2004 Florida Marlins Preview
Monday, March 01 2004 @ 04:38 AM EST
Contributed by: Mike D
First, beat longshot odds/
Then, beat three excellent clubs/
Shockingly, World Champs!
Our 2004 Preview series now turns to the improbable kingfish of 2003, the Florida Marlins.
But first, an aside: When your trusty authors here at Batter's Box first began to plan the schedule of our thirty team previews, the first thing we agreed upon was that there would be no uniform format; instead, each of us was free to write the preview how we saw fit, "be it statistical analysis, anecdotal observations, haiku, or whatever." I found "whatever" to be a bit nebulous, but I never back down from a haiku challenge. Never. So 20 player-specific haikus are coming your way. Feel free to submit your own haikus for the more fringe-type Fish.
Now, back to business.
What Went Right in 2003? Everything
For some, it was their lack of playoff experience. For others, it was a firm conviction that the aggressive use of base stealing and small ball couldn't succeed in the playoffs, circa 2004. For many, it was their wholly justified disdain for Jeffrey Loria, the Man Who Turned The Expos Into Orphans. In short, for a variety of reasons, nobody wanted to believe that the Florida Marlins -- baseball's hottest team in the second half of the 2003 season -- would be World Series Champions.
But Loria's crew broke the hearts of three of the most rabid fan bases in baseball, in three different ways. They bested the Giants by dominating the battle of the bullpens. They edged the Cubs with timely hitting and an ability to capitalize on Chicago's mistakes. Then, they trumped the Yankees with brilliant starting pitching by Josh Beckett, Brad Penny and Carl Pavano.
2003 By The Numbers
|91 wins, 71 losses||Runs scored: 751, 8th in NL|
|Wild Card; Second, NL East||Runs allowed: 692, 6th in NL|
|World Series Champions||Pythagorean W-L: 87-75|
Defeated Giants (Division Series) in four
Defeated Cubs (NLCS) in seven
Defeated Yankees (World Series) in six
The Offseason: Is Something Burning?
If it looks like a fire sale, and smells like a fire sale...well, maybe not. The truth is, this was a very different Marlins offseason from the shameful demolition engineered by Wayne Huizenga & Co. of the last Marlin championship club. Florida faced a litany of inconveniently expiring contracts, and did well just to re-sign Luis Castillo and Mike Lowell, both of whom attracted considerable interest from contending clubs.
So how is the team different? Well, NLCS MVP Ivan Rodriguez is gone, in no small part due to a ridiculously short negotiating window per the terms of his 2003 one-year contract. After the club unsurprisingly falied to come to terms with Scott Boras, rumblings persisted that the Marlins would try and reacquire their emotional leader in a sign-and-trade arrangement. Ultimately, though, they weren't interested in the minimum-three-years, minimum-eight-figures deal that Boras and Pudge felt they deserved. It's hard to blame the Fish here.
To help fund their Castillo and Lowell signings, the Marlins tried to clear out some money. They got younger and cheaper at first base, swapping Derrek Lee for Hee Seop Choi. With A.J. Burnett scheduled to return in May, the Marlins were able to ship Mark Redman to Oakland as Ted Lilly's replacement, in exchange for righty reliever Mike Neu. Juan Encarnacion was dispatched to Los Angeles for a player that has still not been named. The Marlins also bid adieu to Ugueth Urbina and Braden Looper, but dipped into free agency to sign the much-traveled-of-late Armando Benitez to shore up the back end of the bullpen.
