutions and, in most cases, deal their players away before they get very expensive.

This has been their modus operandi for years, which makes it all the more interesting that the team entered the 2011 offseason targeting Albert Pujols, Jose Reyes and Mark Buehrle, three of the top free agents available.

Signing all three might seem like a long shot, but the Marlins are in an interesting position with a new stadium, new uniforms and a different team name. The Miami Marlins are looking for a clean slate in 2012, and making an offseason splash is certainly a means to accomplishing that goal.

But can they really sign all three of these players? Will they sign any of them?

Reyes is much more likely to end up in Miami than Pujols or Buehrle but the latter two should not be ruled out. Buehrle has a close relationship with new Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen. He could also find it desirable to switch to the National League. Buehrle has always expressed interest in playing for his hometown Cardinals, but, pun completely intended, that probably isn’t in the cards.

By signing with the Marlins he would effectively replace Javier Vazquez, who pitched incredibly well down the stretch. Buehrle would help solidify a talented rotation featuring Josh Johnson, Ricky Nolasco and Anibal Sanchez and distance the Marlins from their offense-only reputation. However, Buehrle might not find Miami as attractive as other destinations given his career timeline.

The Marlins aren’t contenders without at least one of Reyes and Pujols, and Buehrle might not want to spend two or three seasons with a team on the fringe.

For Pujols, the allure of a new stadium and a new city in which to become ‘the man’ may lead to serious consideration of the Marlins reported offer. Further, that offer doesn’t even need to be as lucrative, on the face, as offers elsewhere. Based on my jock tax calculations — derived from state and city rates and the actual major league schedule — the Marlins have the second-lowest effective rate in the National League. The Marlins could offer Pujols less, yet enable him to actually make more than he would elsewhere.

Then again, Pujols could end up being one of those players that prefers to sign the biggest contract possible for bragging rights. Because he seems like a great guy it feels wrong to associate him with that type of behavior, but many upper echelon athletes grow concerned more with the status of their deals than justifying a deal based on tax rates. There is certainly reason to think Pujols would consider the Marlins, but it’s still a long shot.

Reyes has been linked to the Marlins for several weeks now, and according to some sources, may even be announced this week as the new Marlins shortstop. It has been speculated that the deal would pay him $60 million over three years, but keep in mind that nothing is close to being confirmed. However, it sure seems plausible that Reyes would make anywhere from $15-$20 million per season.

Can the Marlins even afford to sign two or more of these players?

Last season, team payroll was around $58 million. According to Cot’s Contracts, the team has around $49 million committed to non-arb players in 2012 after subtracting Vazquez, Helms and Dobbs (around $9 million in salary). Factoring in replacement costs and bumps in arbitration puts starting payroll around $70 million.

Ownership has expressed a willingness to increase spending to the $80 million range, giving the Marlins little room to work with.

To sign some combination of these players, the Marlins would need to get creative, or that payroll figure needs to increase. If Reyes signed first, Pujols is definitely worth breaking the bank. He is a once-in-a-generation player still capable of putting up gaudy numbers. His intrinsic value related to the new stadium and merchandise shouldn’t be understated either. If it means increasing payroll to $95 million, and ownership is serious about putting the best product on the field, you find a way to make Pujols-Reyes work.

The Marlins could also pursue a trade of Hanley Ramirez, instead of shifting him elsewhere on the diamond. If his $15 million salary in 2012 is subtracted from the original $54 million figure, the Marlins have around $40-$45 million to spend to get in the $80 million payroll vicinity. Suddenly, Pujols and Reyes aren’t hindering the payroll goals. Their added value is mitigated by the loss of Ramirez, but perhaps the team recoups valuable, cost-controlled pieces needed elsewhere in the lineup or the field to truly contend.

It’s unlikely that the Marlins sign more than one of these players, but the team can make it work. It seems strange to associate “increased payroll” with the Marlins, but whether this behavior is entirely fueled by the new stadium or not, we should expect to see at least one major splash in Miami this offseason. How big of a splash depends on the aggressiveness of ownership and their willingness to get creative or increase spending.




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Eric is an accountant and statistical analyst from Philadelphia. He also covers the Phillies at Phillies Nation and can be found here on Twitter.

