MIAMI GARDENS, FL - Left fielder Logan Morrison #20 of the Florida Marlins cannot make a catch against the New York Mets at Sun Life Stadium. (Photo by Marc Serota/Getty Images)
The Marlins aren't going to sign Albert Pujols. But they aren't going to just ignore him, either, and that's a bit of a story on its own.
Here's a headline from an alternate dimension:
Not ruling out potential free agents like Albert Pujols, Marlins' Larry Beinfest stresses pitching and getting guys healthy
Unpacking that, we have an indication that the Marlins will focus on pitching, which isn't much of a change from their strategy during both of their World Series runs. Let's see, there's a note about getting guys healthy, which isn't exactly a unique and groundbreaking strategy that's going to turn the baseball world upside down.
And there's a little thing in there about the Miami Marlins making a run at Albert Pujols.
It's the opening of a science-fiction novel, where the protagonist wakes up one day to find Pujols on the Marlins and Soviets on the moon. There are logistical reasons to doubt any sure thing -- just think of what the Marlins' electrical bills would be with Pujols -- and the odds are that Albert Pujols will be a Cardinal forever and ever and ever and ever, with a slight chance that he has a weird detour when he's 41, like Willie Mays and the Mets.
But Beinfest isn't laughing off the suggestion. He isn't scrawling "Dude, we're the Marlins" on a cocktail napkin and shoving it down the reporter's throat. There's a new stadium. It's a new era, supposedly. The Marlins are counting on fans, who will spend money, and in turn the Marlins are thinking about spending money to attract fans. A quote from Beinfest, the Marlins' president of baseball operations:
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.'
And suddenly, the National League East looks like this:
- Phillies (big spenders)
- Braves (sort-of big spenders)
- Nationals (building up to big spenders)
- Mets (used-to-be/probably-will-be-again-at-some-point big spenders)
- Marlins (grumblin' about being big spenders)
It's not like the Marlins need a $100 million payroll to compete. They've become quite adept at using the indentured servitude of pre-arbitration players to their advantage. But almost everything they've done over the last three years has been building to this. Hanley Ramirez and Josh Johnson signed extensions to be the face of the new ballpark and brand, and the team spent money to bring in Ozzie Guillen. The only classic Marlins move recently was the Dan Uggla trade, but even then they received an MLB-ready player (Omar Infante) in return, and extended him instead.
Dropping Pujols's name is about 99.99% public relations, and .01% rumor, but it's not hard to see them going after Prince Fielder with all they have and figuring out what to do with Gaby Sanchez later. When you're building a new park, Fielder will sell season-ticket packages, and Sanchez will sell a few shirseys. Plus if you're going to build this:
… you might as well go completely nuts and get a prolific home run hitter to pair with Mike Stanton and keep that thing humming for the International Space Station to see. And from a purely baseball perspective, the Marlins need hitting. Their 625 runs from 2011 was the lowest total for a full season since the expansion version in 1993 that had Orestes Destrade hitting cleanup for most of the year.
A rebound from Hanley would be a big help, as would a full season from Logan Morrison, and Mike Stanton is still an absolute behemoth, but they could use another hitter. If not the big guys like Fielder and Pujols, expect them to go nuts on a smaller scale. Think Aramis Ramirez to fill their Dobbs-sized hole at third base.
The headline was a little bit of a tease, but the underlying point isn't: The Marlins just might spend a lot of money to get people excited about their new stadium. The offseason will start to rev up, and there's a pretty good chance that for the first time since 1996, you'll start reading "the Marlins are interested in …", "the Marlins offered …", and "the Marlins signed …" before the names of players that you were hoping would sign or re-sign with your favorite team. It will take some getting used to, but the NL East is about to be miser-free from top to bottom.