The Marlins are declining infielder Starlin Castro’s $16 million team option for 2020, according to a source, in a move that will increase the team’s spending flexibility this offseason.
The Marlins had until Monday to decide whether to pay Castro $16 million next season or pay him a $1 million buyout. The team, as expected, has opted for the $1 million buyout.
The Marlins might consider re-signing Castro to a team-friendly deal, but that is not a priority early in free agency, according to a source.
Castro started poorly but was exceptional in the second half of the season and led the Marlins in home runs (22) and RBI (86) while hitting .270.
He played 117 games at second base, then played 45 at third base after Isan Diaz was promoted. His departure means the Marlins will need a fallback plan if Diaz hits poorly in spring training and fails to win the second base job. (The Marlins hope he wins the job.) Jon Berti is an internal option.
The Marlins had a $70 million payroll this past season, but Castro’s buyout and Martin Prado’s impending free agency means the Marlins have only about $41 million in 2020 payroll commitments entering free agency.
The Marlins have not revealed a projected payroll, but a team official said there will be money to spend with the understanding that the on-field product must improve.
That $41 million in 2020 commitments includes $22 million for pitcher Wei Yin Chen whether he’s on the team or not, $5 million for Miguel Rojas, $1 million for the Castro buyout and another $13 million or so for the 20 or so likely big-league players still under team control, which includes everyone else other than impending free agents Prado, Neil Walker and Curtis Granderson — none of whom are expected back - and arbitration-eligible pitchers Jose Urena and Adam Conley.
Decisions are pending on Urena - who would stand to make about $4 million if he’s tendered - and Conley, who seems less likely to return after a disappointing season.
According to multiple sources, the Marlins want to add at least two relievers in free agency and at least one starting position player, likely an outfielder or first baseman, and potentially two. (Third base options will be considered with the understanding that Brian Anderson can play right field if needed.) A starting pitcher might be added if Urena is no-tendered.
One first baseman who became available on Thursday: Edwin Encarnacion, who hit .244, with 34 homers and 86 RBI for Seattle and the Yankees. New York bought him out for $5 million instead of paying him $20 million in 2020.
A source said the Marlins would like to find a more in-his-prime, more productive version of what Granderson and Walker were this year, knowing that player will be considerably more costly than the $2 million paid Walker and the $1.75 million paid Granderson.
Among impending free agents, logical options include Nick Markakis (.285, 9, 61 for Atlanta; Marlins pursued him previously); Adam Jones (.260, 16, 67 for Arizona; Miami called him last winter when he was asking for more than the $3 million he later took from the Diamondbacks); Hunter Pence (.297, 18, 59 for Texas); Corey Dickerson (.304, 12, 59 for Pittsburgh and Philadelphia); Avisail Garcia (.282, 20, 72 for Tampa); and perhaps Melky Cabrera (.280, 7, 47 for Pittsburgh).
A more expensive option would be Nicholas Castellanos, who’s earned $9 million this past season and hit .289, with 27 homers and 73 RBI for Detroit and the Cubs this season. Castellanos, who was born in Davie and attended Plantation American Heritage, would be a popular target. But it would be costly; he was great for the Cubs (.321, 16, 36) since being traded there July 31.
And it’s unclear if the Marlins would be willing to pay anyone a huge multiyear contract entering year three of the rebuild.
Jose Abreu, the top first baseman in free agency, has said he wants to stay with the White Sox and the team has said the same. It’s highly unlikely the Marlins would pursue free agent Yasiel Puig because of his history with manager Don Mattingly. And a return by Marcell Ozuna would appear not particularly likely, though the Marlins could create a buzz by pursuing him.