Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Marlins free agent targets are not perfect

BY David Villavicencio 

The Marlins are currently one of the most active teams in MLB free agency and that is expected to continue throughout the winter. 

The Fish have already hosted Mark Buehrle and are hosting Jose Reyes today. Marlins executives will travel to the Dominican Republic tomorrow to see star Cuban defector, Yoenis Cespedes. 

The Marlins are also looking at Albert Pujols, Prince Fielder and a host of other big name free agents. Fans are excited about all the big names associated with their team and are anxious to see who ultimately signs with the soon to be Miami Marlins.

But most of these fans are so excited about potentially signing a group of superstars that they have overlooked the risks associated with each player. This post will help bring some of those concerns to light.

Jose Reyes
Reyes is just 28 and a dynamic player that can instantly bolster the top of someone's lineup. But at just 28, he has already developed a history of leg problems. That is not a good sign for a player whose value comes largely from his legs. Everyone knows about Reyes' speed but leg problems also will limit his range defensively and his power at the plate. The Marlins are rumored to have offered Reyes a three-year contract worth $60 million. That would not be a bad deal for the team as Reyes would be 31 when it ends and likely starting his decline as a player. However, Reyes is probably looking for a contract that is at least five years in length. That is something that a team may ultimately regret giving him given his injury history.

Mark Buehrle
Buehrle is arguably the second-best free agent pitcher available this off-season and it is with good reason. The 32-year-old has been consistently productive, winning at least 10 games while making at least 30 starts every year since 2001. A move to the more pitcher friendly NL should benefit the four-time All-Star. Buehrle would be an excellent addition to the Marlins rotation but he is a hot commodity. Buehrle could command a four-year deal worth $15 million a year. That is concerning as he will be 33 at the start of the upcoming season and would be 37 in the final year of that deal. Committing that much money to an older pitcher over that many years is concerning but Buehrle is probably the safest bet of all the Marlins' potential signings.

Albert Pujols
Pujols is the biggest free agent available and the best player in the game today. There is no need to list his accolades because everyone in America knows how complete of a player he is. The 31-year-old would instantly upgrade the Marlins lineup, defense and clubhouse. But signing Pujols will not be easy as he is looking for a huge contract. I get the feeling it would take a substantial overbid to get him to leave St. Louis and that is something that could cripple the Marlins in the long run. Pujols is likely to be a great player for many years to come but will he be worth the massive salary he is going to get when he is 37? That would be the fifth year of his contract and he is probably looking for at least six years. 

Edwin Jackson
Jackson is another name that has been associated with the Marlins and the right-hander joins Buehrle near the top of the list of available starting pitchers. Just 28-years-old, Jackson possesses a mid-nineties fastball and solid secondary pitches. He has long been considered a promising pitcher and continues to draw interest from teams. However, Jackson has not stuck around a team for long, playing for six teams since breaking into the Majors in 2003. So despite all his upside, no team has been willing to stick with him for a long time. Also, Jackson is 60-60 with a 4.46 ERA over his career. Not bad but not something to be overly excited about. Signing Jackson could be an overpay for a middle of the rotation starter.

C.J. Wilson
Wilson entered free agency as the top starter available but his poor showing in the postseason could have soured some potential suitors on him. The left-hander went 0-3 while allowing 18 earned runs over 28 innings this October. Despite his rough postseason, Wilson has been good in his two years as a starter. He was an All-Star in 2011 but he will be 31 when the season starts and is looking for a five-year deal worth around $80 million. That is a lot of money and years to commit to someone who is not exactly an ace. Wilson is probably best suited as a third starter but was the Rangers ace by default in 2011. Paying him like a top of the rotation arm is probably not a good idea. The Marlins might be better off investing their money elsewhere.

Prince Fielder
Fielder is the second-best free agent available and some might favor him over Pujols because he is four years younger. But Fielder has his share of issues that should be concerns to anyone looking to sign him. There is no question that Fielder can hit. He has hit 116 HR over the past three years and driven in over 100 runs in four of the last five. He is a career .282 hitter and has posted an OBP over .400 in each of the last three seasons. But Fielder is in terrible shape. He is listed at 5-foot-11 and 275 lbs. Having seen him up close many times, I'd say it's closer to 5'10" and 300 lbs. That is a concern for any team looking to sign him to a lucrative, long-term deal. Also, he is not exactly the best defender but that concern is minor because you are paying him to hit.

Yoenis Cespedes
Cespedes is a major wild card in free agency this year. The 26-year-old is supposed to a be five-tool prospect that is big league ready right now. The Marlins are rumored to be the favorite to land Cespedes. He is expected to get a contract worth about $30 million which would not appear to be a terrible investment on the surface. If Cespedes is as good as advertised, he could be in the Opening Day lineup when the Marlins open their new ballpark. However, it is hard to know exactly how these international prospects will do when they come to the United States.  For every successful defector there are a handful that have been total busts. It is not limited to Cuban players as several Asian imports fall into this category as well. Ultimately, this is a matter of risk vs. reward. If Cespedes lives up the the hype, the Marlins will have one of the top outfields in the Majors. If he flops, they will have thrown away $30 million.

Aramis Ramirez
Ramirez is the top free agent third baseman and the Marlins have a glaring need at third base. Seems like a match made in heaven, right? Not quite. Yes, Ramirez has had a very good career and is coming off a strong season but he is a 33-year-old that was not so great in 2010 and is looking for a multi-year deal at a fairly sizable annual salary. The Marlins might be better off putting Emilio Bonifacio at third or signing a lower profile player to compete for time at the position than investing a lot of money into an aging, declining player.

 - Closers: No picture for these guys but there are a host of big to fairly big names available to teams looking for someone to close out games. The Marlins happen to be one of those teams. They might think bringing back Juan Carlos "Don't call me Leo Nu├▒ez" Oviedo is not worth what he could cost in arbitration and look elsewhere for a ninth inning arm. Jonathan Papelbon is available but he is going to cost a boatload of money and probably isn't worth it. Heath Bell is available but it will take at least $10 million a year to get him and he would prefer to stay in San Diego anyway. Francisco "K-Rod" Rodriguez is available and is an intriguing option at the right price but he is also not the same guy who set the single-season saves record a few years ago. Jonathan Broxton is out of shape and coming off of a terrible, injury-plagued season. Francisco Cordero is 36, out of shape and won't come cheap. Joe Nathan, Brad Lidge, Frank Francisco, Joel Zumaya and Jon Rauch are other potential options with closing experience but they all have their issues too. The Marlins will settle on someone to close games for them in 2012 but there aren't many overly attractive options.

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