Who will sign next long-term deal?

MIAMI — Convincing low-cost free agents to sign one-year deals with the Marlins is proving to be challenge.

Miami’s front office is seeing that in their search for a third baseman.

Jeff Keppinger, high on the Marlins’ shopping list, recently opted to go to the White Sox. And Mark Reynolds is also off the board, having agreed with the Indians.

If modestly-priced free agents are shying away, what are the chances of the Marlins luring marquee players to South Florida? There is so much to sell in Miami, but it will take more than the beaches and sunshine to tempt proven players seeking top dollar.

So as teams like the Dodgers are locking up Zack Greinke long-term, the Marlins are taking a different approach. They are building from the ground up.

The frustration for suffering South Florida fans is the path back to playoff contention may take a little while. When you load up on untested players, you have uncertainty, and the likely possibility of a losing season.

That doesn’t mean the future won’t end up bright. It’s just that few get excited over seeing the infrastructure being set into place. We want to experience the thrills of the finished product, not endure the growing pains, especially when it’s been a decade since the Marlins last were in the postseason.

The understandable backlash of trading players like Jose Reyes and Mark Buehrle less than one year after signing them to multi-year deals has put the organization in a bind.

Without the security of a no-trade clause, the Marlins clearly will have difficulty signing costly free agents. On top of that, slugger Giancarlo Stanton right now is not even considering a long-term deal, and he’s four years away from being free agent eligible.

Sure, the Marlins could eventually have a staring contest with Stanton to see if he will blink, and agree to a lucrative contract. Maybe that will happen in a year or so. It’s certainly not in the equation for now.

So who will be the next player to sign a multi-year deal with Miami?

Chances are it could be a player or two who have yet to debut in the big leagues. Top prospects Christian Yelich and Jose Fernandez may wind up signing the next big deals. Both are projected to open 2013 at Double-A Jacksonville.

For now, Stanton is the face of the franchise. In time, the distinction will likely go to Yelich and Fernandez.

Yelich, a left-handed hitting outfielder, projects as the center fielder of the future. Fernandez, a hard-throwing right-hander, is the closest the Marlins have to a Stephen Strasburg.

For both, the Marlins may consider doing something similar to what Tampa Bay did with Evan Longoria and Matt Moore. Both were signed to long-term contracts with very little big league service time. In 2008, Longoria was signed for six years at $17.5 million, and this year, Moore came to terms with a five-year, $14 million deal.

Don’t be surprised if the Marlins do something similar with their home-grown prospects.

Of course there is risk, if either one doesn’t pan out. But if the evaluations are right, and they are indeed “can’t miss” prospects, then the Marlins may have to take that chance if they want to keep their foundation in place for at least a five or six year period.

– Joe Frisaro

 

 

 

 

 

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