25 Responses to “Can the Marlins Really Sign Reyes, Pujols and Buehrle?”

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  1. Yirmiyahu says:

    So, “Can the Marlins Really Sign Reyes, Pujols and Buehrle?” No way.

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  2. Blue Jays Fan says:

    I don’t think trading Hanley while his value is at an all-time low is a smart idea. I’d wait until he puts up another .300-25-100 year. Of course, the Marlins could sign Aaron Harang, Jimmy Rollins, Edwin Jackson, Ryan Madson, and Sizemore for that type of combined money

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    • Kyle says:

      Yeah Im not sure he meant that as a very serious conjecture. There isn’t much of a chance Hanley goes anywhere

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    • vivalajeter says:

      How confident are you that Hanely will put up another .300-25-100 year? He was awful last year, and recent pictures appear that he put on a lot of weight (and not in a good way). If they can trade him to a team that expects a .300-25-100 year, they should be able to get solid prospects as well as shed his $15MM.

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  3. John says:

    In all seriousness, how much art will Jeff Loria have to sell to pay for all this? I can’t see how the Marlins could actually afford to increase payroll that much. It seems to be a massive risk that Loria wouldn’t actually take. I’m betting a lot of this is posturing to drive buzz around the new name and stadium.

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  4. Yirmiyahu says:

    Looks like your projected payroll is way off. You only allocated $5M for “factoring in replacement costs and bumps in arbitration for players like Anibal and Clay Hensley.” Six players have contractual salary raises (Johnson, Hanley, Nolasco, Buck, Infante, Choate) totaling $16.5M. Josh Johnson alone gets a $6M raise. And, looking at MLBTraderumors’s estimates (http://www.mlbtraderumors.com/2011/11/projected-arbitration-salaries.html) together with Cot’s, the nine arbitration raises (Sanchez, Volstad, Oviedo, Bonifacio, Mujica, Hensley, Baker, Badenhop, Murphy) together add up to about $10.5M

    That’s a total $27M in salary increases. So, taking your $58M starting figure, subtracting $8.6M for Dobbs/Helms/Vazquez, and adding in the $27M pay raises, and the Marlins already have an $76.4M payroll.

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    • Eric Seidman says:

      Forgive me if I’m still slow to wake up on this Monday morning, but I don’t quite get your calcs. Marlins payroll is about $49 million for 2012 before factoring in arbitration cases. That comes from Cot’s itself — $46 mil and then the league minimum renewals for guys like LoMo, Stanton, Cousins, Hayes, etc. Add to that the arb estimates — between $8-$10 mil — and we’re at $57-$59 mil.

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      • Yirmiyahu says:

        Well, I was taking the 2011 salary and then adding/subtracting the changes, which is what you did in the article.

        But if you want to do it this way, starting from scratch and adding up all the 2012 salaries….
        $15.00M – Ramirez
        $13.75M – Johnson
        $9.00M – Nolasco
        $6.00M – Sanchez – arb
        $6.00M – Buck
        $5.80M – Oviedo – arb
        $4.00M – Infante
        $2.60M – Volstad – arb
        $2.10M – Bonifacio – arb
        $1.80M – Hensley – arb
        $1.60M – Mujica – arb
        $1.50M – Choate
        $1.10M – Badenhop – arb
        $0.80M – Baker – arb
        $0.70M – Murphy – arb
        $4.14M – 10 more players @ league min
        ———-
        $75.89M – TOTAL

        I got the arb estimates from here: http://www.mlbtraderumors.com/2011/11/projected-arbitration-salaries.html

        The problem is your arbitration estimates. Those nine arb guys made over $12M last year; so there’s no way they’re only making $8-$10M this year.

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      • Eric Seidman says:

        Yeah I see what happened there. I used the increases as the salary, not on top of. Thanks.

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      • Yirmiyahu says:

        I’m not trying to be an ass here, Eric. I just think that your numbers are significantly off, and it really affects the analysis here. If their budget is really $80M, they don’t have much wiggle room.

