What a crazy year it's been for the Marlins. Every up and down a team can go through, they have. The team has many off-season decisions to make, including re-signing the likes of Pudge and Luis Castillo.
Before I explain how they got there, here's my 2004 Marlins lineup card:
C- Ivan Rodriguez
1B- Jeff Conine
2B- Luis Castillo
SS- Alex Gonzalez
3B- Mike Lowell
LF- Miguel Cabrera
CF- Juan Pierre
RF- Jong-Soo Shim
Wow. I think the team should go to lengths to re-sign Pudge and Castillo, both have expressed interest in returning. Conine is a long-time Marlin, and the team should trade Derrek Lee to get money. Mike Lowell has to be considered for a long-term contract, they should make him a career Marlin. Cabrera will have a huge 2004, this is a player who's hit .267/.320/.475 as a 20-YEAR-OLD!!!! And finally, the team should non-tender or trade Juan Encarnacion to free up some money. To play right, they should bring in Shim, a Korean player they had in Spring Training last year, and probably the Korean Leagues' second most valuable player. This team would be very good offensively and defensively, with no real holes.
When A.J. Burnett went down, the season was over. Right? Wrong. The Marlins found great pitching in unpredictable places, and now have some of the best pitchers in the league. Josh Beckett has a 2.55ERA since the All-Star Break, with hit rates below 9 (75H in 88.1IP) and K-rates above it (93K). He will be on the top five list for the Cy Young, next year. While Dontrelle Willis has faded down the stretch, it has been a fantastic run for a 21-year-old, and he should do nothing but improve next season. While Mark Redman looked like a solid addition last winter, not many people thought he'd eclipse 150Ks. He's become a very good left-handed pitcher, capable of eating innings, and really uses Pro Player Stadium. Finally, I'm a big believer in Carl Pavano. I think he's been slowly building back ever since his arm injuries, and he's about to have a big season. He's a solid fourth starter, and he's yet to reach his ceiling.
Whom I didn't include was Brad Penny. With Burnett coming back, there isn't room for Penny on this team. Derrek Lee, Juan Encarnacion, and Brad Penny are big names to throw away, but the team must do it. Burnett may need some time to gain effectiveness, so the team has Michael Tejera. In time, Burnett will become the ace he is, and the Marlins will deal him for good players.
Tim Spooneybarger missed most of this season, and he is big in the plans for 2004. The team should plan on non-tendering Braden Looper, to give them sufficient money to re-sign Ugueth Urbina. Ugueth has been huge for the Marlins, and seems to love Florida. He's a great guy to have in the clubhouse, and should be high on the Marlins wish list. Chad Fox has done a good job here as well, and should also figure into the plans. Spooneybarger will set-up, and Fox will have say in that as well. Armando Almanza will take the leftie duties, and Nate Bump will be in there as well. There are a lot of arms in this organization, so I wouldn't get caught up in middle relief.
There's a lot of things Larry Beinfest needs to do to become a great general manager, but it's all in front of him. Miami will be packing the seats next year, its Beinfest's job to keep them there.