Florida Standing Pat

One number on ESPN’s Free Agent Tracker stands out above the rest. The Florida Marlins are the only team without any committed money to free agents on major league contracts this winter. They have added Seth McClung and Jose Veras on minor league contracts, but that’s the extent of their activity this offseason.

After an 87-75 year from a very young team, there was certainly room for optimism in the Marlins camp. Even with an 81-81 Pythagorean record and an 83-79 third order record, the Marlins appeared to be in position, with a few upgrades, to make a run at the postseason. Now, in February, the Marlins haven’t added a single player of note, and key bullpen piece Kiko Calero is a free agent and first baseman Nick Johnson has moved on to the Yankees.

Where does that leave the Marlins? That depends on which projection system you ask. PECOTA thinks the Marlins have a decent team, and at 82-80, that would leave them with a realistic, albeit small, chance at the postseason. CHONE and CAIRO, on the other hand, are not quite as optimistic. CHONE projects Florida for either 76 or 78 wins depending on which method you prefer, and CAIRO projects them for 79 wins and a measley 2.5 percent chance at reaching the playoffs.

It is not entirely surprising that the Marlins haven’t made any big moves. With the increases in player salary due to arbitration, in particular Josh Johnson and Dan Uggla, the Marlins’ salary stands at 34.75 million before minimum salary players, according to Cot’s Contracts. The team hasn’t eclipsed a 40 million dollar salary since 2005.

The Marlins are anywhere from 3 to 6 wins away from seriously competing for a playoff spot this summer. In the face of the MLB and players union demanding the team spend more money towards a possible playoff run, Jeffrey Loria has somehow managed to completely ignore the free agent market. Perhaps the Marlins simply couldn’t find the correct player to meet both their financial and competitive needs this winter. Regardless of why, the Marlins’ decision-making process will likely result in one fewer team in the NL East race come this summer.

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19 Responses to “Florida Standing Pat”

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  1. Michael says:

    Truthfully this isn’t much of a surprise. The Marlins can be counted on to constantly forgo the free agent market regardless of their previous standing. I do think that CHONE and CAIRO are a bit pessimistic, and I’d label the team a bit more than .500 myself (call it fan optimism, if you will).

    I’d venture to say there isn’t much left to add, though 3B is a thought (Felipe Lopez is still available somehow). I think that would put us on the fringes though.

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  2. Whartonite says:

    At this point in the offseason, it’s a bit late for them to do anything, but if Coghlan were to play second base and Uggla one of the CI spots (preferably third, as long as his arm is strong enough), then it suddenly would have become relatively easy to make upgrades in the outfield (Mike Cameron, possibly Randy Winn, etc.) or the starting rotation (Jon Garland comes to mind, just to eat some innings, but if they were to get one big name free agent, this would be the place). There’s no way that the Marlins can’t afford a contract or three like that, but they refuse to try, and the fact that the Marlins won 87 games last year only reinforces Loria’s idea that that’s acceptable to fans. If not for the reprimand by MLB, Johnson wouldn’t have even signed his deal, but unfortunately, it came too late to spur any other moves. Or the Marlins still don’t really care.

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  3. MG says:

    Never understand why media/fans generally bitch and gripe about the Yanks and Red Sox payrolls yet the biggest issues has been the scumbag owners in Pittsburgh and Florida who continue to collect fat subsidies from the luxury tax. As a result, these teams enjoy among the best operating margins in baseball (if not the best) and have some of the best annual profits too. If anything, baseball needs as much as a payroll minimum threshold more so than a salary cap.

    BTY – I despise Loria. He tried to shake downn the Quebec Provincial Gov’t and the city of Montreal about moving the Expos and the Frenchies told him to go stuff it. Only the taxpayers of Miami and Dade County were stupid enough to give him huge funds for a new stadium.

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    • matt w says:

      Pittsburgh has “among the best operating margins in baseball (if not the best) and… some of the best annual profits too”? I didn’t even know that they’d opened their books to public inspection.

