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Marlins Spring Training Preview


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From Fanball.com

Spring Training Preview: Marlins

By Bo Mitchell, Managing Editor

January 23, 2005 7:00 PM ET

 

Spring Training Home: Roger Dean Stadium ? Jupiter, Florida

First Cactus League Game: March 2 vs. Dodgers

 

The 2003 World Series champs didn't even make the postseason in 2004, finishing in third place in the NL East with 83 wins. The reasons/excuses are numerous, as injuries to the pitching staff, a midseason trade that failed to have the desired spark, and a Hurricane-ravaged schedule down the stretch didn't help matters. The Fish entered the offseason seeking to shore up their pitching staff, add some pop from the left side of the plate, and (as always) get a stadium deal done. How did they do? With less than a month until pitchers and catchers report to Jupiter, they have lost their best starting pitcher from last year and their closer to free agency, failed to get a blockbuster deal done with left-handed slugger Carlos Delgado, and the stadium situation is a bigger mess than ever. Stay hot, Fish.

 

Notable offseason transactions

Losing an 18-game winner and a 47-save closer will put a major damper on the offseason. Such is the case with the Marlins. Carl Pavano signed a four-year, $40-million deal with the Yankees two weeks after they lost Armando Benitez to the Giants via free agency. On the bright side, they released Billy Koch in a brilliant addition-by-subtraction move.

 

To help offseat the loss of Pavano, the Marlins welcomed back lefty Al Leiter, a member of their 1997 championship team, with a one-year deal. And in an effort to repair the bullpen, the team signed veteran relievers Antonio Alfonseca, John Riedling, and Todd Jones.

 

In other, not-so-notable, moves the Marlins lost catcher Mike Redmond, who signed with the Twins in free agency. Fellow catcher Ramon Castro refused a minor league assignment, becoming a free agent, and then pleaded "no contest" to a misdemeanor indecent assault charge in November and is currently on probation for a year. Relievers David Weathers, Chad Fox, and Rudy Seanez all left via free agency. Lastly, infielder Wil Cordero signed with the Nationals.

 

What to watch

Guillermo Mota is inheriting the closer role vacated by Benitez. Mota more than proved his value as a setup man for the Dodgers, but carries a red flag for fantasy owners due to his lack of experience as a closer. His September numbers in 2004 (0-3, 7.79 ERA) added to the white hairs on manager Jack McKeon's head. We're going to have a tough time ranking him in the top-10 among NL closers until he proves he can handle the job.

 

The aforementioned Jones and Alfonseca have closer experience, but neither has been successful in that capacity in a long time. What's more, ol' Six-finger Alfonseca has a herniated disc in his back that held up his signing in December. The refurbished bullpen will also be aided if Tim Spooneybarger shows he's all the way back this spring. Spoon missed all of last year after having Tommy John surgery on September 9, 2003.

 

The maladies don't stop there. The list of players recovering from injuries and off-season surgeries is longer than a Spooneybarger, or an Encarnacion for that matter. Three starters went under the knife in October. Outfielder Juan Encarnacion underwent surgery on his left shoulder, shortstop Alex Gonzalez had surgery on his elbow, and "Mr. Marlin" Jeff Conine had surgery on his shoulder. All three are expected to be ready for spring training, but are worth keeping an eye on.

 

It's not clear who will be considered the Marlins' "ace" this season. It's a nice problem to have two pitchers who, when healthy, are very capable of being No. 1 hurlers. The words "when healthy" are the key. Josh Beckett and A.J. Burnett have the talent to be top-10 NL fantasy pitchers, but neither will be ranked that high because of their injury history. Fantasy owners will naturally want to keep a close eye on both flame-throwing right-handers this March.

 

Beckett was the hero of the 2003 postseason, but spent three stints on the disabled list last year because of chronic problems with a blister on his right middle finger. We can't tell you how many ointments and treatments he's tried. What we can tell you is that he has been on the DL a staggering seven times since his rookie season of 2002. Without looking it up, we're guessing that's more than any other major-leaguer in that span. Meanwhile, Burnett is gearing up for his first full season since undergoing Tommy John surgery in April of 2003. A.J. missed the start of 2004, but came back mid-way through the season and made 19 starts. A 14-strikeout performance in late August and a radar gun that occasionally read 100 mph on his heater are reasons for optimism, but a tender elbow that forced him to miss a few starts in September is a reminder of the risk involved for any fantasy owner who drafts him.

 

Miguel Cabrera was a popular pick among fantasy baseballers to become the "Next Big Thing" last spring. He delivered impressive numbers in 2004, batting .294 with 33 homers and 112 RBI, but the best is still to come?and it could some very soon. The 21-year-old outfielder is ripping up the Venezuelan winter league. He batted .448 in 56 games, helping his Aragua Tigers advance to the playoffs, where he proceeded to blast a record eight home runs and knock in a record 31 in the first 15 games of their postseason.

 

Position battles

By re-signing Ismael Valdez earlier this month, the Marlins avoided a Grapefruit League competition for the fifth starter's spot. Valdez will toe the rubber every fifth day behind Beckett, Burnett, Leiter, and Dontrelle Willis.

 

Around the horn, things are pretty well set as well. Paul Lo Duca will catch, Jeff Conine is at first, Luis Castillo at second, Mike Lowell at third, and Alex Gonzalez at short. Cabrera is entrenched in left and Juan Pierre is the center fielder.

 

We could see some competition develop in right field, though. As noted, Encarnacion is coming off another underwhelming campaign and off-season shoulder surgery. Right field is his to lose, but he'll be a free agent at the end of the season so expect the Marlins to give a long look to top prospect Jeremy Hermida, their first-round pick in the 2002 draft. Hermida is probably destined to begin the season at Double-A, but a very strong showing in March or a lousy showing from Encarnacion could conceivably alter those plans. At a minimum, fantasy owners should get a good look at the kid who figures to be the 2006 Opening Day starter in right. Hermida will likely be called up at some point this season.

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