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AJC: Is this the year of the Marlin?


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Inside Baseball: Is this Marlins' year?



>The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

> Published on: 01/28/05

Florida has won two World Series without finishing ahead of the Braves in the regular season. Will this be the year the Marlins finally win the National League East?


The New York Mets were predicted to snap the Braves' string of division titles several times, then it was supposed to be Philadelphia's turn last season.


Now, the Marlins are sure to be picked by more than a few to win the NL East after signing slugging first baseman Carlos Delgado.


As happy as he is to get a left-handed power hitter for his lineup, however, Florida manager Jack McKeon isn't predicting a first-place finish. He has too much respect for the Braves to go out on a limb.


"I still think they're the team to beat," McKeon said. "They find a way to come up with players. Everybody gave the Braves a goodbye last year, and look what happened."


The Braves won their 13th consecutive division title, finishing 10 games ahead of the Phillies,13 better than the Marlins and 25 ahead of the Mets.


This year's race, however, is sure to be much tighter, and it shapes up to be a full four-team battle after the Mets spending spree that added three-time Cy Young Award winner Pedro Martinez and multi-talented center fielder Carlos Beltran.


The financially strapped Marlins may be headed out of Florida if they can't get a new stadium, but they were able to slip Delgado into a $60 million payroll by backloading his $52 million, four-year deal. He will get just $4 million this year.


"This signing makes perfect sense for this team at this time," Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria said. "We're about trying to be a very competitive ballclub. The stadium will take care of itself in due time, but Carlos certainly is not going to hurt that effort."


Delgado, who hit at least 30 home runs each of the past eight seasons with Toronto, picked Florida although he had a similar offer from the Mets. "I think this is the best fit for me to have a chance to win," said Delgado, who has never been on a playoff team.


With the lineup set, the key for the Marlins is to have potentially dominant starters Josh Beckett, A.J. Burnett and Dontrelle Willis fulfill expectations and for Guillermo Mota to successfully replace Armando Benitez as the closer. Carl Pavano's spot in the rotation will be taken by veteran lefty Al Leiter, who pitched the past seven season with the Mets.


"The Marlins were good before Delgado, and now they're a better team than they were last year," Leiter said. "With the considerable movement of players in the NL East, it's up for grabs. No disrespect to the Braves, but there's a sense that everybody has a shot."

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