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      • MG says:

        No but you can make a pretty reasonable approximation from the Forbes numbers. I know that spending isn’t the end all be all to winning but it goes a long way to addressing several needs. McClatchy and Co were happy for years to stick to the Pirates’ fans and walk awy with a nice wad of cash at the season. Nutting looks like he might be a bit more willing to spend a few bucks but let’s see if the Pirates continue their annual fire sale including trading some of their younger arms at the trading deadline including Maholm. I bet they do.

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      • matt w says:

        I recommend this discussion at Bucs Dugout, particularly the comments from MarkInDallas. If there’s one sentence that sums it up, it’s this: “Can you explain to me why a team that is #29 in attendance and #26 in market size should be much higher than 27th or 28th in the league in payroll?” He also points out that when PNC Park opened, the Pirates’ payroll was near league average (but it didn’t do them much good since it was badly spent); the payroll dropped later when attendance dropped.

        Of course, I haven’t seen his numbers, so he might just be talking smack. On the other hand, he doesn’t seem to be under the misimpression that luxury tax goes to the small-market funds. I believe you have it mixed up with revenue sharing, and that’s why I don’t believe that you’ve actually used the Forbes numbers to calculate, well, anything.

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  4. The Marlins ownership situation is disgusting. They are a team that could have really used Holliday and it wouldnt have broken the bank:


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    • In terms of WAR, the Marlins were a top four combined offensive/defensive team last season (+19.6 WAR). And despite the fact that their combined pitching value of +14.1 WAR ranked bottom half of the league last season, they were within 5 WAR of a top 4 spot in pitching (a gap that could be bridged with a Matt Holliday-like player (a +5.7 or higher WAR player each of the last three seasons, including his injured 2008)). Collectively, the Marlins were a +33.7 WAR team last season. That made them the sixth best NL team, behind the Dodgers (+43.3 WAR), Rockies (+42.3 WAR), Braves (+41.3 WAR), Phillies (+40.8 WAR), and Cardinals (+38.1 WAR). Next season, it looks the Cardinals will lose Joel Pinero (+4.8 WAR) and Matt Holliday (+2.7 WAR for the Cardinals) and the Rockies will lose the value that Jason Marquis (+3.8 WAR) provided them. With a smart FA addition (specifically Holliday and perhaps a Valverde-like player), the Marlins stand in a good position to be a top four NL team next season with the right additions. As Fangraphs pointed out earlier, “the composition of a team’s talent and their relation to their division opponents can have a pretty significant effect on their internal marginal value of a win. A win to the Rays is significantly more valuable than a win to the Astros because of the respective effect of that win on the odds of either team making the playoffs.”

      In other words, the Marlins are exactly the kind of team that should be spending some money on the Free Agency market.

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  5. Andrew says:

    I am a fan and I don’t agree with the projections. The Marlins have two studs leading their rotation in Josh Johnson and Ricky Nolasco. Nolasco should do better this year than last. Also, remember, the Marlins did not have Chris Coughlan for the entire season. Although I don’t expect him to bat .372 as he did after July last year, he has solidified the lead-off position. The big question mark is whether they have a Rookie of the Year candidate in either Gaby Sanchez or Logan Morrison. Although Sanchez might not technically qualify for ROY, he has put up steady numbers in the minors. Morrison, however, has show temendous plate discipline that should help him avoid being overmatched in the majors. You dismiss the signings of Veras and McClung but the Marlins have a strong record of bullpen reclamation projects. One time might be lucky, but go back 5-6 years and you will see the Marlins have consistently found low-cost, high quality bullpen specialists.

    Although the Phillies are an elite team and Atlanta has real good pitching, the Marlins have a team should definitely compete for the playoffs.

    One question I have for the groups that make the projections. What did they project for the 2009 Marlins who did win 87 games?

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    • Michael says:

      OK, I’ll play devil’s advocate, and I too am a big fan.

      Last year the Marlins played like an 83-win team, but won 87 games. That happens all the time to teams, they win around their expected level because of various issues. But it’s unfair to assess how the projections “did” based on your ending question. Projections project true talent (ideally), and teams over- or under-perform their true talent level all the time; the standard deviation for a .500 team is 6 games, for a range of 75-87 wins 68% of the time. It doesn’t necessarily mean they’re wrong if they had the Fish at 81 games and they won 87.

