Search

2 Florida Marlins This time the defending champs have a fighting chance to return to the playoffs

April 05, 2004
April 05, 2004

Table of Contents
April 5, 2004

Baseball Preview 2004

2 Florida Marlins This time the defending champs have a fighting chance to return to the playoffs

On April 10 the Marlins will receive their dinner-plate-sized
World Series rings, with 228 white diamonds, 13 rubies and one
teal diamond in the center. Florida owner Jeffrey Loria has
declined to reveal the price of the 85 rings that will be
distributed throughout the organization, but from the looks of
them, they cost about a middle reliever. "If you were wearing
that thing on the subway in New York," says manager Jack McKeon,
"you'd need about three or four bodyguards." Of course, when the
Marlins visited New York last October, they were not exactly
straphangers on the D train to Yankee Stadium.

This is an article from the April 5, 2004 issue

Two hundred and twenty-nine diamonds might be forever for the
2004 Marlins, but the last time the franchise won a World Series,
in 1997, Florida fell back to earth in about five minutes. "In
spring training ['98] we had guys spread out in about 15 camps,"
says leftfielder Jeff Conine of the infamous dismantling of the
first championship team. "This time we kept most of the core."

While that may be true, several key players have departed. The
Marlins did not re-sign free-agent catcher Pudge Rodriguez, the
National League Championship Series MVP; they traded productive
first baseman Derrek Lee (31 home runs) to the Cubs and
outfielder Juan Encarnacion (19) to the Dodgers; and they severed
ties with free-agent relievers Ugueth Urbina and Braden Looper.
The net offensive losses, even after the additions of first
baseman Hee Seop Choi, who was obtained in the Lee trade, and
outfielder-first baseman Wil Cordero, who signed as a free agent,
are sizable. But given the slow progress to get funding for a new
stadium and an average 2003 attendance (16,290) that surpassed
only Tampa Bay's and Montreal's, Florida doesn't expect its
payroll to climb above last year's $54 million.

"As long as we don't have revenues other teams do, and unless
we're drawing 40,000 a game, we're going to have a fixed
payroll," says third baseman Mike Lowell. In a bit of fiscal
gymnastics Lowell signed a four-year contract that will be worth
$32 million if Florida has a deal for a new stadium by Nov. 1,
2004. If there's no agreement by then, Lowell would have an
option for 2005 and the final two years would be voided.

The Marlins seem to operate best in the short term, especially in
October. Indeed Florida, which has won the World Series each time
it has had a regular-season record over .500, might be a better
team in the postseason because of the talent and resiliency of
its pitching staff. The rotation is blessed with young, hard
throwers such as 22-year-old lefthander Dontrelle Willis, who
gave opposing hitters fits last season with his funky delivery
and was at his best in the postseason as a reliever (321/43
scoreless innings in the Series). McKeon also used righthander
Carl Pavano six times in relief during the playoffs (no runs in
521/43 innings) and got a win from righthander Brad Penny after
he pitched a scoreless inning in Game 7 of the NLCS. That game
also featured four innings of one-run relief from righthander
Josh Beckett, who ended up the Series MVP after beating the
Yankees on three days' rest in Game 6. The 23-year-old Beckett is
only 17-17 lifetime, a statistical anomaly he will no doubt
correct if the Marlins' bullpen can hold leads. With Urbina and
Looper gone, the closer role has been entrusted to intimidating
but erratic Armando Benitez, who blew 8 of 29 save opportunities
in 2003 and was traded from the Mets to the Yankees to the
Mariners within a three-week span.

Florida has a uniquely dynamic top of the order with speedy
line-drive hitters Juan Pierre and Luis Castillo, but the rare
diamond in its lineup is still uncut. Miguel Cabrera, 20, signed
as a shortstop, came up last June to play leftfield, saw action
at third base and learned how to play right during the NLCS.
Although often compared with a young Vladimir Guerrero, Cabrera
has better baseball instincts. In his third week in the majors,
last July, Cabrera hit an opposite-field homer against tough
Phillies righthander Vicente Padilla. When Padilla adjusted and
buried a fastball inside in a subsequent at bat, Cabrera pulled a
double to left. After hitting four postseason homers, he could
have a breakout year.

For the first time in their 12 seasons the Marlins will carry the
extraordinary weight of expectation. Or maybe it's just the
rings. --M.F.

COLOR PHOTO: RICHARD PATTERSON/AP LEGEND OF THE FALL The 20-year-old Cabrera, who hit four postseason homers, will show what he can do over a full season in the majors.COLOR PHOTO: ELIOT J. SCHECHTER/GETTY IMAGES CHOI

IN FACT

Juan Pierre made contact with 94% of the pitches he swung at in
'03, the best rate in baseball.

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

"They'll compete for the wild card, and with their starting
pitching I'd never count them out. If A.J. Burnett comes back and
pitches the way he did two years ago, watch out. [Josh] Beckett
is looking confident; he's going to win 15 to 20 games. Carl
Pavano has turned the corner, and he's a really good
middle-of-the-rotation starter. Dontrelle Willis worries me
because he took such a heavy load as a young guy.... They'll
definitely miss Derrek Lee. I'm not sold on Hee Seop Choi, who
has a long, looping swing with a lot of holes. He's also got
fading opposite-gap power that won't play well in [the deep gaps
in Pro Player Stadium]. When it's all said and done, Wil Cordero
will be the guy at first base because he can hit.... The lineup
is definitely weaker without Lee and Pudge Rodriguez, but
[Rodriguez's successor] Ramon Castro has raw power and tremendous
arm strength. He could turn out to be a real pleasant surprise
for them.... The bullpen is worse with Armando Benitez, who has
been so shaky over the last year and a half."

THE LINEUP
projected roster with 2003 statistics

BATTING ORDER

CF Pierre
2B Castillo
RF Cabrera
3B Lowell
LF Conine
1B Choi
C Castro
SS Gonzalez

JUAN PIERRE
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
L 30 .305 1 41 65

JEFF CONINE
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
R 96 .282 20 95 5

MIGUEL CABRERA
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
R 31 .268 12 62 0

ALEX GONZALEZ
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
R 176 .256 18 77 0

LUIS CASTILLO
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
S-R 135 .314 6 39 21

MIKE LOWELL
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
R 18 .276 32 105 3

HEE SEOP CHOI [New acquisition]
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
L 128 .218 8 28 1

RAMON CASTRO
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
R 111 .283 5 8 0

BENCH

WIL CORDERO
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
R 237 .278 16 71 1

ABRAHAM NUNEZ*
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
S-R 230 .311 11 38 9

ROTATION

PITCHER PVR W L IPS WHIP ERA

RH Josh Beckett 33 9 8 6.1 1.32 3.04
RH Brad Penny 60 14 10 6.1 1.28 4.13
LH Dontrelle Willis 55 14 6 6.0 1.28 3.30
RH Carl Pavano 110 12 13 6.2 1.26 4.30
RH A.J. Burnett 188 0 2 5.8 1.57 4.70

BULLPEN

PITCHER PVR W L S WHIP ERA

RH Armando Benitez 58 4 4 21 1.37 2.96
[New acquisition]
RH Chad Fox 185 3 3 3 1.51 3.12
LH Michael Tejera 278 3 4 2 1.46 4.67

2003 RECORD
91-71
second in NL East

MANAGER
Jack McKeon
second season with Florida

New acquisition
(R) Rookie
B-T: Bats-throws
IPS: Innings pitched per start
WHIP: Walks plus hits per inning pitched
*Triple A stats
PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 142)