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      • Eric Seidman says:

        Nobody said you were being an ass? I agree — updated the para to assuage confusion. Thanks for the comment. The major point still stands that the Marlins have to get creative or increase spending a lot to make a splash. If it isn’t trading Hanley or another highly-salaried player, they need to go past the $80 mil mark.

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      • Paul says:

        This is what I was going to write. It’s why I ID’d Anibal Sanchez as a trade target for the Royals. The key is the increases in guaranteed money on long-term deals over last year. Huge increases, as you can see illustrated by Yirmiyahu.

        The point is they are essentially already there in terms of a payroll target. Either they are going to blow that figure out of the water, or trade some guys.

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    • Kyle says:

      Josh Johnson already signed a long term contract, no arbitration for him

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      • Yirmiyahu says:

        Right. I listed him with the contractual raises, not the arb raises. His contract paid him $7.75M in 2011, but will pay him $13.75M in 2012.

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      • Paul says:

        Right. This is a critical point. The Marlins are in a perfect storm of contractual increases right now.

        People really need to understand that long-term contracts are almost always backloaded, and these contracts that are cheap for teams often increase dramatically in the middle years.

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  5. Endeav says:

    Any chance this desire/posturing to spend is linked to Selig and the Dodgers? McCourt trying to open the MLB books with specific reference to the Marlins could be driving a push to demonstrate that the team’s finances are fine. Couple years worth of news reports stating that Loria was pocketing luxury taxes and crying poverty when convincing Miami to build his stadium might force Loria to perform this spending spree or be earnestly trying to do so. Could be Selig telling Loria straight up to spend more lest some court in the future actually does open up MLB’s books.

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  6. TheGrandSlamwich says:

    Loria is doing a Papelbon-esque riverdance over all the attention the Marlins are getting. I’m willing to bet he is low-balling on his offers and just doing everything for the publicity. Hooray for publicly funded stadiums!

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  7. cpebbles says:

    The state income tax issue is really not a big deal. It would end up being around $750k a year. That’s a pittance in comparison to what the difference in marketability could be between teams.

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  8. Carl says:

    Endeav, right on the money. Recall the slap on the wrist Mr. Loria and the Marlins received from MLB in ’09 following the leaked financials? Their history speaks for itself. Pitiful payroll while pocketing rev shares dollars at a time when Forbes declared them to be the most profitable franchise in MLB.

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  9. Husker says:

    Clearly, the Marlins would be a serious contender if they signed those 3 and kept Ramirez.
    Can they? Of course. Loria has plenty of money.
    Will they? I can’t answer that question because I’m laughing too hard.

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    • cs3 says:

      Its not a matter of “Loria having plenty of money”.
      His personal wealth is almost irrelevant.

      He could be the richest sports owner in the world, but if the Marlins revenue is crap, then hes not going to spend anywhere near the other big market teams. Why would he purposely lose money every year?
      The players paychecks are not coming out of Loria’s personal savings account.

      Thats why signing all (or any) of the the big name FA’s is so incredibly risky. The new ballpark will generate lots of revenue on paper, but until the MLB season is underway theres really no telling how much money will actually be coming in. Nobody knows if fans will show up, and if they do… for how long?

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  10. Chone Figgins says:

    I’m available at the right price.

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  11. antonio bananas says:

    I really REALLY want a clear and logical explanation on why everyone thinks Reyes is going to be awesome. He’s a speed guy having his age 29 season, so he’ll likely get slower from here out. He has a history of injuries and as he gets older, that’ll get worse. His production when healthy is about a 5-6 WAR guy, but again, he’s going to be in his age 29 season, so even that will be declining.

    I mean, through his age 28 season, Reyes hasn’t been MUCH different than say Jimmy Rollins. In hindsight do you want Rollings from age 29-present? Probably not. I don’t see reyes performing much better. Especially not for the ridiculous contract he’ll likely get.

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  12. The Rajah says:

    The Marlins are trying to redirect their fans attention away from those hideous unis they trotted out last week by saying they are attempting to sign real free agents. The Marlins have NO intention of signing anyone who would require real money to play for them. Jeffrey Loria runs the biggest welfare team in baseball and waits for the luxury tax to be redistributed to the “poor” teams. Why would he want to ruin his gravy train by actually paying players instead of pocketing that cash for himself?

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