The Miami Marlins may have multiple holes to fill for the 2013 season, and the team may indeed be flawed as it is currently constructed. But that does not mean that securing the Marlins' foundation is not as important as building upon said foundation. The Marlins have to find a core around whom to build their team, and that core has to be secured for the long haul with the Fish, especially if members of that core are young players.
The problem with the Fish is that it is hard to find players to whom it is worth committing long-term contracts. After a series of trades cleared the Marlins of the majority of their long-term commitments, the team is now only committed to just two players after 2013: Jose Reyes and Mark Buehrle, successful signings from the 2012 offseason spending spree. Reyes has already been tabbed as a centerpiece of the team, especially after a relatively successful, if underwhelming, 2012 season.
But who else do the Marlins have on their roster who would be worth a long-term extension? Who else on the Marlins could be a centerpiece of a future Marlins contender? The first answer to this question is an obvious, but nevertheless critically important one. The second player on this short list has some major question marks surrounding him.
Obviously, the Marlins' primary extension candidate is Stanton, who carried the Marlins on his back for much of 2012. Stanton had a breakout season last year, putting up a season worth between 5.5 and six wins last season for the Fish. Imagine that for a second: the Marlins would have been a full six wins worse than their already terrible record last season had they not had Stanton along for the ride, blasting home runs along the way. Stanton's power display allowed him to rack up 37 home runs and almost six wins in just 501 PA, which in and of itself is a herculean feat.
So it is no surprise that Stanton is an elite player and a worthy extension candidate. The Marlins would be foolish not to purchase Stanton's free agent seasons by committing to multiple years and many dollars ahead of time. For Stanton, he may very well follow suit along with a number of other outfielders in the past by signing a deal. Then again, he has recently said that he would only sign an extension if the money was correct, indicating that he may be less willing to hand out a "hometown discount" for his first and only team. An extension for Stanton is not a given, no matter how much either side is interested.
With regards to a deal, the Marlins are also running out of time. Presumably, a signing this offseason would guarantee the Marlins around two free agent seasons at relatively cheap prices just because of the nature of these contract extensions signed before the start of arbitration. However, starting at arbitration opens up another option for players like Stanton, an option used by players watching their superstar value such as Joey Votto, Matt Cain, and Tim Lincecum. Those players all signed two-year contracts that left them a final team control season, and teams often ended up either parting with the player or signing essentially a free agent deal with the current team. Prince Fielder entered free agency and left without signing a deal, but other players like Votto, Cain, and Matt Kemp received enormous, free agent-level contracts that included their final arbitration year. If the Marlins allow too much time to spare, they may not get any cheap free agent seasons and instead get a fairly-priced Stanton with its expensive nature.
Johnson is the only other player who could remotely be considered for a contract extension past the 2013 season. The reason for this is an obvious one, as Johnson was once considered one of the top tier pitchers in baseball. Unfortunately for him, his 2012 season was poor enough to raise questions about his ability to live up to his ace status from 2009 and 2010.
Therein lies the problem for the Marlins. On the one hand, Johnson's value could never be lower without an injury from the prior season, but at the same time the team has to know it is not going anywhere and must determine whether Johnson is part of that future. If the Fish deem Johnson good enough to give him five more years of commitment, this offseason would be the right time to do that, if only to avoid dealing with the competition of other teams. If the Fish deem Johnson or the rest of the roster to be a good fit for contention, it may be best to trade Johnson. Given his poor performance in 2012, it is possible the Marlins feel that way more than anything else.
Can they get an extension done for a player who had a decline in 2012 following an ambiguous injury situation in the year before? It is such a tough question, but if that were the case, it would be the first for the Fish since the team itself signed Johnson to an extension the first time. But unlike in the case of Stanton, Johnson's case for an extension is simply not a slam dunk, and a wait-and-see approach with midseason negotiations may be required for the Marlins to make an educated decision.