Trading Giancarlo Stanton is one thing, the most-challenging task facing the Marlins this offseason. But in their efforts to produce a winner, upgrading their pitching staff should be — and more than likely is — their top priority.
Pitching — and starting pitching, in particular — is the organization’s greatest weakness, and one the front office will try repair in the coming weeks and even years.
“This is not an overnight process,” said Michael Hill, president of baseball operations, on the second day of the general managers meetings. “And there’s no set timing of how long that’s going to take. We know it needs to get better.”
With a staff ERA of 5.12, the Marlins’ starters ranked 13th among 15 National League teams last season. They have only two projected starters returning in 2018 — Jose Ureña and Dan Straily — that made as many as 20 starts last season.
Premium content for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
And their top minor-league prospects aren’t close to major-league ready.
Don’t expect the Marlins to spend big on free agent pitchers this winter.
Instead, they more likely will try to build pitching depth by signing minor-league free agents and adding a low-cost starter or two to shore up what is a weak rotation.
“I’d say we’re open to everything at this point,” Hill said. “Some of the trades may dictate what that looks like, what shape or form that looks like.”
Over time, Hill said pitching improvements will likely occur through the draft, international signings and trades. But all of those strategies take time.
As if trading Stanton wasn’t hard enough with his $295 million contract and no-trade power, here’s one more issue that could complicate matters: the tax implications.
Florida has no state income tax.
But those states with teams that have spoken to the Marlins about Stanton — California (Giants), Missouri (Cardinals) and Massachusetts (Red Sox) — all have state income taxes that could eat up a sizable chunk of his salary.
California’s state income tax is a whopping 13.3 percent for the highest bracket, which comes to a $40 million hit on Stanton’s future income. (The actual dollar amount would be less than that, as players are required to only pay taxes for states in which they play games.)
But the Giants play more than 100 games in California, including 81 in their own ballpark. Missouri has a state income tax rate of 6 percent while the figure in Massachusetts is 5.1 percent.
One agent (not Stanton’s) said he would expect Stanton, based on the tax impact, to demand to be made whole financially in order to agree to a trade.
“It’s a monster nut,” the agent said.
It could even become part of the negotiations between the Marlins and teams looking to acquire the slugger.