MANAGER FREDIGONZALEZ first season with Marlins
GENERAL MANAGERLarry Beinfest has received too little credit for assembling a young,pitching-rich roster that was in the running for the NL wild card as late asmid-September last year and is the envy of every other major league frontoffice this season. These Marlins aren't yet ready to win a third World Series,but they are not as far off as many might think. While Florida's othermid-1990s expansion entry, the Devil Rays, have stockpiled positional talent,the Marlins have hoarded arms to complement their glut of talented every-dayplayers such as Miguel Cabrera, reigning NL Rookie of the Year Hanley Ramirezand Dan Uggla.
It was revealingto see the change in the spring training clubhouse, where the center lockersthat two years ago housed emerging starters Josh Johnson and Scott Olsen weremanned this year by six new potential pitching stars: Gaby Hernandez, JacobMarceaux, Aaron Thompson, Ryan Tucker, Chris Volstad and Sean West. All butHernandez, a highly touted righthander who came from the Mets in a trade forcatcher Paul Lo Duca before last season, were high draftees in 2005. At thevery least that depth affords Beinfest some trade options (box, below).
"We play in abig stadium in the National League, so we'll always prioritize pitching,"says Beinfest, who acquired 15 hurlers in the team's fantastic fire sale afterthe 2005 season, before the pitching market went crazy. The results wereimmediate. The '06 Marlins became the first team to have four rookies with 10or more victories (and the first with six players, three pitchers and threeregulars, receiving Rookie of the Year votes).
But playing in adivision that is deep and experienced, Florida will be hard-pressed to stealthe NL East, especially considering they have a $27 million payroll (lowest inthe league) and a couple of gigantic holes (the club as much as held tryoutcamps for centerfield and closer this spring, for instance). The Marlins'inexperience can show, such as when they started last year 11--31 beforebecoming the first team to make it back from 20 games under .500 to a winningrecord (73--72; they finished 78--84). As Beinfest says, "Really good teamsnever bury themselves."
Before lastseason Beinfest acquired a double play combo for the future--the multitalentedshortstop Ramirez, in a trade with the Red Sox, and second baseman Uggla, aRule V pickup from the Diamondbacks--and finished off the rotation withrighthander Anibal Sanchez, who was part of the trade with the Red Sox and won10 games, including a no-hitter, in half a season. But this winter Beinfestonly tinkered.
The roster cametogether about as cheaply as last year's (between them, lefthander DontrelleWillis, $6.5 million, and third baseman Cabrera, $7.4 million, account forabout half the payroll), but it's a little younger (Joe Borowski, Wes Helms andMatt Herges--average age, 34--are gone) and, after a year together, perhaps alittle more dangerous. Also, new skipper Fredi Gonzalez should have a calmingeffect on the team following the tense departure of Joe Girardi, the 2006 NLManager of the Year, who was fired at the end of his first season after afalling-out with the front office.
Gonzalez, whogrew up in Miami and worked his way up from Class A manager to Marlins thirdbase coach during 10 years in the Florida organization, was summoned back homeafter four years with the Braves. He is low-key and humble, constantly has asmile on his face and seems to understand that he has more to work with than alot of first-year managers. While the Marlins may still be a year away fromchallenging their big-market rivals, their nice crop of twentysomething playersshould make things interesting.
a modest proposal...
The Marlins gotpoor production out of Reggie Abercrombie (left) and the rest of theircenterfield corps in 2006 (a combined .228 batting average with 13 homers), andthere are no good solutions in camp or on the horizon. That means lookingoutside the organization, where G.M. Larry Beinfest has a perfect tradingpartner in Kenny Williams. The White Sox G.M. has Brian Anderson--on the outsbecause of his poor showing in '06 and Ozzie Guillen's criticism of hishappy-go-lucky attitude--to offer and a known affinity for pitching prospects,a commodity the Marlins have in abundance. If the Devil Rays are unwilling topart with Rocco Baldelli, trading a well-regarded, though not elite, prospectsuch as Sean West or Chris Volstad would be the perfect opportunity forBeinfest to buy low on Anderson, who's projected by PECOTA to rebound to a .265BA and a .771 OPS.
[This articlecontains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]
PROJECTED ROSTER WITH 2006 STATISTICS
|RH||Kevin Gregg *||206||3||4||0||1.39||4.14|
|RH||Henry Owens * (R)|
Double A stats
* New acquisition
WHIP: Walks plus hits per inning pitched
PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 77)
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• Fish Chunks
Total careersaves by pitchers on the Marlins' projected Opening Day roster. Breaking in anew bullpen ace is familiar to Florida, which has finished in the top half inthe league in saves for three consecutive seasons--each time with a pitcher inhis first year as the team's closer. But each of those three pitchers (ArmandoBenitez, Todd Jones and Joe Borowski) had extensive closing experience.