If there’s one thing the Marlins have been known for throughout their history, it has been for being a player development factory. They have constantly replenished their big league roster with new talent from the farm and served as a pipeline for getting talented players into the major leagues. Unfortunately, if there’s another thing the Marlins have been known for, it’s been trading those players as soon as they reach arbitration eligibility, as the team has operated on a shoestring budget that hasn’t let them keep players beyond their cost controlled years.
After years of operating this way, the players union finally complained to Major League Baseball, and the league actually forced the Marlins to spend the revenue sharing money they’ve been pocketing for years. The result? Dan Uggla is still a Marlin, and Josh Johnson has a new, long-term contract that not only bought out two arbitration years but two years of free agency, as well. For once, the Marlins did not hold a fire sale during the winter. Okay, they traded Jeremy Hermida and Matt Lindstrom, but those two are hardly irreplaceable. The core of the team remained mostly in tact, which is new for Florida, at least.
With Hanley Ramirez and now Josh Johnson locked up for a while, along with some promising rookies and one of the most impressive prospects in the game, the Marlins have the beginnings of a good team. The question, as always, is payroll. Even with the new money spent this winter, the team simply doesn’t have the type of financial flexibility needed to fill out a roster well enough to really contend. They’ve spent just over $40 million on the current team, which isn’t enough unless you’re building around a legendary core of homegrown talent. The Marlins aren’t.
So, despite their strengths in player development, and the talent on the roster that is good enough to keep them from being terrible, the Marlins aren’t really contenders. They’re a player development machine that can put together teams that play respectable baseball without costing much money, but unless the agreement with the player’s union leads to a significant expansion of the payroll, they’re going to remain a quality also ran.
It’s too bad, too, because there are some good baseball people doing good things in Florida. But the lack of investment in the team significantly limits their upside. It’s a good step that they didn’t tear the team apart this winter, but until they actively start adding pieces to help the team take the next step, it’s tough to see their organizational blueprint as one that any teams should want to follow.
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