We all knew that Ozzie Guillen was nuts. That Logan Morrison has been known to say some crazy things. That Carlos Zambrano has thrown out his share of zingers in the day. But none of them can hold a torch to Marlins team president David Samson:
“Aggressive right to the point of stupidity, but not quite there,” said Samson, characterizing the club’s planned pursuit [of Cuban ballplayer Yoenis Cespedes]. “We think he’s a perfect fit for us, but it has to be sane. [We’ve] expressing interest, going to visit, making it very clear to his representatives and to him and his family that we think he should not be anywhere other than Miami. As a Cuban and someone in the DR, it makes perfect sense. We have a perfect position for him to play. It would be great.” (Juan Rodriguez, Sun Sentinel)
When I first read that quote, my immediate thought was that it’s a perfect way to summarize the Marlins’ entire off-season: aggressive to the point of stupidity, but not quiiite there.
I don’t trust my memory, though, so is that true? Have the Marlins generally stopped themselves this year before crossing the line into poor decision making, or are have they been “aggressively stupid”? Let’s check it out, deal by deal.
There’s no doubt that the Marlins weren’t aggressive in pursuing Jose Reyes; they met with him the very first night that teams were allowed to talk with free agents, and they were pushing for a quick deal from the very beginning. In the end, they signed Reyes to a six year, $106 million deal just before the beginning of the Winter Meetings. Aggressive? With Reyes’ injury history, oh yes, surely. But stupid? That’s up for debate.
As Dave Cameron pointed out back in November, Jose Reyes shares some remarkable similarities with another recent speedster free agent: Carl Crawford. Although Reyes came with more injury concerns than Crawford, both players have a similar skillset — speedsters, good defenders, mediocre plate discipline, middling pop — and both of them became free agents at 28 years old. Crawford then signed a 7 year, $142 million deal, while Reyes got a contract worth around 75% that.
That’s not to say that Reyes is a bargain; the injury concerns around him are valid, and you could make the argument that Crawford’s deal was a bit over the top in and of itself. But in paying Reyes an average of $17.5 million/year, they are essentially hoping he can average around 3.5 WAR/season over the length of his deal. That’s not too difficult to imagine Reyes doing, as he has produced over 5.5 WAR in four of the previous six seasons.
So was the Reyes deal aggressive? Certainly. But that doesn’t mean the deal was a bad one, and it’s quite possible that this ends up being a favorable deal for the Marlins. They picked a good winter to go after the big guns on the market, as the only team they were seriously bidding against was the poverty-stricken Mets.
Mark Buehrle & Heath Bell
The Marlins started the offseason with three main targets: Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle, and Heath Bell. Bell was actually the first free agent that the Marlins signed this offseason, and I think his deal may have colored people’s overall view of their offseason. There’s no doubt that Bell is getting overpaid due to his status as a “proven closer” — three years, $27 million — and the Marlins could have nabbed someone like Ryan Madson if they were a bit more patient. This was probably their most suspect move of the offseason thus far…but even then, they’re only committing $27 million to Bell. It could be worse, right? After all, they didn’t show any sort of inclination to toss Jonathan-Papelbon-type money at a closer.
Mark Buehrle was the next free agent to sign with the Marlins, and his 4 year, $58 million deal comes with its share of risky. While Buehrle has been Mr. Consistent over his career — he’s thrown over 200 IP eleven years in a row, and posted at least 3.0 WAR in each of the past five seasons — he’ll be 33 years old next season. The Marlins are paying him like he’ll be a 3.0 WAR pitcher (on average) over the length of his deal, which is probably a bit optimistic. Still, Buehrle will be moving into the National League, and the Marlins’ new ballpark looks like it could become the new PETCO. It’s another aggressive deal, but I don’t think the risk is great enough for us to call it a horrible deal.
Albert Pujols & C.J. Wilson
The Marlins didn’t sign Albert Pujols or C.J. Wilson, but they did make a serious runs at both of them. There were all sorts of reports that came out about the Marlins and Pujols, but once the dust settled, it seems the consensus was that the Marlins were willing to offer him around a $200 million deal, but they tapped out once the bidding went much higher. (I’m sorry, but I didn’t buy the somewhat implausible rumor that the Marlins actually offered Pujols the highest bid.)
And as for Wilson, the Marlins offered him a very fair deal — six years, $16-17m per year — but he chose to sign for below market rate and go to the Angels. Again, I’m noticing a distinct trend: the Marlins were aggressive, but still staying within the upper realm of what’s considered a smart deal.
He may be insane, but Carlos Zambrano has the potential to be an above-average to ace starter — 3.71 FIP in 2010 — and the Marlins are only paying him $3 million in 2012. They had to give up three years of Chris Volstad to make the deal happen, but if Ozzie Guillen is able to harness Zambrano, I don’t think anyone in Miami will miss him.
Now we’re back where we started. Judging by the Marlins’ history this off-season, I have no doubt that they truly intend to be “aggressive right to the point of stupidity” with Cespedes; it’s what they have done all off-season long, and I see no reason why they would change that now.
The big question is: what exactly would be a “stupid” amount of money to throw at Cespedes? He’s 26 years old and has been compared to Adam Jones, although he will need some time in Triple-A to start 2012. His upside is tremendous, but as we’ve seen with other prospects, that doesn’t necessarily mean he’ll attain his peak.
The common assumption is that Cespedes will get a deal somewhere in the $50-60 million range. If that’s spread over the standard six year period of team control for prospects — so around $8-10 million per season — I could see that fitting the Marlins’ current strategy. It’d be an aggressive offer and more than many other teams would be willing to pay, but even if Cespedes never developed into more than an average center fielder, he’d be worth the contract.
So there we have it. “Your 2012 Miami Marlins: Aggressive to the point of stupidity.” If that’s not a winning season slogan that’s sure to drive in the fans….well, then I don’t belong in marketing.*
*…Which I probably don’t.