WTNYNovember 21, 2005
Fried Fish
By Bryan Smith

They know the refrain all too well. Given just how soon the team had won the World Series since starting, fans were able to forgive their organization after stripping apart the 1997 team. Even the 2003 club faced significant changes after coming through October on top.

But never before have the Marlins been as willing to pull out as many of the stops as we've been hearing. The team is very close to trading Mike Lowell and Josh Beckett to the Rangers. Carlos Delgado and Juan Pierre have also been on the block, possibly going to the Mets and Cubs, respectively. There have been other names mentioned, as well, such as Luis Castillo, Guillermo Mota and even Paul Lo Duca.

Or, according to reports, pretty much anyone on the club except Dontrelle Willis, Miguel Cabrera and Jeremy Hermida. Oh, and by the way, they have 12 free agents preparing to leave town as well. It's safe to say that Jack McKeon picked a good time to skip town. At this point, I'm not convinced that Joe Girardi will be able to field a team of 25 men.

First, let's look at the rotation that has had the potential to be so good since drafting Josh Beckett out of high school. But suddenly, Carl Pavano is gone, A.J. Burnett is leaving and Beckett looks to be on his way out now. A new regime is in place, led by Dontrelle Willis. From a marketing standpoint, there might be no one better in the Majors to become the focus of the team.

Beyond Willis, we can't be sure of who will be pitching every fifth day, as Burnett, Valdez and Brian Moehler are all free agents. Jason Vargas finished the season on a high, and will be given a job a year after going from the South Atlantic League to the Majors in Pujols-esque speed. His young southpaw counterpart, Scott Olsen, could also be given a job, as he'll be more healthy and well-rested.

Rumors have the Marlins soon-to-be acquiring John Danks, Texas' talented young lefty hurler. If so, Florida will soon have a rotation of left-handed heat, as Danks is probably a half season away (at least) from contributing at the Major League level. He's a great prospect, but one that has proven to be able to handle only one season per year. The same can be said about Josh Johnson, who finished the year in Florida, but whose control proved to be not ready for the Major League level.

So, the team has three starters that are ready for the Majors. As of now, things look better in the field, where the Marlins are yet to really start losing players. Paul Lo Duca is still signed to catch, and even if he's traded, Josh Willingham is waiting in the wings. Expect one of those two, but not both, to be gone in February. Carlos Delgado remains signed as the first baseman, though with a salary that is set to triple from where it was in 2005. Luis Castillo will make more, as well, but his popularity in Miami makes me think he'll stay.

The shortstop position is anyone's guess, as Alex Gonzalez is just not worth re-signing. Instead, it appears the club is dedicated to giving Robert Andino the shortstop job, despite his career of zero Major League at-bats. This is to soon for the club to throw Andino in to the fire, so they really should consider a cheap, Pokey Reese/Royce Clayton-type option here.
At third, there stands to be Hank Blalock taking over for the expensive Mike Lowell. This represents an upgrade, but there have also been rumors that Florida will be just a stop for Blalock. Instead, the third baseman -- making a little over $4 million for each of the next three seasons -- could be moved following his arrival. The team would like to move Cabrera back to the hot corner, though I really don't see Blalock leaving with a salary as low as his. Instead, expect Lowell in Texas, Blalock in Floria, and Cabrera in left.

It's anyone's guess where Juan Pierre will be next season. The club has been shopping him around like crazy, as the idea of paying Pierre and Castillo so much money to man the top of the lineup has just lost its luster. As of now, I think the best option for the fish is to in fact send him to Chicago, acquiring Corey Patterson and a young starter in the Sergio Mitre mold. Patterson could then be forced to contend with Chris Aguila for the centerfield job, while Hermida coasts through the season in right.

As of now, a trade of Delgado would make Jeff Conine the starter at first base. The drop off here is pretty significant, however, and Conine provides much more value as a bat coming off the bench. There, he could join the versatile Aguila, Joe Dillon, and Matt Treanor. Simply put, holding onto Delgado is extremely important.

What scares me most about the 2006 team is the bullpen that Girardi will be forced to call to. At this point, only one veteran is signed, that being Ron Villone. Guillermo Mota is arbitration-eligible, which in this organization means he will be shopped, and if no one is interested in a trade, he'll be non-tendered. Beyond that, Nate Bump is the only other player I would have any confidence in. Pardon me, but the names Randy Messenger, Chris Resop, Logan Kensing or Ben Howard don't sound particularly inviting.

But, since they don't want to spend money, this is the bullpen they will be given. At least one free agent signing will be mandatory, as someone with a name is going to have to take over for the departing Todd Jones. After that, the club should be creative, looking into the system, the minor league free agent market and the Rule 5 Draft for arms. If the Royal bullpen can show so much promise, why not the Florida one? For example, if Josh Johnson starts the 2005 season slow, convert his big frame to the bullpen, and you might just have your next closer.

So, who should Larry Beinfest be looking to trade, and who should he be lobbying to keep? As I've said, I think the ones to go should be Lo Duca, Lowell, Pierre, Beckett and Mota. This will shave quite a bit off the payroll, while maintaining an off chance that this team could contend in the 2006 season.

Whether they can get his new Miami stadium or not, the Marlins owe their fan base something. And that is to stop leaving the same song on repeat.


Bryan, as one of the dozens of die-hard Marlin fans in America, I agree with nearly everything in your assessment, although of course we now have the benefit of knowing about the Red Sox trade.

However, I disagree with the last point about the Marlin ownership owing South Florida something. As far as I'm concerned, they owe us nothing, since we as a community have given them little more than nothing in return.

In 13 seasons, the Marlins have won as many titles as the insanely adored Dolphins, but they have next to no fan base to show for it. 28th in attendance this year? With the talent they had? Ridiculous and unacceptable.

Many excuses have been offered to explain the lack of attendance, and I reject them all:

1. The stadium: yeah, it's not that great, but the product on the field has far surpassed the field itself. Incidentally, the choice of a new stadium [if that ever actually happens] next to the Orange Bowl is a miserable idea. Yes, baseball is very popular in Latin America, but it is a myth that a lot of Dade County Hispanics support the Marlins; the majority of the Marlin fans come from Broward and Palm Beach County, and a lot less of them would be driving all the way down to Little Havana to go to games.

2. The weather: Anyone who has spent any significant time here knows that ir rains every single afternoon in the summer, but that it is a rare occurrence for it to rain at night.

3. 1998: first of all, I don't know why anyone down here was surprised by this. Huizenga made no bones about 1997 being a one-shot deal, once Broward/Dade County shot down his idea for "Wayne's World." It was that event, which, I think, occurred somewhere around midseason 1997, that caused the "sell-off." And secondly, whatever bad feelings the Marlins may have had about 1998 should have fallen away after the Marlins won another world title.

People down here support winners, and only winners, unless your name is the Dolphins. The Marlins have won as much as any other professional sports team in South Florida history, but they have no fans. We have failed to support a winner, and as a result, we no longer deserve a winner, so in my opinion, the Marlin ownership owes South Florida absolutely nothing.

P.S.: Delgado is almost certainly gone as well. The talk here is that the Mets are a likely destination, with the Marlins getting some combination of Yusmeiro Petit, Aaron Heilman, Mike Jacobs, and Chris Woodward.