Wei-Yin Chen should see a $5 million deposit show up today in his bank account, courtesy of the Marlins.
It’s the first of two deferred signing bonus payments previous ownership agreed to give him two years ago when they worked out what has become a so-far toxic contract inherited by new owners Bruce Sherman and Derek Jeter, one that they are being forced to contend with now.
The oft-injured and underperforming pitcher’s $80 million contract represents a fiscal lead weight, one that has a profound bearing on looming roster decisions as the new owners try to put the team’s financial house in order.
Whether it all means that the Marlins — devoid of Chen’s contractual obligation — would hang on to Giancarlo Stanton rather than try to trade him is a matter of pure speculation.
But the Chen contract, as well as others like it, is an albatross that impacts the Marlins’ ability to bring payroll under control. The Marlins reportedly lost $50 million last season with a franchise-record $115 million payroll. That payroll figure would climb to a projected $140 million next season if the Marlins kept everyone on the current roster.
When Sherman and Jeter were seeking approval to buy the team, they presented a business plan to league owners indicating a 2018 payroll of about $90 million. So far, neither has said publicly what they intend payroll to be.
But Jeter has referenced the team’s financial situation in general terms.
“There are some financial things we have to get in order,” Jeter told reporters two weeks ago at the General Managers’ Meetings. “That’s the bottom line. It’s an organization that’s been losing money for quite some time, so we have to turn that around. How we do that, it’s not clear.”
It would be a lot easier if they could simply wipe the bad contracts off the books. But they can’t.
It requires more than one hand to count the number of the Marlins’ regrettable free agent signings this decade, with Chen’s being just one of them. The list includes Heath Bell, John Buck, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Rafael Furcal, Mike Morse, Edinson Volquez and Garrett Jones.
But when it comes to money down the drain, Chen takes the cake.
Nearly two years ago, the Marlins gave the lefty a five-year, $80 million deal to be their No. 2 starter behind Jose Fernandez.
Plagued by arm issues, Chen has given the Marlins all of 27 starts in two years, and just five last season. Making matters worse for new ownership is that Chen’s backloaded contract poses an even greater financial strain going forward.
In addition to the deferred bonus the pitcher was paid Thursday, he is scheduled to receive a final $8 million bonus installment on June 30 to go with his $10 million salary next season.
He’ll make $20 million in 2019 and $22 million in 2020 whether or not he throws a single pitch.
There is nothing the Marlins can do but hope Chen somehow returns to health. One way or the other, they’re on the hook for the full amount. No team in its right mind would dare entertain a trade for him.
The same goes for Volquez, who underwent Tommy John surgery in August and is doubtful to pitch next season when he’ll be making $13 million.
Think of it this way: combined, Chen and Volquez will cost the Marlins $31 million next season, or more than the $25 million that would be required to keep Stanton around for one more year.
But neither Chen nor Volquez are going anywhere while Stanton and others most likely will.