The Marlins have been one of the most fickle and parsimonious front offices in all of baseball this century. When they were still called the Florida Marlins, they won the World Series in 1997 and 2003 only to trade away their high-priced players immediately after both of those World Series victories.
Then in the winter of 2011, immediately after changing their name to the Miami Marlins, building a brand new stadium and attempting to change the direction of the franchise, the Marlins spent $191 million to sign the trio of Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle and Heath Bell.
Unfortunately, the added payroll didn’t result in success, and the Marlins pulled off one of the most dramatic fire sales in MLB history. After finishing last in the NL East with a paltry 69-93 record, the Marlins changed course. They traded Hanley Ramirez to the Dodgers at the trade deadline and then executed a monster 12-player trade with the Blue Jays that sent Reyes, Buehrle, Josh Johnson, Emilio Bonifacio and John Buck to Toronto in exchange for a slew of young prospects.
Since then, the Marlins have showed modest improvement. They won 17 more games last year than they did in 2013, navigated their way out of the NL East cellar and saw some of the prospects they got from the Blue Jays start tapping into their massive potential. Meanwhile, right fielder Giancarlo Stanton had by far the best season of his short career.
The 25-year-old California native hit .288 with 37 home runs and 105 RBIs in what was his fourth season in The Show.
The Marlins, not wanting to allow Stanton to hit the free agent market, decided to lock him up long term. On Friday, they signed Stanton to a 13-year, $325 million contract that will run well through his prime. The deal is the largest in North American sports history, easily surpassing the previous record, Alex Rodriguez’s $275 million contract with the Yankees in 2007.
While Stanton has lethal power and is truly one of the premier young players in the game, is it really a smart move to commit such an exorbitant sum of money to one player?
For starters, it is the epitome of risky. History is replete with examples of these ultra-lucrative deals resulting in duds. Rodriguez had a few good seasons under his megadeal, but for the most part it has been a disappointing signing for the Yankees. The Twins’ eight-year, $184 million deal with Joe Mauer has been bad to this point and Ryan Howard’s $125 million extension has been disastrous for the Phillies.
All three of the aforementioned players saw a considerable dip in production over the course of the contract as well as an increase in missed games due to various injuries.
So from a historical perspective, the deal was a stretch. But how does the deal look from the team’s point of view?
The Marlins have been one of the most frugal teams in the league recently, and they had the lowest payroll in 2014 ($42 million). The $325 million amounts to more than the Marlins have spent on their whole MLB roster in the past five seasons.
The Miami front office needs to decide whether they are a big-spending or a small market organization, and stick to it. Their ambiguity about the future of the franchise has been comical as well as counterproductive.
The Marlins ranked 27th in the MLB in attendance in 2014, and they are going to need more than one star player to increase that number to a respectable plateau.
And since they overspent on Stanton, it is going to be very hard to go out and sign other complementary players. Sure, Stanton is their foundation that they are going to build on for the future, but now they don’t have much money left to lure any other players to Miami or re-sign the players they already have.
22-year-old outfielder Christian Yelich will be arbitration eligible after the 2017 season and is going to continue to improve after his impressive 2014 season. As he gets better, he is also going to get more expensive.
Also, the bulk of the starting rotation is going to need to be re-signed soon. Jose Fernandez, Henderson Alvarez, Jarred Cosart and Nathan Eovaldi are all deserving of extensions, according to Mike Axisa of CBSSports.com.
Signing Stanton gives them one supreme talent, but World Series contenders aren’t built on one player. It takes a cohesive unit of players who know their role to make deep postseason runs.
Also, there is the injury factor. Stanton seemed to be well on his way to winning the NL MVP award when he was hit in the face on September 11 against the Brewers. He still finished the season with the second most home runs in the MLB, but the injury risk for a guy who plays as hard as Stanton is always there. Furthermore, he is going to understandably be a bit hesitant after suffering such a gruesome injury, and it is impossible to tell how long it is going to take Stanton to feel comfortable digging into the batter’s box again.
Don’t get me wrong, if anyone in the league is worth this much money, Stanton must be in the conversation. His prodigious home run power is a positive and his age is very favorable. But I don’t think it is in the best interest of any team, especially one who can’t get fans in the stands, to devote such a large chunk of their payroll to a single player.
The Marlins made a bad decision by signing Stanton to such an astronomical amount of money. They failed to pay attention to history as well as take into account the plethora of risks that come with such a long contract. It would have been much more prudent to sign Stanton to a shorter contract, even if they had to add a few more million annually to reach a deal.
If history is any indication, the Marlins are going to regret this deal when they get to the last few years. But for their sake, hopefully Stanton hurts a little less than A-Rod or Mauer.