Salty Cut: Marlins Continue To Grow Up, and What They Might Be Thinking
By Sean Millerick
Three things happened today at the catching position for the Miami Marlins. Two of them shouldn’t be a surprise: Jarrod Saltalamacchia returned from the Paternity List (does tend to not be permanent) and J.T Realmuto was penciled into Monday night’s lineup as the starting catcher (he’s more than earned it with his play). But what probably will turn your head is this- upon his return, the Marlins designated Saltalamacchia for assignment. With nearly $15 million remaining on his contract, his tenure with the Marlins would appear to be over.
Miami having little patience for a player underperforming really isn’t anything new. When the 2012 season found itself on the rocks, the front office was only too happy to deal away big names underdelivering on their big paydays. But this situation finds Miami almost assuredly signing up for the unenviable position of paying a large amount of money to a player to play for someone else. Since signing his 3 yr/$21 million dollar contract with the Marlins in 2014, Saltalamacchia has an overall WAR of -0.3. That…is pretty terrible. Realmuto has less than seventy plate appearances, and is already at 0.4. Already tapped as the backstop of the future, the Marlins clearly decided that the future was now, and are going all in with their rookie. Starting the promising rookie over the struggling veteran is absolutely justified at this point. But going so far as to designate him, that’s some real resolve. So what does this mean?
- Miami has grown up. Even Jeff Mathis had a better WAR in 2014. With Salty suddenly the third best- at best- catcher in the organization, Miami saw no point in rostering him just because they owed him a lot of money. Priority one is ensuring the team continues to build its way toward October, and this shows that. Maybe a touch of cold calculation in doing this right after the birth of a child, but its the kind of cold calculation that the Red Sox, Yankees, and Giants of the world do all the time. Just another sign this franchise trending upward.
- Miami might be making another move. Let’s call this the sticking to the all in on 2015 approach. If Miami is fully invested in continuing to fight for a playoff spot this year despite their rocky start, than releasing a veteran catcher with playoff experience doesn’t make a ton of sense. If Realmuto gets hurt, than Miami is pretty well screwed at catcher. Yes, Saltalamacchia has been a disaster. But he’s also the only catcher on the roster that has ever come close to putting up All-Star numbers (albeit for one season), with a ceiling far higher than Mathis or Solano. The only reason to run this risk-assuming Miami will be paying the bulk of his salary- is if they are trying to free up money under this year’s cap. And given their 2015 intentions and new image, they’d only be doing that if they were considering putting more money elsewhere.
- It’s a lil bit about the money/It’s apparently a bad month to be a catcher. See the above testaments to the fact Saltalamacchia has been a vast disappointment. But there have also been a lot of injuries across the league at the catching position, and Miami could just be sensing- and likely correctly- that there won’t be a better time to trade him. Even if it saves the club a fraction of the remaining salary- or just pays for soda in the clubhouse- its better than nothing.
- Already thinking 2016. Last point, and the most dramatic leap. And make no mistake, whether Miami is still serious about competing in 2015 or not, JT Realmuto getting a year of MLB experience under his belt makes Miami better in 2016. But just look back to all the 2013 experience soaked up by Christian Yelich, Marcel Ozuna, and Adeiny Hechavarria. Axing Salty could just be about player development. Miami could be buying into those early season statistics that say a hole this deep generally dooms postseason hopes, and is just looking to maximize their evaluation of their younger catchers while giving them plenty of reps.