Two potentially invigorating developments failed to transpire this offseason. First, the Fish have not yet succeeded in securing a new stadium (see "Outlook," below). Second, the Marlins were not very proactive on the Vladimir Guerrero front, despite strong rumours that he was eager to play for the warm-weather, Latino-friendly organization in Miami. Despite shedding Ivan Rodriguez's $10 million salary, Marlins management didn't feel secure enough to throw big money at the ex-Expo. That's too bad; it would have been interesting to see the kind of goodwill the Marlins could engender by marketing the addition of a new superstar to a championship club.
|Players Acquired||Players Lost|
|RP Armando Benitez (FA-Sea)||C Ivan Rodriguez (FA-Det)|
|1B Hee Seop Choi (T-ChC)||1B Derrek Lee (T-ChC)|
|SP/RP Darren Oliver (FA-Col)||LF Todd Hollandsworth (FA-ChC)|
|RP Mike Neu (T-Oak)||RF Juan Encarnacion (T-LA)|
|1B/OF Wil Cordero (FA-Mtl)||SP Mark Redman (T-Oak)|
|RP Bryce Florie (NRI)||CL Ugueth Urbina (FA)|
|RP Matt Perisho (NRI)||RP Braden Looper (FA-NYM)|
|RP Scott Sanders (NRI)||OF Chad Allen (non-tendered)|
|IF Felipe Crespo (NRI)||RP Armando Almanza (non-tendered)|
|2B/3B Damian Easley (NRI)||RP Vladimir Nunez (non-tendered)|
|OF Ryan Christenson (NRI)||SP Rick Helling (non-tendered)|
|OF Armando Rios (NRI)||RP Kevin Olsen (non-tendered)|
The Marlins, an average offensive club to begin with, need a lot of things to go right in order to avoid struggling to score in '04. Obviously, the competitive advantage of a premier hitter at the catcher position is gone. Instead, the Fish will rely upon veteran backup Mike Redmond, who's shown decent contact-hitting ability and a solid batting eye -- but no power potential whatsoever. Ramon Castro is capable of significant pop for a backstop, but faces a sexual assault charge. Matt Treanor, a minor leaguer, will replace Castro on the roster if the matter is not resolved quickly. Pudge's throwing and receiving skills might have declined somewhat, but will still be a tall order for Redmond & Co. to replace. Moreover, it'll be impossible for the catcher-by-committee to duplicate Pudge's intangible attributes: blocking the plate, mound-visit pep talks, leadership when aligning the defence.
The infield is in decent shape, especially defensively. Up the middle, the Marlins return Luis Castillo and "No, The Other" Alex Gonzalez, an excellent double-play duo. The sure-handed Castillo controls his slap-hitting bat expertly, and is easily capable of a .390 OBP. Although his base-stealing acumen declined significantly last season, he remains a distraction to opposing pitchers. Meanwhile, for his part, "No, The Other" Alex Gonzalez has established himself as both a better hitter and a better fielder than his older namesake, "Yeah, That" Alex Gonzalez. That doesn't make him a great player by any means, but eighteen dingers and very good defence is nothing to sneeze at for a shortstop. Mike Mordecai, Wilson Valdez and maybe Damian Easley will provide the unappetizing alternatives for the middle infield off the bench.
On the corners, the Marlins welcome Hee Seop Choi to the fold while welcoming back Mike Lowell. Choi brings patience and power to an attack that otherwise lacks both. The plodding newcomer has been described as an odd fit in the Marlins' up-tempo offence, but he should be able to replace both the power and the fine glove of the departed Derrek Lee. The biggest concern -- and it's a legitimate one -- remains his ability to make contact, but hitting coach Bill Robinson might be the right guy to accelerate Choi's development as a hitter. And if you want "Dreaded Intangibles," the tall Korean has been a clubhouse hit at every level of professional baseball. Jason Stokes remains in the wings at first, with Adrian Gonzalez no longer blocking him within the organization. Wil Cordero will spot Choi, with his lefty-mashing bat and dreadful glove.
With an outstanding .530 slugging percentage in 2003, Mike Lowell confirmed his place among the premiere third sackers in baseball. His four-year deal is voided after this season should the Marlins fail in their stadium bid, which makes Lowell certain to be traded if Loria's wide-eyed plea for tax dollars goes unheeded. If Lowell goes, Miguel Cabrera will resume his ascent to superstardom at third base -- but he is not now the player that Lowell is.
