Search

5 Florida Marlins The bottom-feeding Fish still lack cash, but they're filthy rich in young talent

March 29, 1999
March 29, 1999

Table of Contents
March 29, 1999

Faces In The Crowd
1999 Baseball Preview

5 Florida Marlins The bottom-feeding Fish still lack cash, but they're filthy rich in young talent

They'll be less awful. That's what the Marlins pledge to be in
1999. They're not, in any way, the club that won the World Series
in '97. (Only six players remain from that roster.) And they're
not the team that lost 108 games last year, although a bunch of
kids from that group are back. Florida is like an expansion club
again. It has a new owner. (Wayne Huizenga is gone, John Henry is
in.) It has a new manager. (Jim Leyland is gone, John Boles is
in.) It has a new attitude. The Marlins, only six seasons after
being born, are being reborn.

This is an article from the March 29, 1999 issue Original Layout

In a few years Florida might be good again, if it's willing to
pay the players it's developing. There's probably no other team
with more young talent. Those talented players--outfielder Mark
Kotsay, first baseman Derrek Lee, pitchers Braden Looper and
A.J. Burnett, to name a few--may not have made it onto your
radar screen yet. But Dave Dombrowski, the Marlins' nimble
general manager, knows what he has with these guys: a future.

In the Huizenga years Florida was loaded with mercenaries. The
Marlins' owner got out his checkbook, the team won the World
Series; he put away his checkbook, the team was disbanded.
Floridians were left feeling ill. Dombrowski, who has been
successful over the years with both big budgets and tiny
budgets, knows the harsh truth. Winning back fans will be about
as easy as crossing the Everglades barefoot. The front office
isn't burdening the players with this task. The message to the
players is simple: Be loose, try hard, get better.

Boles believes Leyland did the Marlins a great favor by staying
with them last year. When the best manager in baseball guides a
team to the worst record in baseball and then leaves, it makes
his successor's job a whole lot easier. Expectations could not
be lower. Just look what the great Leyland did with these same
guys.

Some of the Marlins weren't sorry to see him go. "Leyland made
you worry about your mistakes," says Todd Dunwoody, Florida's
centerfielder. "It makes you less aggressive." Lee, the cleanup
hitter and first baseman, says, "Leyland just makes you nervous
with all that coffee he drinks and smoking cigarettes and pacing
around."

Boles is 50, but he's new school. No cigs, no coffee, no pacing
around. "I'm not going to tip over any food tables, scream at
media people, go home and kick the dog," he says.

The Marlins could finish last again in the National League
East--any other finish would be a surprise--and still be one of
the most improved teams in the majors. Every player on the
projected Opening Day roster is in his 20's except
knuckleballers Dennis Springer, who's 34, and Kirt Ojala, who's
30. The youthful trio of Kotsay, 23, in right, Dunwoody, 23, in
center and Cliff Floyd, 26, in left constitutes one of the best
defensive outfields in the majors. Burnett, a 22-year-old
righthander, has a ring in each nipple, a 95-mph fastball and a
knuckle curve that doesn't break the I-95 speed limit. He's a
beaut, though he's probably still a year away from the bigs.
During spring training, Boles said to him, "You're scared to
death, aren't you, kid." Burnett said, "Yeah, right."

One of the most promising things about the Marlins' future is
that Florida traded 23-year-old All-Star shortstop Edgar
Renteria to the Cardinals in December not to save money but to
improve the team. Renteria is a hero in South Florida for his
game-winning two-out single in the 11th inning of Game 7 in the
1997 World Series. But with the trade the Marlins got three
promising players in return--the hard-throwing Looper; a
lefthander named Armando Almanza, who has a 3.07 career ERA
after five years in the minors; and an infielder named Pablo
Ozuna, a 20-year-old speedster who has hit .351 in his three
minor league seasons. That's not all. Dealing Renteria will also
allow Boles to make 22-year-old Alex Gonzalez his every-day
shortstop. Gonzalez is an excellent fielder and has, by the
modest standards of his position, good power.

The Marlins haven't cut every tie to 1997, it just seems that
way. Floyd, for one, is still around. Last season the
injury-prone outfielder stayed healthy for the entire year and
hit 22 home runs and stole 27 bases. In August, Barry Bonds even
likened Floyd to himself when he was younger. Another holdover
is second baseman Craig Counsell, who scored on Renteria's Game
7 single. Counsell is a relative grown-up--compared with the
other Marlins. The kids can learn something from him. He's 28.
He has a ring. He's coming back from a broken jaw after being
struck in the face by a pitch last year. In spring training he
showed no fear. He's a big leaguer.

Last year the Marlins didn't exist except in the standings. They
were between owners, between managers, between directions. The
new owner, John Henry, is not like the old one. He's a baseball
man. He likes the game. He has co-owned a minor league team and
a Senior Baseball League team. He owned a 1% share of the
Yankees during the eight years before he bought the Marlins.
He's trying to build a team.

One hundred eight games is a lot of games to win, but it's even
more to lose. The daily defeats took a toll on some of the
players, no matter how glad they were to be in the majors.
During spring training, Boles dealt with the trauma on an
individual basis. He sees no lingering effect. "They're too
young to be scarred," Boles says. "We know we're going to be
good. What we don't know is when."

