The Miami Marlins are in a spot right now where they can auto-renew the contract of Jose Fernandez for the minimum salary and then head towards his arbitration years one season at a time. That’s their right and it may be what they do, but it’d be an error to do so. The Marlins need to do something that the cross-state rival Tampa Bay Rays are known for and lock Fernandez up to a team-friendly long-term contract immediately.
Miguel Cabrera is a prime example of what happens when you don’t sign an exceptional talent quickly. Due to the fact that the Marlins went year-by-year with Cabrera, they were forced to trade him when he started entering his big payday years. Had the team signed him to a long-term deal after one season they could have likely kept him throughout his arbitration years as well as a few free agent years at an affordable rate. There is risk in doing this, of course; the player could turn out to be a flash in the pan or could suffer injuries. The reward outweighs the risk, however, in special talents like Cabrera and Fernandez. Some players have “it” and can be seen as unlikely to fall off. Those are the players that need to be secured quickly as the big paydays become inevitable.
Another name to look at is Giancarlo Stanton, who the Marlins continue to give one-year contracts to. Already, the team has cost themselves millions in possible savings by waiting this long to lock the slugger up long-term. However, since he’s first entering arbitration this coming season an opportunity remains for the Marlins to offer a team-friendly deal. As of yet, they have not done so this offseason and it is possible they won’t. If Stanton plays 2014 on a one-year deal it will all but confirm that he will be traded next offseason when he becomes cost prohibitive.
The Rays handle these situations magnificently as they have signed players such as Evan Longoria to Matt Moore to quick team-friendly deals that are now the envy of the rest of the baseball. When you need to play with a small payroll as the Rays do, these kinds of contracts are necessities to compete. The Marlins also have a small payroll take the field annually, and if they want to start to emulate the success of the Rays it begins with copying their way of locking up young talent. It needs to start with Fernandez, and it needs to happen now.