The Marlins' outfield should be only slightly worse than last season, but is paper-thin. Juan Pierre puts pressure on the defence at the plate, and is a lock to score 100 runs and steal 50 bases as a leadoff hitter. Hardworking and durable, Pierre has outstanding range and a below-average arm in centre.
Blessed with ridiculous tools, Miguel Cabrera is only beginning to define himself as a player. Despite his complete unfamiliarity with right field, the 20-year-old acquitted himself well there during the postseason, flashing decent instincts and a cannon of a throwing arm. Without Encarnacion and Pudge, the Fish are counting on Cabrera to produce the numbers he's capable of over a full season. He'll need to improve his plate discipline, particularly on breaking pitches, to do it. The aging Jeff Conine remains durable and a leader, but is little better than adequate as an offensive left fielder. Brian Banks, "No, The Other" Abraham Nunez and Gerald Williams are the "options" for backup outfielder. The speedy Jeremy Hermida is still at least two years away from making an impact.
It should be obvious by now that an injury to any of their starting eight would cripple Florida's attack -- they're woefully thin. The contributions of Pierre, Castillo and Lowell are reliable, and Cabrera and Choi should improve. Still, the Marlins will likely have to scratch and claw to support their pitching staff; Pudge is a definite subtraction, and his hole in the lineup went unaddressed.
Meet the Marlins offence:
C: #52 Mike Redmond
.240/.302/.312, 12 R, 0 HR, 11 RBI, 7 BB, 16 K, 0-for-0 SB, 59 G
Best season in last five ("BSLF"): 2002 -- .305/.372/.387, 28 RBI in 89 G
Age: 33 in May
Replacing Ivan Rodriguez (.297/.369/.474, 90 R, 16 HR, 85 RBI, 55 BB, 92 K, 10-for-16 SB, 144 G)
But for the champs he's stuck with
Pudgy shoes to fill
1B: #25 Hee Seop Choi
.218/.350/.421, 31 R, 8 HR, 28 RBI, 37 BB, 71 K, 1-for-2 SB, 80 G with Cubs
Age: 25 in March
Replacing Derrek Lee (.271/.379/.508, 91 R, 31 HR, 92 RBI, 88 BB, 131 K, 21-for-29 SB, 155 G)
Statheads' Lou Gehrig
To Karros' Pipp in Chi-town
Now, time to produce
2B: #1 Luis Castillo
.314/.381/.397, 99 R, 6 HR, 39 RBI, 63 BB, 60 K, 21-for-40 SB, 152 G
BSLF: 2000 -- .334/.418/.388, 101 R, 78 BB, 62-for-84 SB in 136 G
Age: 29 in September
With the glove, he's slick
And he's pesky with the stick
Fish had to sign him
SS: #11 Alex Gonzalez
.256/.313/.443, 52 R, 18 HR, 77 RBI, 33 BB, 106 K, 0-for-4 SB, 150 G
Age: 27 as of February
Game 4 walk-off blast!
But it was off Jeff Weaver
So it doesn't count
3B: #19 Mike Lowell
.276/.350/.530, 76 R, 32 HR, 105 RBI, 56 BB, 78 K, 3-for-4 SB, 130 G
Age: 30 as of February
Fiery clubhouse guy
New contract has ominous
Stadium out clause
LF: #18 Jeff Conine
.282/.338/.459, 88 R, 20 HR, 95 RBI, 50 BB, 70 K, 5-for-5 SB, 149 G
BSLF: 2001 with Orioles -- 311/386/443, 97 RBI in 139 G
Age: 38 in June
Never thought I'd say
This about a Marlins cap:
Looks just right on him
CF: #9 Juan Pierre
.305/.361/.373, 100 R, 1 HR, 41 RBI, 55 BB, 35 K, 65-for-85 SB, 162 G
BSLF: 2001 with Rockies -- 327/378/415 with 108 R, 2 HR, 11 triples, 55 RBI, 29 K
Age: 27 in August
Bunting? Blazing speed?
