4 Florida Marlins More speed and improved defense may mean a better record, but not a playoff trip

March 31, 2003

The Marlins might not be going anywhere, but at least they'll get
there fast. In an era of muscular hitters, short fences and long
balls, they hope speed, pitching and defense can still win games.

At the top of the order Florida has second baseman Luis Castillo,
who led the National League with 48 stolen bases last season,
followed by fleet centerfielder Juan Pierre, who was second to
Castillo with 47 swipes and was acquired from the Rockies in an
off-season trade. Manager Jeff Torborg fondly remembers that the
go-go 1965 world champion Dodgers, for whom he was a backup
catcher, had a .245 team batting average and led the majors in
stolen bases. A more recent example is the 2002 world champion
Angels, who caught a little lightning in a bottle thanks in part
to a little lightning on the base paths, finishing third in the
AL in stolen bases. The stolen base title, however, has been the
NL's equivalent of the Miss Congeniality Award--just one NL
stolen base leader in the past 15 years, the 1995 Reds, made the
playoffs--but Florida has to play to its strength. "We already
knew we could run," Torborg said. "And we thought if we could cut
down on our strikeouts and add even more speed and defense, it
would help our young pitchers."

The core of Florida's baby-faced rotation remains intriguing, but
great arms have not translated into a lot of wins. A.J. Burnett,
26, broke through with 12 victories and a stingy 3.30 ERA in
2002, but Burnett, Brad Penny, 24, and Josh Beckett, 22, are a
combined 64--63 in their careers. More worrisome, the trio spent
a total of 145 days on the disabled list last season. "People
always talk about our young pitching," third baseman Mike Lowell
said, "but they have to be healthy and they have to pitch."
Beckett had the most vexing injury, a recurring blister on his
right middle finger that forced him to go on the DL three times.

After sending veteran catcher Charles Johnson to Colorado in the
Pierre trade, the Marlins signed free-agent Ivan Rodriguez, a
10-time All-Star and former AL MVP who has been hampered with
injuries during the last three years. His 50% success rate in
throwing out wouldbe base stealers in 2001 also fell off, to 33%
last year, a career low. There was even talk of Rodriguez's
disinterest in pregame meetings with starters and his penchant
for calling an excessive number of fastballs with runners on
base. When the subject was broached, the 10time Gold Glove winner
was defensive. "Everybody was saying I call too many fastballs,"
Rodriguez said. "Nothing wrong with that. I want pitchers to
throw strikes, and a pitcher's best pitch is usually his
fastball." The Marlins, next-to-last in the NL in walks last
season, could use the help. As backup catcher Mike Redmond says,
"They're not an easy group to catch. They're young and wild. You
go into Atlanta and you might not see the Braves' catcher have to
block a ball in the whole series. We get 10 a night."

Of course that might not be Rodriguez's problem for long. He
signed a one-year, $10 million deal ($7 million is deferred) that
allows him to walk as a free agent after the 2003 season,
something he said he "probably" would do, although he quickly
amended that to "maybe no, maybe yes." General manager Larry
Beinfest--who saved $29 million by dumping the contracts of
Johnson and Preston Wilson in the three-team trade with the
Rockies and the Braves that involved six players--will have
overreached if Rodriguez doesn't resurrect his career.

Though his work behind the plate may have slipped a bit,
Rodriguez remains a benchmark for defensive catchers, a
complement to an infield of Castillo, Lowell, shortstop Alex
Gonzalez and first baseman Derrek Lee that fields as well as any
in the division. Torborg thinks his infield might even be an
around-the-horn Gold Glove unit, although silver will be the
Marlins' operative color for 2003. Florida has added silver to
sleek new black uniform tops and toned down the original teal. At
a Marlins awards dinner during the winter, the speed-obsessed
Torborg said, "See those silver stripes? We're electric."

One way or another, the Marlins will make a run in the NL
East. --M.F.

COLOR PHOTO: TOM DIPACE PUDGE FACTOR The Marlins are gambling $10 million that new catcher Rodriguez can stay healthy. COLOR PHOTO: ELIOT J. SCHECHTER/GETTY IMAGES

IN FACT

Centerfielder Juan Pierre led the majors with 55 infield hits in
2002, and second baseman Luis Castillo was third with 46. (The
Mariners' Ichiro Suzuki had 53.)

ENEMY LINES
an opposing team's scout sizes up the Marlins

"The No. 1 guy on this staff is A.J. Burnett. Before he got hurt
last year, I thought he was the most dominating pitcher in
baseball. Most people put Josh Beckett ahead of him, but I think
Burnett has better stuff.... Mark Redman gives them another look
as a soft-throwing lefty among the power righthanders. Brad Penny
looked O.K. in the spring, throwing 92 or 93 mph, but he has to
stay healthy.... The Marlins have a solid bullpen with the
exception of their closer, Braden Looper. He was better late in
the year, but I still need to see him do it when it counts. Tim
Spooneybarger was a nice addition. He's going to be a quality
setup guy.... They don't have a lot of depth in the outfield, and
with that heat in Miami it's easy for guys to wear down. Juan
Encarnacion, Juan Pierre and Todd Hollandsworth are not the kind
of outfielders you'd find starting for a contender.... Derrek Lee
is going to have to give them a lot of power--and he can do it.
He can hit the ball out to all fields.... If they get some
consistent production from Mike Lowell and Ivan Rodriguez, they
could be an interesting club, because you know they have the
speed factor with Castillo and Pierre."

THE LINEUP
projected roster with 2002 statistics

BATTING ORDER

2B Castillo
CF Pierre
C Rodriguez
1B Lee
3B Lowell
RF Encarnacion
LF Hollandsworth
SS Gonzalez

LUIS CASTILLO

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB

S-R 77 .305 2 39 48

JUAN PIERRE [#]

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB

L 145 .287 1 35 47

IVAN RODRIGUEZ [#]

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB

R 51 .314 19 60 5

DERREK LEE

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB

R 41 .270 27 86 19

MIKE LOWELL

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB

R 45 .276 24 92 4

JUAN ENCARNACION

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB

R 73 .271 24 85 21

TODD HOLLANDSWORTH* [#]

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB

L 182 .284 16 67 8

ALEX GONZALEZ

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB

R 350 .225 2 18 3

BENCH

ANDY FOX

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB

L-R 252 .251 4 41 31

MIKE REDMOND

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB

R 338 .305 2 28 0

ROTATION

PITCHER PVR W L IPS WHIP ERA

RH A.J. Burnett 70 12 9 7.0 1.19 3.30
RH Josh Beckett 79 6 7 5.0 1.27 4.10
RH Brad Penny 131 8 7 5.4 1.53 4.66
LH Mark Redman[#] 97 8 15 6.8 1.29 4.21
RH Carl Pavano 206 6 10 5.2 1.61 5.16

BULLPEN

PITCHER PVR W L S WHIP ERA

RH Braden Looper 63 2 5 13 1.17 3.14
RH Tim Spooneybarger[#] 160 1 0 1 1.25 2.63

RH Vladimir Nunez 173 6 5 20 1.20 3.41

[#]New acquisition
(R) Rookie
B-T: Bats-throws
IPS: Innings pitched per start
WHIP: Walks plus hits per inning pitched
*Combined AL and NL stats
PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 157)

2002 RECORD

79--83
fourth in NL East

MANAGER

Jeff Torborg
second season with Florida

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)