There are very few franchises out there whose decisions have been influences by payroll constraints and, in some cases, unadulterated parsimony than the Florida Marlins. Every year the story is the same: incremental improvements, hope the kids get better and then, at some point, the departure of someone who has the audacity to make more than a couple million bucks a year.
But, as Joe Capozzi of the Palm Beach Post reports, the fish may be swimming to a different … er, wait. You don’t “swim” to a “tune.” That’s just dumb. Oh well, read this. I’ll be back with you in a moment:
This winter will be different. With a new $515-million ballpark set to open in April, the Marlins will raise their payroll to at least $85 million, a franchise record … “The payroll is going up. We want to make a very good showing in the new ballpark and add excitement. There’s a lot of things we’d like to do this winter.’
The 2011 payroll was $57 million, so if the team is to be believed, they’re going to spend a minimum of $28 million more in 2012. That pretty much puts any single move on the table from Albert Pujols on down.
No, to be sure, team president Larry Beinfest says the priority is pitching because it’s always pitching. And, as we’ve seen over and over again, a number of smaller, positive moves are usually more effective than making some big free agent splash, so don’t go thinking that the Marlins who — Jeff Loria at the top of the org chart notwithstanding — are run by some fairly smart people on the baseball side will just throw money at people all willy-nilly. But something different appears to be afoot in Miami. The actual opening of the purse strings.
At least as long as this isn’t all bluster as the Marlins try to sell season tickets to their new ballpark, later say “we just didn’t see what we needed on the market,” and go into 2012 with another $60 million payroll.
The Rays were busy over the weekend, trading starter Jake Odorizzi to the Twins, designating All-Star outfielder Corey Dickerson for assignment, and then picking up C.J. Cron in a deal with the Angels. The Rays saved about $4 million — Odorizzi’s $6.3 million less Cron’s $2.3 million salary — and picked up a prospect. They’re still on the hook for Dickerson’s $5.95 million salary until they can find a trade partner, which seems likely.
Those are some head-scratching moves if you’re a Rays fan or a member of the Rays. Dickerson hit .282/.325/.490 with 27 home runs, 62 RBI, and 84 runs scored in 629 plate appearances last season, part of which resulted in his first trip to the All-Star Game. Designating him for assignment is strictly a financial move, assuming he can be traded. The Rays are currently operating with a payroll below $70 million. This comes just a week and a half after Rays ownership proposed the public footing most of the bill for the club’s new stadium. And the Rays had traded third baseman Evan Longoria — then the face of the franchise — to the Giants earlier this offseason.
Longoria expressed sympathy for Rays fans for having to put up with this. Via Andrew Baggarly, Longoria said of the curious Dickerson move, “I just kind of feel sorry for the Rays fan base. … I’m not going to take too many shots but it’s pretty obvious that guy is a valuable player and didn’t deserve to be DFAd. Corey was our best player last year.”
Longoria isn’t quite on the money there. By WAR, Dickerson ranked fifth among position players on the team, according to Baseball Reference. FanGraphs is also in agreement. Still, it’s indisputable that Dickerson, who turns 29 years old this May, more than pulled his weight. The Rays do not have a surfeit of starting outfielders, so it wasn’t like they were making room for other capable players. Mallex Smith, who put up a .684 OPS in 282 PA last year, is slated to start in left field at the moment. Designating Dickerson for assignment, as well as trading Longoria and Odorizzi, were simply cost-cutting decisions.
The Rays’ M.O. has been part of the problem leading to the current stagnant free agent market (sans Eric Hosmer‘s eight-year deal on Saturday). Teams like the Rays, Phillies, Reds, and Tigers have been explicitly putting out non-competitive teams in order to facilitate a rebuilding process. Longoria is right to express sympathy for Rays fans, who see their favorite team worsening a roster that went 80-82 last year. The Rays haven’t finished at .500 or above since 2013 and doesn’t figure to halt the streak this year.