In his own way, he exploits
RF: #24 Miguel Cabrera
.268/.325/.468, 39 R, 12 HR, 62 RBI, 25 BB, 84 K, 0-for-2 SB, 87 G
Age: 21 in April
Replacing Juan Encarnacion (.270/.313/.446, 80 R, 19 HR, 94 RBI, 37 BB, 82 K, 19-for-27 SB, 156 G)
Looks about 16
But the kid can flat-out rake
1B/OF #16 Wil Cordero
.278/.354/.450, 57 R, 16 HR, 71 RBI, 49 BB, 90 K, 1-for-2 SB, 130 G with Expos
Age: 33 in October
Insurance for Choi
Will good clubhouse welcome this
OF #22 Brian Banks
.235/.348/.383, 14 R, 4 HR, 23 RBI, 25 BB, 38 K, 2-for-3 SB, 92 G
Age: 34 in September
Doesn't produce much
Likely the most vivid proof
That champs have no depth
C #17 Ramon Castro
.283/.333/.604, 6 R, 5 HR, 8 RBI, 4 BB, 11 K, 0-for-0 SB, 40 G
Age: 28 in March
Legal problems could derail
UT #12 Mike Mordecai
.213/.276/.326, 11 R, 2 HR, 8 RBI, 8 BB, 21 K, 3-for-3 SB, 65 G
BSLF: 2000 with Expos -- 284/335/450
Age: 37 in December
UT #27 Abraham Nunez
Played in minors in 2003
BSLF: 2002 -- 118/118/118 in 19 G
Age: 27 as of February
2B/SS #60 Wilson Valdez
Age: 26 in May
Also In The Mix: 2B/3B Damian Easley, OF Ryan Christenson, PH Lenny Harris, OF Gerald "Ice" Williams
The Pitching Staff
Here, the news is happier for the Marlins. After the startling on-field success of the team's starting pitchers in the World Series, the Fish's rotation has enjoyed some, um, off-the-field success of late: Josh Beckett has begun dating model Leeann Tweeden, while Carl Pavano and Alyssa Milano (!!) are also apparently an item. Will this go to their heads? Reliever Toby Borland was startled to read about both Beckett and Pavano in a doctor's-room copy of People magazine. Never slow with a quip, Borland recently wondered to the press, "Have these girls developed cataracts?"
Fear not, Marlins fans. Young, poised and potentially even better than last season, Florida's starting pitchers need only to overcome the abuse that has unfortunately been heaped on their arms over the past several seasons. Just ask A.J. Burnett.
Speaking of Burnett, he's expected back from Tommy John surgery sometime in May. Assuming all is right with him, he brings nasty stuff and strikeouts a-plenty on every fifth day. The ace of the staff, meanwhile, will be Beckett, who used the '03 World Series as his coming-out party. With a confidence that regularly crosses the line of cockiness, Beckett keeps the ball over the plate and in the ballpark. Count on a great season, and K's that could approach 200.
Brad Penny is somewhat more susceptible to the gopher ball and somewhat less conditioned than his more celebrated young teammates. Always around the strike zone, Penny's performance over the course of the season resembled Kelvim Escobar's, with brilliant outings mixed with shellackings. Unlike Kelvim, walks are not the cause of Penny's ruin; he gets into trouble by catching too much of the plate.
Sure, Brandon Webb was a better rookie pitcher than Dontrelle Willis. But the outrage over the Rookie of the Year voting shouldn't obscure the fact that D-Train was very, very good, and particularly tough on lefties. More importantly, Willis breathed new life into a moribund franchise, with attendance and television ratings each spiking dramatically for each of the D-Train's starts. It's not hard to argue that his contributions were pivotal in generating both the revenue and the requisite hope to be a buyer at the trade deadline, where the Marlins acquired Conine and Urbina. That, to me, is probably the best argument for the hardware now residing on Willis' mantle.
Rounding out the rotation, Pavano is finally putting it together, as he's getting his walks under control. Can he throw 200 innings again after failing to crack 100 in 2000, 2001 and 2002? Darren Oliver is an odd choice for a bridge to Burnett; although he pitched respectably at altitude last season, his ERA was roughly a full run worse away from Coors Field.
