With Marlins selling, is Josh Johnson long for Miami?

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There’s no real reason for the Marlins to stop with Anibal Sanchez and Omar Infante. With Ozzie Guillen’s team deciding to sell, there should be several more attractive players available:

RHP Josh Johnson: Miami’s ace has stayed healthy this year, but he hasn’t pitched like a top-of-the-rotation starter with his 4.35 ERA in 19 starts. At the same time, his peripherals aren’t bad: he has a 96/35 K/BB ratio and he’s allowed just seven homers in 113 2/3 innings. He’s due $13.5 million next year before he becomes a free agent, so some of the fringe contenders also looking ahead to 2013 should be interested.

RHP Carlos Zambrano: Zambrano seems happy in Miami, and he’s been effective enough that the Marlins could look to sign him to a modest extension before trading him. If he’s not interested, then send him away, too. He’s a free agent at season’s end, and he’s not going to bring back draft pick compensation. He probably won’t fetch more than a couple of lesser prospects.

RHP Ricky Nolasco: Nolasco appears to be well on his way to posting an ERA in the mid-4.00s for the third straight year, and the Marlins should be able to do better for his $11.5 million salary in 2013. Like Zambrano, he probably wouldn’t net much of a return. Still, the fact that he’s durable and can eat innings would make him an upgrade for a few teams.

3B/SS Hanley Ramirez: If the Marlins decide it’s worth blowing things up, then Ramirez is the logical place to start. He’ll make $31.5 million between 2013-14, and while he has the potential to be a bargain even that steep price, he hasn’t produced like a $15 million-per-year player the last two seasons. A change of scenery might be best for all concerned.

Role players: 1B Carlos Lee, OF Austin Kearns, INF/OF Greg Dobbs, OF Chris Coghlan, RP Edward Mujica, RP Randy Choate. All should be available. One wonders if Lee would have gone to the Dodgers if he had it to do all over again.

Meanwhile, on the cold, cold Hot Stove . . .

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It’s Hot Stove Season baby! You know what that means! Yep: time to watch some teams sign a few relievers to minor league deals and then wait everyone out until February while talking about the need to maintain financial flexibility! FEEL THE BURN.

In more specific news:

We’ve talked a lot about Betts this winter already, and that seems like madness. Bryant’s career with the Cubs began with business-side acrimony, it’s still simmering, and there is no sense that either side is amenable to a long-term deal before he hits free agency. The Indians have been signaling for some time that they have no interest in keeping Lindor long term.

It’s quite the thing when three teams who are supposed to be contending are, instead, looking to deal recent MVP award winners and candidates who are 27 and 26 years old, but these are the times in which we are living.

  • Joe Sheehan wrote an excellent column for Baseball America last week analyzing the attendance drop MLB experienced in 2019. Which is just the latest in a series of attendance drops. As Joe notes there is a very, very strong connection between teams (a) signaling to fans during the offseason that they are not interested in signing or retaining players or otherwise being competitive; and (b) teams suffering attendance losses.

As I wrote last offseason, there is an increasing disconnect between attendance and other proxies of broad fan interest and revenue. Which is to say that, as long as teams continue to get fat on long-term TV deals, side businesses like real estate development, and soaking a smaller and wealthier segment of the fan base with higher and higher prices, they really have no reason to care if several thousand common or casual fans become alienated by their teams’ lack of desire to compete.

Sullivan doesn’t offer ideas about how that can happen, but over the past couple of seasons we’ve seen a number of proposals, some broad, some specific, about how MLB can turn its free agency/trading period into frantic, 1-3 day scrambles-to-sign like we see in both the NBA and NFL. I’m sympathetic to that desire — it’s exciting! — but any attempt to do that in Major League Baseball, at least as things are currently set up, would be a disaster for the players.

In the NBA and NFL you have salary caps and floors and, in the NBA, you have max contracts. As a result, teams both have a set amount of money to spend and an incentive to spend that money. We can quibble with whether those incentives are the best ones or if they benefit the players as much as other systems might, but there’s at least something inherent in their systems which inspires teams to sign free agents.

In Major League Baseball, there is no such incentive. May teams want to keep payrolls as low as possible under the guise of rebuilding or tanking and there is no effective mechanism to keep them from doing so. Even nominal contenders — see the Cubs, Indians and Red sox in item 1 above — spend more time thinking about how to cut payroll rather than add talent. This is bolstered by the stuff in item 2 above in which attendance and even winning has less of an impact on the bottom line than it ever has.

So, why scramble to sign players by a set deadline? Under most of the scenarios I see floated — like the laughably horrible one MLB reportedly suggested to the MLBPA — teams would just wait out free agents until deadline day, give them crappy take-it-or-leave-it offers and then leave them all scrambling to sign one-year deals or to sit the season out.

For such a thing to happen — or for teams to want to keep their bright young stars or for the league to want to maintain fan interest and keep attendance from continuing to slide — there must be incentives put in place to make them want to sign and retain players. To make them want to win. To make them want to excite the fan base.

At present, such incentives are not there. And, as such, we are faced with yet another winter with a cold, cold stove.