New-look Marlins make a splash but big questions still remain

Publish date:

Coincidence or not, last Friday, the day their name was changed and their controversial new uniforms were rolled out, word leaked out that the Marlins had made offers to Albert Pujols, Jose Reyes and Mark Buehrle. They've also made a proposal to Ryan Madson, although that one apparently wasn't quite good enough to inspire a visit yet.

Reyes, Pujols and Buehrle, though, did all meet with Miami officials, and while the offers to the two positional superstars were described as substantial in some places, no one was saying exactly what they were, and one person familiar with the Marlins' strategy said the proposals were "preliminary'' in nature, which actually makes sense.

The Marlins surely seem to have a new outlook, but they haven't completely gone wild. Team president David Samson publicly said they have a pecking order of targeted players and that they haven't even considered that all three players might sign at once -- nor certainly four. He's right about that since the offers were apparently not designed to blow anyone out of the Atlantic.

Though the Marlins aren't saying, someone with ties to them said he does believe Reyes is at or near the top of their list of targets, which seems to fit into their call schedule (Clark Spencer -- @clarkspencer -- of the Miami Herald reported that the Marlins called Reyes at exactly 12:01 a.m. Thursday, or one minute after they were able to). The Brewers and possibly Tigers seem likely to be among other potential suitors for Reyes, who's been asked by the Mets to come back to them for a possible offer after he's done shopping. There's been a lot of discussion about what's an appropriate deal for a player who is ultra-talented yet seemingly injury prone, and one GM estimated he believes Reyes will wind up with $100 million over five years, either from the Marlins or someone else.

Buehrle makes sense, too, as he starred for years pitching for the White Sox under new Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen. Buehrle is also an MLB-best 24-6 lifetime vs. National League teams -- though one interested GM wonders whether Buehrle is inclined to play for anyone but either of the Chicago teams or his hometown Cardinals. (For the record, Buehrle's agent has said he's open to listening to anyone). The Marlins also could use a closer with the former Leo Nunez (real name Juan Carlos Oviedo) currently detained. But they may wait to get serious there while they hope for his return.

Should the Marlins reel in Reyes, they'd need to have a conversation with holdover shortstop Hanley Ramirez, who originally said he'd be thrilled to have Reyes join the team, then several weeks later didn't seem quite as thrilled. Should they pull an upset and sign Pujols, which is a long shot (though he does reportedly have a grandmother in Miami), the Marlins would have to trade young All-Star Gaby Sanchez.

Their relative strength at first base won't preclude a reasonable offer for Pujols. But it's still hard to imagine a team that's had payrolls in the $30-something-million range (it was $40 million this past year), signing a player who seeks $30 million per year. Reyes seems like a more realistic possibility for the Marlins. Things have changed there. But let's not forget owner Jeffrey Loria didn't even pay $200 million for the team, so $200 plus million for one player seems like a stretch.

The Cardinals have long been seen as the favorite for Pujols. However, there are signs they may not greatly increase their offer from last winter of about $210 million for nine years. Pujols is believed likely to insist that he beat Ryan Howard's $25-million-a-year contract on an annual basis, so the only way the Cardinals might be able to do that is to lower the years while keeping the total dollar amount in that range in their main offer.

While he is believed to prefer to stay ("his feet are embedded in that city,'' one person with Pujols ties said), the Cardinals are an organization that's used to getting reasonable deals and is disinclined to get anywhere near his thought-to-be-target of $30 million per year.

The case of closer Ryan Madson and the Phillies is a strange one indeed.

The two sides looked to have a deal that was about to close. Then suddenly, it didn't.

Sources say that after five calls to negotiate a contract for Madson over a week's time, Phillies GM Ruben Amaro proposed $44 million over four years, and that Madson accepted those terms about an hour or two later. After Madson accepted, word also is that Amaro interjected that he needed to get the approval of Phillies CEO and managing partner David Montgomery.

That surprise revelation technically came right after Amaro and agent Scott Boras discussed adding a $13-million vesting option for a fifth year, which followed Madson's acceptance of the terms. An even greater surprise came the next day when Amaro is said to have called Boras back to say he had been unable to get the approval from Montgomery, effectively ending a deal Madson once believed he'd agreed to.

Amaro at that point is believed to have asked if anything else could be done, a seeming suggestion that he'd be open to negotiating the deal downward. Madson was not about to do that after he assumed his acceptance of the proposal meant they were about to have a deal.

Amaro declined by phone to answer whether he had made a four-year proposal to Madson for $44 million, or for that matter whether Madson had accepted such a proposal, citing his preference to keep the specifics of negotiations secret. Amaro did repeat his assertion that there was no agreement and this time added "either verbal or in writing.''

Well, if agreement means a done deal, that is certainly the case. Nothing was ever formalized or signed, and the Phillies wound up instead signing Jonathan Papelbon a few days later for $50 million over four years.

Amaro doesn't like the suggestion he changed his mind on Madson, which is understandable. "I will stand by my history of integrity forever,'' Amaro said.

Amaro declined to say by phone whether he told Boras that he needed Montgomery's OK after Madson accepted. He did say, however, that Montgomery was aware of all the negotiations as they occurred and that Montgomery wasn't responsible for killing the deal, suggesting instead they both weren't comfortable with the length. GMs say they don't enter negotiations without the authority to do a deal, nor do they certainly have five negotiating sessions only on a hope that there may be future approval. Amaro didn't disagree that he has authority. So it's hard to understand why Amaro would tell them he needed Montgomery's approval (though he declined comment about whether he ever said that).

Amaro was said to have been conducting negotiations that same day, Nov. 7, with Papelbon, who he would eventually sign that fairly similar deal. The players are a similar age -- Madson is 31, Papelbon 30 -- and both have been relatively healthy (though Papelbon has been much more accomplished) so it's no surprise they'd have similar proposals.