So the rotation's in excellent shape, if their arms remain attached to their bodies. The bullpen is much less of a sure thing.
Everyone remembers Ugueth U. Urbina's shaky postseason, but Triple-U was excellent in relief last season after coming over from Texas. He's elected not to sign with Pittsburgh or Montreal at bargain rates, and will hold out until a contender becomes willing to (over)pay for him. Armando Benitez becomes the new closer, and while he's still got his overpowering fastball, he still hasn't shed his occasionally maddening inconsistency. Suffice it to say that there will be some ninth-inning adventures at Pro Player this season. Chad Fox will set him up, and after boiling in the Fenway cauldron, Fox in a Marlins uniform looked a lot more like the Brewers ace reliever he once was. Fox cut down his walks and improved his strikeouts after switching back to the National League.
The rest of the 'pen seemingly strays from the Marlins' low-walk, high-strikeout recipe for success. Mike Neu keeps the ball down, but a 26BB/20K ratio in 42 innings seems somewhat ominous. Tommy Phelps, Mike Tejera and Nate Bump have all battled control problems, while the still-promising Tim Spooneybarger has vowed to pitch "this season" after himself undergoing a Tommy John procedure.
Thus, the conundrum that may haunt Jack McKeon this season: A starting rotation he can trust, but shouldn't abuse anymore, is backed up by a bullpen in which he may lack confidence. We can only hope that some immensely talented young pitchers' careers aren't set back by the balance the Marlins decide to strike.
Without further ado, the pitchers:
SP #21 Josh Beckett
9-8, 3.04, 142 IP, 132 H, 9 HR, 56 BB, 152 K, LH .220, RH .267, 23 GS
Age: 24 in May
The game's biggest stage?
Merely a playground for this
Kid with a live arm
SP #31 Brad Penny
14-10, 4.13, 196.1 IP, 195 H, 21 HR, 56 BB, 138 K, LH .269, RH .258, 32 GS
BSLF: 2001 -- 10-10, 3.69, 205 IP, 154 K
Age: 26 in May
Burly righty got
Mauled by Cubs, but bounced back and
Stymied the Yankees
SP #45 Carl Pavano
12-13, 4.30, 201 IP, 204 H, 19 HR, 49 BB, 133 K, LH .267, RH .263, 32 GS
BSLF: 2003 (previous high: 134.2 IP)
Age: 28 as of January
Infamous trade bait
Now steady and durable;
He's still no Pedro
SP #35 Dontrelle Willis
14-6, 3.30, 160.2 IP, 148 H, 13 HR, 58 BB, 142 K, LH .216, RH .250, 27 GS
Age: 22 as of January
Secondary. Simply put:
D-Train saved the Fish
SP/RP #37 Darren Oliver
13-11, 5.04, 180.1 IP, 201 H, 21 HR, 61 BB, 88 K, LH .256, RH .292, 32 GS with Rockies
BSLF: 1999 with Cardinals -- 4.26 ERA, 119 K in 30 GS
Age: 34 in October
Fish hope he enjoys
His return to sea level
SP #34 A.J. Burnett
0-2, 4.70, 23 IP, 18 H, 2 HR, 18 BB, 21 K, LH .234, RH .194, 4 GS
BSLF: 2002 -- 12-9, 3.30, 204.1 IP, 153 H, 12 HR, 90 BB, 203 K, LH .242, RH .177, 29 GS
Age: 27 as of January
Replacing Mark Redman (14-9, 3.59, 190.2 IP, 172 H, 16 HR, 61 BB, 151 K, LH .200, RH .248, 29 GS)
Electric stuff, but
Will Jack finally stop the
Abuse of this guy?
