Posted November 15, 2012

If everything must go, here’s what Marlins have left

Giancarlo Stanton, Logan Morrison, Miami Marlins, Ricky Nolasco

Ricky Nolasco could be the next established player shipped out of Miami. (AP)

Beginning with their midseason trades and going though Tuesday’s blockbuster trade, the Marlins have now shed the salaries of 13 out of their 14 highest paid players from their 2012 roster. Since the trade went down, plenty of anger has been directed at owner Jeffrey Loria — on whose watch two of the franchise’s three roster teardowns have occurred — some of it rather hyperbolic. “Loria broke the public covenant of a new stadium and dropped napalm on the sport in South Florida,” wrote the Sun-Sentinel‘s Dave Hyde, who advised the owner to follow his newly-traded players out of the country.

Despite the exodus, Miami’s current slashing of payroll doesn’t represent the deepest cut in team history. In the immediate aftermath of the trade, the team has $32.5 million committed to seven players for 2013, according to Cot’s Baseball Contracts, and not one of its other players is eligible for arbitration this winter. Assuming $490,000 per player for the remaining 18 spots — the major league minimum — that’s another $8.8 million, which would take their payroll to $41.3 million, a 59 percent drop from last year’s $101.6 million Opening Day payroll. By comparison, the 2006 Opening Day payroll was down more than 75 percent after Loria’s (temporary) failure to bend Miami-Dade taxpayers to his will for a new ballpark led him to direct general manager Larry Beinfest to cut salaries to the bone — the sharpest percentage drop in payroll since at least 1988.

For as much housecleaning as they’ve done, the Marlins may not be done yet. Here’s a quick look at the meat still remaining on this particular fish carcass.

Ricky Nolasco (2013 salary: $11.5 million)
The going-on-30-year-old righty is now the team’s de facto ace following the departures of Josh Johnson, Anibal Sanchez, Carlos Zambrano and Mark Buehrle. In fact, he’s the only Marlin remaining who made more than 12 starts for them this past season. That isn’t likely to last long, given that Nolasco’s salary makes up more than one-third of Miami’s current payroll, and that his services should be in demand because of the cost certainty on a contract that runs only through next season.

Even so, Nolasco isn’t anywhere near an ace; he pitched to a 4.48 ERA in 191 innings last year, his lowest mark since 2008. Once upon a time, those bloated ERAs represented an oddly persistent anomaly given stronger peripheral stats (homer, walk and strikeout rates), but his strikeout rate has plummeted drastically over the past few years, and his batting averages on balls in play have remained high:

YEAR IP ERA FIP SO/9 GB% BABIP
2008 212.3 3.52 3.75 7.9 40% .271
2009 185.0 5.06 3.31 9.5 40% .317
2010 157.7 4.51 3.89 8.4 42% .316
2011 206.0 4.67 3.50 6.5 47% .331
2012 191.0 4.48 3.92 5.9 49% .310

Offsetting Nolasco’s falling strikeout rate is a groundball rate that has risen sharply, helping him do a better job of keeping the ball in the park; his home run rate has fallen from an astronomical high of 1.4 per nine in 2010 to 0.8 this past year. As a number four starter who can eat innings (an average of 190 over the past four seasons), he has his uses. The Yankees are said to be interested him, but in that, they’re surely not alone. In fact, many teams needing to round out a rotation could find a spot, though the price tag may be a bit high, and the likelihood of netting a draft pick when he departs is low, since a $13 million-ish qualifying offer would represent a substantial raise.

Yunel Escobar (2013 salary: $5 million)
Escobar just arrived from Toronto via that blockbuster trade, but his $5 million salary makes him the team’s second-highest player behind Nolasco, and the early indication is that the Marlins prefer to start glove whiz Adeiny Hecchavarria at shortstop instead . The 30-year-old Escobar is coming off a down season in which he batted .253/.300/.344, with his on-base and slugging percentages about 55 points south of his career norms. Worse, he was suspended three games for writing a homophobic slur on his eyeblack tape and furthered his reputation as a clubhouse problem; via ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick, one NL scout said, “This guy makes Hanley Ramirez look like Teammate of the Year.”

Even so, Escobar can play. Various defensive metrics valued him at anywhere from 5 to 16 runs above average, enough to merit his salary, and he has a pair of $5 million club options for 2014 and 2015 as well. It’s not likely the Marlins are going to pay him to sit on the bench and sulk; they could shift him to third base, but with his bat a question mark there, it makes more sense to flip him.

Giancarlo Stanton (2013 salary: $490,000 est.)
Hands down Miami’s best player, Stanton is coming off a monster year in which he hit .290/.361/.608 with 37 homers — enough to lead the league in slugging percentage and rank second in homers — with a team-high 5.4 Wins Above Replacement in just 123 games, as he missed a month due to knee surgery. He just turned 23 last week, and is still a year away from arbitration eligibility, meaning that he’s likely to make the major league minimum or not much more.

I wrote last week that he’s a prime candidate for a long-term extension worth well over $100 million, but there’s no earthly reason for him to negotiate with the miserly Marlins given the likelihood that they’ll trade him the moment that he gets expensive. Stanton knows this as well as anyone; via Twitter, he expressed his frustration regarding the blockbuster — “Alright, I’m pissed off!!! Plain & Simple” — and changed his avatar to remove the team’s uniform. His value may never be higher, and while a report quoted a source inside the team saying he’s “pretty much untouchable,” the recent events have shown that there’s little reason to take anything said by a Marlins official at face value. Still, the franchise needs some semblance of a gate attraction, particularly one who can make that absurd home run sculpture do its thing, so any potential suitor will have to empty the vault to acquire him.

Logan Morrison (2013 salary: $490,000 est.)
Morrison had a rough season, hitting just .230/.308/.399 with 11 homers in 93 games before hitting the disabled list in late July. He eventually underwent surgery to repair a torn patellar tendon, an injury that originally occurred in early May and that understandably dragged down his production. His 2011 numbers were strong enough (.247/.330/.468 with 23 homers in 123 games) to suggest that he’s on his way to becoming an above-average offensive first baseman, and he’s still just 25.

With the trade of Gaby Sanchez and the free agency departure of Carlos Lee, the Marlins now have a first base opening, but they’re said to be shopping Morrison, whose low price makes him fit into any budget and should inflate the return a trade would create, since it’s not as though his new team will have to absorb an exorbitant salary. That said, Morrison’s value will rise assuming he returns to action and restores his production, so the Marlins could wait until the middle of next season, and market him as a useful deadline acquisition.

Steve Cishek (2013 salary: $490,000 est.)
Amid Heath Bell’s struggles, Cishek stepped up and saved 15 games, putting up a 2.69 ERA and striking out 9.6 per nine. As with Stanton and Morrison, the 26-year-old righty is still a year away from arbitration eligibility, but given that he has racked up some saves, he’ll be viewed as a Proven Closer, at least by less savvy general managers. Oakland’s Billy Beane has shown that there’s gold in churning closers, and while the Marlins aren’t guaranteed to land the next Josh Reddick, they should definitely be in the business of making and then flipping pitchers who have shown they can avoid melting down in the ninth inning on a routine basis. There hasn’t been any indication that the Marlins are looking to trade Cishek, but they’d be wise to see what price he can fetch.

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