      Also, where’s the improvement coming from? Regress Coghlan down for reasons you sort of hinted at, regress Uggla up a bit maybe? Volstad should be better I suppose. From an 83-win team, they may get to 84 wins, and that assumes last year was true talent.

      I can’t imagine the team being better than an 84-win team in reality, but strange things can happen during the season. That’s what I’m hoping for.

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  6. Matt says:

    I’m a Marlins fan and I believe they will be at least a 500 club. The rotation can only improve,same with the lineup if Maybin steps up and we get something from Morrison/Sanchez at 1B. The back of the rotatiod didn’t do crap last year and they were an 87 win team. Let’s see what happens, but don’t underestimate them because they will surprise you. By the way last year Pecota projected them to be 76-86, they are always underestimated at the beginning of the season and usually finish above 500

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  7. adonay says:

    The reason why many people think the marlins will not have the same record as last year is because our dicvision has gotten really competitive compared to last year. The mets by no means would suck as much or the nationals either, the braves has gotten better offensively with good pitching and the phillies will have a true ace since the beginning of the season . With that said you would have to at least take 5-6 wins from our record and where does that put us. 4th or 5th in the east. Every marlins fan wants the front office to spend some money. It is very tuff to see a team win a championship have 2 winning seasons after that and get dismantled, I thought that you rebuild a team when you have a horrible season and are spending to much money…….I guess that for the marlins is more important to build a strong bank account than a strong competitive team, and for those who say that we do have a competitive team well is true but just imagine if we were to spend just a little more and get someone like Holliday,Adrian Gonzalez that would put us in the elite status instead of mere competetiveness.

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  8. Maxwell Leach says:

    Hear whispers that Brad Wilkerson is healthy and looking for a spring invite. Kid plays above average defense at 3 positions, decent Cfer, and has a little pop when healthy. Realize that last season hurt his rep, but why wouldn’t the Marlins be interested considering the cost involved. Nothing to lose!

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  9. Florida’s payroll is an utter joke. Look at this chart, which compares the Marlins % change in payroll vs % change in revenue against that of the rest of the league:


    The Marlins situation, like that of the Mariners earlier this decade, seemed designed to just pick-pocket the fan; the funny part is they are not good enough to justify doing that. I say this as a Cubs fan, but at least the last 80 years of Cubs ownership was smart enough to milk a cashcow with a proven fanbase full of loyal idiots and business yuppies; The marlins are trying to exploit old people who dont like them because Florida is a transplant state.

    My hatred for Jeff Loria is well documented ( http://gameofinches.blogspot.com/search/label/Jeff%20Loria ), however and I will just quit ranting now.

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  10. Nny says:

    The Marlins problems are not offensive problems. The Marlins problems come in the starting rotation. Outside of JJ and Nolasco, CHONE doesn’t project a single SP to be under a 4.79 ERA

    The market is not something to get good free agent pitching off of, and the John Garlands of the world do not really fix the issue. While yes, it’s really really annoying to have a small payroll, picking up free agents really don’t help the cause when it comes to this off season. The only argument one can make about cost and production is the battle between rookies for first base. However, these guys need to be broken in eventually, and it’s better to have them breaking in as the only rookies in the line up.

    The Marlins standing pat most certainly has a lot to do with payroll, do not get me wrong. But it also has to do with how the team is constructed. The team tied 4th in wOBA last season, and they’re bringing back basically the same offensive team. And while there is some points for regression (Coghlan), there’s also not giving Bonifacio over 450 PA. The team will very likely again be a top-5 offensive team, and with a break out of Maybin and/or Morrison/Gaby, could be top-3.

    Signing free agent hitters for marginal improvements does not help the cause, especially considering the upside there is in the players being removed. Improvement needs to come to pitching. What the Marlins have after Josh Johnson and Ricky Nolasco are 7 SP who have high potential but so far poor performance (Chris Volstad, Andrew Miller, Anibal Sanchez, Sean West, Hayden Penn, Rick Vandenhurk, Ryan Tucker). The Marlins are standing pat that 2-3 of those 7 can break out. Smart? Maybe not. But if they don’t, the Marlins finish as a .500 team again, so they’re still a good team. And if they do, the Marlins are one of the better teams in the NL and the improvements came in house.

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