CL #49 Armando Benitez
4-4, 21-for-29 Sv, 2.96, 73 IP, 59 H, 6 HR, 41 BB, 75 K, LH .214, RH .221, 69 G with Mets, Yankees and Mariners
BSLF: 2000 with Mets -- 41 Sv, 76 IP, 39 H, 38 BB, 106 K, .148 BAA
Age: 32 in November
Replacing Ugueth Urbina (3-4, 32-for-38 Sv, 2.81, 77 IP, 56 H, 8 HR, 31 BB, 78 K, LH .182, RH .229, 72 G)
He should take quickly
To sticky South Florida
He's used to meltdowns
SU #44 Chad Fox
3-3, 3-for-5 Sv, 3.12, 43.1 IP, 35 H, 3 HR, 31 BB, 46 K, LH .205, RH .241, 38 G
BSLF: 2001 with Brewers -- 66.2 IP, 44 H, 80 K, 1.89 ERA, .181 BAA
Age: 34 in September
Floundered at Fenway
Flourished with the Fish. New league?
Or just nicer fans?
RP #20 Mike Neu
0-0, 1-for-1 Sv, 3.64, 42 IP, 43 H, 2 HR, 26 BB, 20 K, LH .214, RH .295, 32 G with Athletics
Age: 26 in March
Replacing Braden Looper (6-4, 28-for-34 Sv, 3.68, 80.2 IP, 82 H, 4 HR, 29 BB, 56 K, LH .280, RH .250, 74 G)
He'll snap after all the lame
"Who's the Neu guy?" jokes
RP #57 Tommy Phelps
3-2, 4.00, 63 IP, 70 H, 3 HR, 23 BB, 43 K, LH .233, RH .298, 27 G
Age: 30 in March
RP/SP #58 Michael Tejera
3-4, 2-for-2 Sv, 4.67, 81 IP, 82 H, 6 HR, 36 BB, 58 K, LH .392, RH .224, 50 G
BSLF: 2002 -- 8-8, 95 K in 139.2 IP
Age: 28 in October
RP #91 Tim Spooneybarger
1-2, 0-for-1 Sv, 4.07, 42 IP, 27 H, 1 HR, 11 BB, 32 K, LH .152, RH .224, 33 G
BSLF: 2002 with Braves -- 2.63 ERA in 51 G
Age: 25 in October
RP #40 Nate Bump
4-0, 4.71, 36.1 IP, 34 H, 3 HR, 20 BB, 17 K, LH .229, RH .258, 32 G
Age: 28 in July
Also In The Mix: RP Toby Borland
Not much to say here that hasn't already been said in countless other publications. Jack McKeon brought a unique mix of gravity and levity to the Marlins clubhouse, and managed to his team's strengths on the field. Jack doesn't hesitate to go back to anyone on his roster after a poor performance, and the young, diverse Marlins eagerly made the respect mutual with this cagey lifer from a different era.
MGR Jack McKeon
Record since taking over: 75-49
Age? Just a number
Miracle run proved the game
Hasn't passed him by
Outlook: Champs, Yet Underdogs
Team president David Samson has given Miami-Dade County a March 15 deadline to come through with support for a new stadium -- and the deadline is "firm...not flaccid." (I promise, no Rafael Palmeiro jokes.)
Loria and his henchmen are demanding a greater share of the revenues than what they get from Pro Player Stadium, which is still owned and operated by Huizenga. As well, they insist that a retractable roof is needed to attract fans during summer months in which it rains nearly every day. Samson has basically opened the bidding to any municipality in South Florida, but Don King's bid to lure the team to land he owns in Palm Beach County appears to have fallen through.
If the Marlins fail in persuading municipalities to overlook overcrowded schools and poor infrastructure in favour of a shiny new baseball palace, the outlook is, once again, grim for the Marlins and their fans. Lowell will definitely be traded, and Castillo, Pierre and Benitez would likely follow him out the door. If the team sheds salaries, Florida should win about 77 games.
If the deadline is met, or at least postponed through the regular season, I see the Marlins winning about 87 games, which will not be enough for either the NL East crown or the Wild Card. Their starting pitching is too strong to fail, but their lineup and bullpen are too thin to succeed over 162 games.
But can you ever count out Jack?