WTNYNovember 28, 2003
Turkey or Fish?
By Bryan Smith

According to this column in the Florida Sun-Sentinal, the Marlins will announce the re-signings of Luis Castillo and Mike Lowell as early as today. According to Mike Berardino, Castillo will sign a three-year deal woth $15.5M, with a $6M option that could vest by plate appearances. Lowell's extension will be a four-year contract, believed to be in the $36-40M range. For the purposes of this column, I'm going to assume Lowell makes $9.5M in 2004, which would fall right in the middle of that range.

Before digging deeper into the Marlins, let's look at Lowell and Castillo splits:

Lowell Overall: .276/.350/.530
Vs. RH: .271/.346/.484 Vs. LH: .295/.363/.688
At Home: .282/.365/.509 Road: .271/.336/.550
Pre-ASB: .275/.351/.586 Post-ASB: .281/.348/.388

Castillo Overall: .314/.381/.397
Vs. RH: .312/.377/.357 Vs. LH: .320/.394/.494
At Home: .326/.398/.406 Road: .303/.365/.388
Pre-ASB: .311/.375/.407 Post-ASB: .320/.390/.382

Lowell's second half numbers look very shaky because he was injured, the sole reasoning his power went away completely. His OPS has increased each of the last three seasons, and he is likely to break .900 next season. Castillo has started striking out less, but he needs to improve his baserunning abilities to be top-notch. He fits very well in that second hole, and Fox documented the importance Pierre and Castillo played on the Marlins last season. I believe a large part of these signings were to draw a crowd to Miami, bringing back popular, Latino players to satisfy Miami's largest demographic.

Berardino also writes the team will non-tender both Juan Encarnacion and Braden Looper, assuming trades can not be worked out beforehand. But by this news going public, Larry Beinfest has lost any potential market he was hoping to harbor with these two. So using the information I presented this week, I can assume the following:

Signed for 2004: Juan Pierre (2.3), Mike Hampton (10), Mike Lowell (9.5), Luis Castillo (5.5)

Arbitration-Eligible: Brad Penny (2.5), Mark Redman (3), A.J. Burnett (2.5), Gonzalez (2.7)

Currently on the hook for: $38M

Last season's Opening Day payroll was a shade over $50M, and my belief is the team will allow Beinfest to reach $55M in 2004. After assuming $4M is spent on auto-renewals, the team will have $42M spent on next season's team. That would allow Beinfest to spend roughly $13M towards next season's team. Let's look at what kind of team the World Champion's will trot out there:

1. Pierre- CF
2. Castillo- 2B
3. Lowell- 3B
4. Cabrera- RF
5. Conine-LF
6. Choi- 1B
7. Gonzalez- SS
8. Castro/?- C

Ivan Rodriguez is the largest question mark this team has, but that question will be answered in the next ten days. Last season Rodriguez stipulated the team could not offer him arbitration this season, meaning if the team doesn't sign him by December 7th, he will be lost. Pudge was the heart and soul of last year's team, and the most popular Latino player of all. Beinfest and Boras are millions of miles apart, but as I said, all will be known a week from Sunday. Here's a look at the rotation:

1. Beckett- RH
2. Pavano- RH
3. Redman- LH
4. Willis- LH
5. Penny- RH

The team will expect A.J. Burnett back early in the season, although I can't say I expect Pavano, Redman, Penny, and Burnett to all be Marlins next season. One will be either dealt or non-tendered, and that will be seen on December 20. Berardino hints that Mark Redman will be the player to go if Pudge is signed, but if the team is forced to go with Ramon Castro, that rotation above stays.

Jack McKeon's bullpen has many questions within itself, and those will grow when Looper is non-tendered. The team will probably look for one-time studs like Blaine Neal and Tim Spooneybarger to step up, along with a couple veterans they sign. Berardino says the team is closing in on Chad Fox, and is looking to add another reliever (a former closer of some type) after that. I would advise Mike Williams, who is only one season removed from 40 saves. Armando Almanza and Michael Tejera are two more, and I imagine someone of the Tommy Phelps or Allan Levrault variety.

Florida is trying desperately to avoid the 1997 sell-out logo, and will spend $15M next season (Castillo and Lowell) to prove it. Lowell will be able to escape his deal if Miami doesn't get a new stadium deal, and Florida is trying to buy their stadium on payroll. I fully expect Beinfest to realize Pudge's importance (along with Pudge seeing he has no market) and the two sides coming together for a deal. When that happens, the NL East is still wide open, although the Phillies are the favorites in 2004.

2004 favorites (assuming Schilling is in Boston): Phillies, Cubs, Padres, Red Sox, Royals/Twins, A's

Have a good weekend, check back if something worthy of posting happens. And, make your way over to Rich's Weekend Baseball BEAT to see an exclusive interview with injury guru and fellow blogger, Will Carroll.