--Michael Bamberger

COLOR PHOTO: TOM DIPACE The jury is still out on the power of 23-year-old outfielder Kotsay, but the verdict is in on his glove, which is recognized as one of the league's best.COLOR PHOTO: RONALD C. MODRA

By the Numbers

1998 Team Statistics (NL rank)
1998 record: 54-108 (fifth in NL East)

BATTING AVERAGE .248 (15)
RUNS SCORED 667 (13)
HOME RUNS 114 (15)
OPP. BATTING AVG. .287 (16)
ERA 5.18 (16)
FIELDING PCT. .979 (12)

How Low Can They Go?

The 1998 Marlins became the seventh team this century to have
their winning percentage drop at least 200 points from the
previous season. Their 235-point decline in winning percentage
was the largest ever by a defending World Series champion. Five
of the other six teams that suffered a 200-point drop improved
their won-lost record the following year.

Team

Philadelphia Athletics
Year 1 W-L Pct. Year 2 W-L Pct. Decline Year 3 W-L Pct.
1914 99-53 .651 1915 43-109 .283 .368 1916 36-117 .235

Boston Braves
[Year 1 W-L Pct. Year 2 W-L Pct. Decline Year 3 W-L Pct.]
1934 78-73 .517 1935 38-115 .248 .269 1936 71-83 .461

Florida Marlins
[Year 1 W-L Pct. Year 2 W-L Pct. Decline Year 3 W-L Pct.]
1997 92-70 .568 1998 54-108 .333 .235 1999 ? ?

Cincinnati Reds
[Year 1 W-L Pct. Year 2 W-L Pct. Decline Year 3 W-L Pct.]
1981 66-42 .611 1982 61-101 .377 .234 1983 74-88 .457

Cleveland Indians
[Year 1 W-L Pct. Year 2 W-L Pct. Decline Year 3 W-L Pct.]
1913 86-66 .566 1914 51-102 .333 .233 1915 57-95 .375

Chicago White Sox
[Year 1 W-L Pct. Year 2 W-L Pct. Decline Year 3 W-L Pct.]
1920 96-58 .623 1921 62-92 .403 .220 1922 77-77 .500

Washington Senators
[Year 1 W-L Pct. Year 2 W-L Pct. Decline Year 3 W-L Pct.]
1933 99-53 .651 1934 66-86 .434 .217 1935 67-86 .438

Next Up...

He's 23 and strong as an ox. Baseball is in his blood. His
father, Leon, is a former Cardinals farmhand and now a scout for
the Cubs. His uncle, Leron, was an outfielder for four big
league teams. Coming out of spring training, 6'5", 225-pound
Derrek Lee knows he'll be the Marlins' every-day first baseman
and cleanup hitter. He's not going to be platooned. He's not
going to be benched if he gets off to a slow start, as he did
last year. In 454 at bats as a rookie in '98, he hit just .233,
with 17 home runs, and struck out 120 times. This year he should
take off. The new manager, John Boles, doesn't make him nervous,
which should allow Lee to be more relaxed and patient at the
plate.

Projected Roster With 1998 Statistics

Manager: John Boles (first season with Florida)

BATTING ORDER B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB

RF Mark Kotsay L 144 .279 11 68 10
SS Alex Gonzalez (R)* R 248 .277 10 51 4
LF Cliff Floyd L-R 59 .282 22 90 27
1B Derrek Lee R 124 .233 17 74 5
CF Todd Dunwoody L 173 .251 5 28 5
3B Mike Lowell (R)*[1] R 232 .304 26 99 4
C Jorge Fabregas[1] L-R 313 .197 2 20 0
2B Craig Counsell L-R 309 .251 4 40 3

BENCH

3B Kevin Orie R 246 .219 8 38 2
IF Luis Castillo R 263 .203 1 10 3
C Mike Redmond R 333 .331 2 7 0
OF Preston Wilson (R)* R 346 .273 26 86 15
OF Bruce Aven (R)*[#][1] R 352 .287 17 77 10

STARTERS PVR W L IPS WHIP ERA

RH Alex Fernandez[#] 95 17 12 6.9 1.19 3.59
RH Livan Hernandez 119 10 12 7.1 1.57 4.72
RH Brian Meadows 166 11 13 5.6 1.54 5.21
LH Jesus Sanchez 155 7 9 5.7 1.55 4.47
RH Dennis Springer[1] 200 3 11 5.5 1.56 5.45

BULLPEN PVR W L S WHIP ERA

RH Matt Mantei 131 3 4 9 1.12 2.96
RH Braden Looper (R)*[1] 220 2 3 20 1.38 3.10
RH Antonio Alfonseca 269 4 6 8 1.53 4.08
RH Brian Edmonson 297 4 4 0 1.49 3.91
RH Rafael Medina 338 2 6 0 1.90 6.01
LH Kirt Ojala 265 2 7 0 1.50 4.25

New acquisition (R) Rookie B-T: Bats-throws
IPS: Innings pitched per start
WHIP: Walks plus hits per inning pitched

PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 154)
*Triple A stats [#]1997 stats