When the Marlins tried to shake a two-month slumber by acquiring Paul Lo Duca in a six-player deal with the Dodgers on July 30, the catcher's motivational skills were cited so often that he might well have been Tony Robbins. The Marlins expect Lo Duca to provide the kind of no-nonsense leadership on the field that Darren Daulton (1997) and Pudge Rodriguez (2003) brought to their world championship teams.
"He brings a burst of energy," says Florida manager Jack McKeon. "To me he's a winner--that's what I like about him. And listening and reading what the Dodgers players had to say about him, I've got to think he'll be a positive influence in the clubhouse."
Lo Duca is an emotional sort. He cried in front of reporters after learning about the trade. Four days later, speaking to The Arizona Republic about the Dodgers, who drafted him in 1993 in the 25th round, he said, "I want to go back in there and kick their [rears]. Am I rooting against them? Yeah, wouldn't you? So I want this team to win this year, and I don't care what else happens as long as we get to the playoffs."
Florida went 3--4 in its first seven games with Lo Duca and slipped from 4 1/2 to eight games behind the Braves in the National League East.
The Marlins needed a shake-up more than the Dodgers. After a 30--20 start through May 30, Florida was 25--35 through Sunday and wasn't getting the premium pitching it had expected from its young starters, other than from righthander Carl Pavano (12--4, 3.21 ERA). Lefthander Dontrelle Willis and righthanders A.J. Burnett, Josh Beckett and Brad Penny, who was shipped to Los Angeles in the trade, were a combined 7--16 in June and July.
Florida had also been looking for a catcher because Mike Redmond, Matt Treanor and Ramon Castro (a combined .212 with four homers while catching) were woeful replacements for Rodriguez, who signed with Detroit as a free agent last winter. Lo Duca (.311, 12 homers), who hits to all fields, immediately slid into the third hole in the lineup.
The Marlins also needed a boost in the bullpen, especially with former closer Billy Koch struggling as a setup man and closer Armando Benitez on the 15-day disabled list at week's end with discomfort in his right elbow. Guillermo Mota (2.01 ERA), the righthander acquired with Lo Duca, has been one of the game's top setup relievers the past two seasons. "You help yourself in two areas and weaken yourself in one," McKeon said, referring to the loss of Penny. "The positives outweigh the negatives."
The Marlins could hardly believe that a first-place team was willing to send them one of the best offensive catchers in the National League. But Lo Duca is 32, has never been to the postseason, is primed for a big arbitration-aided raise from his $4.1 million salary and has a history of wearing down. Small for a catcher at 5'10", 185 pounds, he began this season as a .301 career hitter through July, but only .256 thereafter.
As Florida third baseman Mike Lowell noted in a rare pragmatic moment in the posttrade euphoria, "Everybody says [the Dodgers] lost their leader. I don't know if we need a leader, but we need a catcher who can hit." --Tom Verducci