Marlins proceeding cautiously on Shields

MIAMI — In so many ways, James Shields and the Marlins are a perfect fit. So why does it remain a long shot that Big Game James will sign with Miami?

Quite simply, the dollars have to make sense. Miami had no intentions of going five years and more than $100 million for a 33-year-old. Now, there are indications the demands are lowering, which again makes the Marlins a possibility.

But at what price? Would fives years, $90 million get the deal done? Perhaps, but that would depend on how it the contract is structured.

The Marlins are in a precarious place when it comes to their payrolls. The projected payroll for 2015 is in the $65 million range. Now, that figure could have some wiggle room based on Dan Haren’s situation. If Haren retires, Miami still gets $10 million from the Dodgers. And if Haren pitches for Miami, L.A. is paying the $10 million.

Either way, the organizaiton is aiming to avoid the overspending it did in 2012, when the payroll topped $100 million for the only time in franchise history. A number of players on that squad had heavily backloaded contracts. When ticket sales and other revenues didn’t meet expectations in the first season in the new ballpark, upper management opted to break the team up.

The Marlins don’t want history to repeat itself. They don’t want to relive that ugly chapter again.

So Miami must be careful how to approach Shields, because a bad contract could upset the rest of their roster in upcoming seasons.

The Marlins probably could stretch their budget in 2015, and pay Shields perhaps as much as $20 million. But if the club is on the hook for that figure or more in 2016, it could eat up a majority of the projected 2016 budget. No figure has been revealed for ’16, but it could be in the $80 million range.

Four players are already signed for $33 million in ’16. Giancarlo Stanton will make $9 million, while Martin Prado, Morse and Jarrod Saltalamacchia are each on the hook for $8 million. Prado technically is signed for $11 million in ’15 and ’16, but the Yankees are paying $3 million in each season.

Along with those four, 14 players on this year’s roster will be arbitration-eligible in ’16. Many are core players.

Projected arbitration players in ’16 are Steve Cishek, Aaron Crow, Mike Dunn, Dee Gordon, Jose Fernandez, David Phelps, Marcell Ozuna, Henderson Alvarez, Bryan Morris, Donovan Solano, A.J. Ramos, Carter Capps, Tom Koehler and Adeiny Hechavarria.

Miami also is considering extensions for Fernandez, Ozuna and Hechavarria, as well as Christian Yelich, who is eligible for arbitration in 2017.

The Marlins clearly are going for it in 2015. Shields just might be the missing piece to being in the postseason.

What Miami is weighing is how to afford Shields without impairing future budgets.

Joe Frisaro

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