Amaro called Madson to apologize after their deal blew up. The GM is said by sources to have explained that there was nothing in writing, which was true. Amaro said he told Madson the same thing he's said publicly, which is that there was no agreement, which ultimately was true, too. The conversation ended with Madson telling him something along the lines of, "Ruben, I believe you.'' Amaro suggested he thought Madson was agreeing with him that there never was an agreement, but people close to Madson suggest that that was in response to Amaro saying he didn't mean for things to go haywire.

So there is even disagreement over that, too.

• There is no evidence that the Giants would even entertain trade talk regarding star pitchers Tim Lincecum or Matt Cain. And one GM said he wouldn't even insult them by asking. If the door wasn't closed before, the trade of Jonathan Sanchez probably slammed it shut.

• Some could see the Cardinals turning toward Jose Reyes -- that is, if he isn't off the board by the time Pujols signs elsewhere

• People close to the Cardinals situation suggest the team has no plans to raise its offer from last winter of about $210 million over nine years.

• Word is, prospective new Astros owner Jim Crane will be getting a discount (estimated to be $60 million to $80 million) to agree to move to the American League. Crane's candidacy is expected to be voted on at the owners' meeting this coming week in Milwaukee. The vote had been delayed because he previously didn't appear to have the support needed for approval due to some blemishes on his record as a boss. It isn't clear yet whether his $60-million-plus in savings will come from current owner Drayton McLane or other MLB owners.

• The Red Sox appear to be looking at Madson and Heath Bell after Papelbon left without a offer, as Danny Knobler (@DKnobler) of first reported. While Papelbon had a big year, it wouldn't be a surprise if he wore on them. Madson and Bell are seen as low maintenance. The Padres are believed to have offered Bell about $15 million over two years, and while he gained weight during last season, he should be able to get a three-year deal elsewhere. It's hard to see the Red Sox depending on Daniel Bard, who was 0-4 with three blown saves and a 10.64 ERA in Boston's September collapse.

• Dale Sveum still looks like a favorite for the Red Sox managerial job. Though he was an overaggressive third base coach, Red Sox people like how he handles players.

• The Royals are still trying for pitching. There doesn't seem to be much common ground in talks with the Braves, who seek a "Zack Greinke-like deal'' for Jair Jurrjens. The Royals have frequently done business with the Braves, but they wonder why Atlanta is considering trading the talented, 25-year-old pitcher. Atlanta is one of the few teams with a starting-pitching glut and offensive needs. Bruce Chen remains a real option for the Royals after he posted a second straight productive season for them.

• The Mets have crossed Chris Capuano off their list as he seeks a two-year deal following a very nice season in New York.

• Some have speculated that the Mets will non-tender Angel Pagan, but it appears they do plan to present him with a contract. They like him and see potential.

• Grady Sizemore is looking for a contract similar to the one-year deal Adrian Beltre received before 2010 from Boston which helped him re-establish his market value. People close to him say he will recover from knee surgery in six to eight weeks and is expected to be his healthiest since 2008. Others are more skeptical. The A's, Nats, Indians and Mets could all have interest. Billy Beane was an early admirer of Sizemore, but Oakland is said to be concerned about cost and soundness. Michael Silverman of the Boston Herald reported the Red Sox checked in, and the Rockies also are reported to have shown interest.

• Josh Willingham, who had 29 homers and 98 RBIs playing home games at the Oakland Mausoleum, is a good under-the-radar candidate. He seeks three years. Michael Cuddyer seems more popular. The Twins would like to bring him back. The Phillies hosted him, and he'd make sense since he could also spell third baseman Placido Polanco.

• The Rockies are among the teams looking at Martin Prado.

• There's some concern from execs about whether star Japanese pitcher Yu Darvish will post since he hasn't done to yet. He still has time, though.

• Another Japanese pitcher Tsuyoshi Wada, has posted is said to be in the "Jamie Moyer mold.'' He went 16-5 with a 1.51 ERA for SoftBank. The Rangers, Nationals and Pirates are among teams with some interest.

• Noriichika Aoki, a .329 career hitter with three batting titles, has hit 20 home runs in a season and once had 40 stolen bases. Last year was a dropoff season but he is only 29.

• Scouts are raving about Cuba refugee Yoenis Cespedes, a powerful, athletic outfielder expected to get a lot of money from someone.

• Dontrelle Willis is drawing decent interest.

• Jason Reese, the managing partner of Imperial Capital, plus his top guy Randy Wooster (full disclosure, I went to high school with Wooster) have joined Dennis Gilbert in bidding on the Dodgers. Many wealthy people are lining up to bid on the storied franchise, and it is believed Frank McCourt will get well over $1 billion, and perhaps more than $1.2 billion. That's believed the figure needed to bail him out of debt.

• Should Mike Maddux get the Cubs managerial job, it's a long shot for his brother Greg to join him as is pitching coach, though he could work for the Cubs in another capacity.

• The Cardinals said they would pick as their new manager the man they felt was the right leader, and they did so when they announced Mike Matheny as their choice. Though he has no managing experience (and little coaching experience even) he has the respect of Cardinals players and pitching coach Dave Duncan. Terry Francona isn't a realistic candidate for the Cubs job. Some Boston folks think he should take a year off from managing, then come back strong in 2013.

• The Giants don't appear likely to play for Carlos Beltran or a big shortstop now. The acquisition of Melky Cabrera seems to fill the outfield, and the attempt for Willie Bloomquist indicates they are fine acquiring a backup shortstop. They bid $4-million-plus but Bloomquist, who has Phoenix roots, stayed with the Diamondbacks.

• Best news of the winter was Wilson Ramos being rescued from his kindnappers in Venezuela.