The Marlins made franchise history on Tuesday when they traded Cameron Maybin to the Seattle Mariners. For the first time ever, they acquired international bonus pool money as part of a trade — $250,000 was the reported amount — rather than give some of it up, which had been their habit.
It was a significant development in a couple of respects.
One, it put the Marlins in an even stronger position to make a competitive run at Cuban outfielder Victor Victor Mesa (yes, his name contains two “Victors”). Mesa is considered by many to be the top amateur talent internationally, and the Marlins are believed to be one of the frontrunners to sign the young star once he is declared eligible by Major League Baseball and becomes a free agent.
But perhaps more significant is this:
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It, along with the fact that they exceeded their spending pool limit in the recent June amateur draft for the first time, gave clear indication that the Marlins are doing things differently under the new ownership and front office regime by stockpiling top young talent, just as two of their National League East rivals — the Atlanta Braves and Philadelphia Phillies — have done in their rebuilds.
“Absolutely,” said J.J. Cooper, executive editor of Baseball America. “This isn’t something to hold a parade over, but it is a sign that new ownership is doing some of the things they talked about — spending money to acquire talent. That’s what everybody does. It doesn’t give you an advantage over other teams, but it takes away the disadvantages.”
When Bruce Sherman and Derek Jeter bought the Marlins from Jeffrey Loria last October, they inherited a farm system that was ranked by most as one of the worst in professional baseball in terms of quality prospects.
Said one scout familiar with the Marlins: “It’s a house of cards that way, especially when you don’t have a lot of money coming in, to sustain a major league roster.”
The Marlins had been trading away their Competitive Balance picks in the amateur draft, giving up international bonus money while ignoring the top foreign amateurs, and essentially selling their future for the present. It proved to be a failed strategy. The Marlins have not had a winning season since 2009, the longest drought in the majors.
They traded international money to acquire one month of declining outfielder Jeff Francoeur in 2016. They sent international money along with Ricky Nolasco (and his contract) to the Dodgers in 2013. They gave up high, Competitive Balance draft picks to obtain Bryan Morris, Jarred Cosart, Michael Morse and Mat Latos.
“I’m not saying other teams haven’t done that once or twice,” Cooper said. “But the Marlins were the team you were going to call because they were the team most likely to trade one.”
To begin the rebuild, the new owners made a series of unpopular trades designed to re-stock the farm system, dealing Christian Yelich, Marcell Ozuna and Dee Gordon to acquire prospects (the Giancarlo Stanton trade to the Yankees was a salary dump).
They also traded some of their international money to make those deals happen, sending some of that money to the Mariners to complete the Gordon deal and some to the Yankees to acquire Caleb Smith and Garrett Cooper. Both the Mariners and Yankees were hoping to use that additional money to sign Japanese star Shohei Ohtani, who ended up going to the Angels, instead.
This June, the Marlins overspent their amateur draft pool allotment by 5 percent.
“A lot of teams do that,” Cooper said. “That’s something that the Marlins did not (do previously).”
And on Tuesday, when they sent Maybin to the Mariners, they got back international money to add to their pool. The $4.35 million the Marlins have to spend on international signings this year ranks second only to the Baltimore Orioles, who have $8.25 million at their disposal and are also interested in Mesa.
“Money is going to be a big part of this,” Cooper said of the eventual Mesa pursuit. “But, logically, the Marlins are a team that should have advantages in the international market, because of location and because of culture. If you’re player coming over from Cuba, I can think of few places from a location and culture standpoint that would be more desirable. It’s an advantage that the Marlins do have.”