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Eddie Altamonte

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http://www.sun-sentinel.com/sports/basebal...-sports-marlins

Key questions about the Marlins




-- Juan C. Rodriguez

February 21, 2007



The Marlins won just five fewer regular-season games than the World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals last season. Are they ready to take the next step and contend for a postseason berth?

Tough to put anything past this group after the way they performed in 2006, but this season will bring a different and in some ways even tougher set of challenges.

Last year was about proving they belonged in the majors. This year is about proving they can perform here consistently.

The odds don't favor every one of last season's rookies taking a step forward. Some may regress, which doesn't preclude them from being good players in the long run. Assuming a handful of key guys need a little more time to figure it out, the Marlins don't have enough veteran depth across the board to overcome growing pains.

But didn't the Marlins do anything to help improve on the 78-84 record?

Give the Marlins' front office an "A" for effort. General Manager Admin Beinfest and his lieutenants probably did the best they could under the circumstances, but it wasn't a fruitful offseason.

They set out to improve the bullpen, but they were neither able nor willing to overspend for mediocre relievers as many teams did. They looked for a closer and tried to bring back Armando Benitez, but those talks stalled. In center field they hoped to add a young player with a high ceiling.

The only way the Marlins were going to acquire a top player was to give up one or more of their premium young pitchers, and they're not yet prepared to do that. The Marlins shifted gears and went hard after veteran free agent Darin Erstad, but he signed with the Chicago White Sox.

Where does that leave the Marlins in terms of a closer and center fielder?

Left-hander Taylor Tankersley will get a long look. He made his big-league debut last season and proved he's more than a lefty specialist. Whether he's ready to close is speculative, but he undoubtedly possesses the demeanor and mound presence teams want from a closer.

The Marlins may still kick around the idea of using one of their starters in that role, possibly Ricky Nolasco, and don't be surprised if they reinitiate talks with the Giants about Benitez. As far as center, the Marlins may still make a spring training trade to fill that vacancy.

If they stand pat, non-roster invitee Alex Sanchez will challenge Reggie Abercrombie, Eric Reed and Cody Ross for the starting job. Reserve infielder Alfredo Amezaga also proved a serviceable option there in 2006.

ESPN.com recently tabbed the Marlins' infield as the best in baseball. Do you agree?

How can you not like a group that produces the National League Rookie of the Year in Hanley Ramirez, a Silver Slugger in Miguel Cabrera, an All-Star in Dan Uggla and a 20-home run hitter at first in Mike Jacobs?

In terms of experience, I'll still take the Phillies' or Mets' quartet, but the Marlins' group does have plenty of upside. Cabrera should be a future MVP. Ramirez is a superstar in the making. Uggla and Jacobs are quality hitters with good pop. They can each improve defensively, but they didn't come close to the train wreck many anticipated, particularly after being spoiled through the years with guys like Mike Lowell, Alex Gonzalez, Luis Castillo and Derrek Lee manning the Dolphin Stadium dirt.
 

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