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Mailbag: Youngsters ready to play?


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Mailbag: Youngsters ready to play?

Marlins beat writer Joe Frisaro answers fans' questions

By Joe Frisaro / MLB.com


Is Mike Jacobs eligible for Rookie of the Year next season? Are all of the players the Marlins acquired in trades ready to play in the big leagues?

-- Enrique G., Valencia, Venezuela

Yes, Jacobs will qualify as a rookie in 2006, so he is eligible for the top rookie award. Jacobs logged 100 at-bats in 30 games with the Mets. Now, had he accumulated 31 more at-bats, he would no longer be a rookie candidate. According to league guidelines, qualifications for a rookie are: "A player with no more than 130 at-bats or 50 innings pitched in the Major Leagues during the previous season or seasons, nor more than 45 days on the Major League roster during the 25-man player limit (excluding time in military service)." Jacobs didn't spend 45 days with the Mets before the rosters expanded on Sept. 1. On the flip side, Marlins lefty Jason Vargas is no longer a rookie. Called up after the All-Star break, Vargas logged 73 2/3 innings in 2005.


Are all the players the Marlins just acquired ready for the big leagues? Hard to say if they will make the club out of Spring Training, but I expect Hanley Ramirez for sure to be either the starting shortstop or the backup.


Will Ramirez be the Marlins starting shortstop? Will Dontrelle Willis be the ace now? Also, will the Marlins rotation be D-Train, Vargas, Scott Olsen, Logan Kensing, John Johnson and/or Yusmeiro Petit, if there are no more trades or signings?

-- Dylan P., Shiloh, Ohio


In speaking with a scout from another team recently, the sky seems to be the limit for Ramirez. I expect great things from Ramirez, the question is when. Willis and Miguel Cabrera clearly showed great players can make an immediate impact. Will Ramirez make the leap like Cabrera did? I expect he will be given a chance, perhaps in the Opening Day lineup. If not by then, Ramirez would likely be eased in at shortstop. He and Robert Andino will battle it out.


Since Josh Beckett, Carlos Delgado, Mike Lowell and Guillermo Mota have all been traded, and there is a chance Luis Castillo, Paul Lo Duca and Juan Pierre may follow, the roster obviously is getting substantially younger. On paper, it would appear the emergence of so many young players would make it difficult for the Marlins to be serious contenders in 2006, but in speaking with manager Joe Girardi, the team expects to win. The thing about rookies is you don't know if they will handle the adjustment to the Major Leagues.


Willis obviously becomes the ace now that Beckett is gone. Vargas, Olsen, Johnson and Petit will get a shot to make the rotation in spring. Kensing has been used more in relief now.


Doesn't the team realize that by trading Beckett, Lowell and Delgado it will hurt attendance? If the attendance drops, it won't help the team get a new stadium in South Florida.

-- Jeremy H., Miami, Fla.


An argument can be made that even with Beckett, Lowell and Delgado, attendance was poor. The Marlins averaged 22,792 at home in 2005, which ranked last in the National League and 28th out of the 30 Major League teams. Only Kansas City and Tampa Bay drew less. Granted, crowds were slightly higher when Beckett pitched; in his 14 home starts, the Marlins saw an average of 26,773 come through the gate. One of those games was Opening Day, which attracted a regular-season record of 57,405. Subtract that date and the Marlins drew an average of 24,416 in Beckett's other 13 home starts.


There has been a rise in attendance since Jeffrey Loria assumed ownership in 2002, partly because the fan base dipped so low. By comparison, the numbers are disappointing. In 2002, Loria inherited a difficult situation when he purchased the club from John Henry. With a season ticket base of about 5,000 in 2002, the Marlins attracted 813,111. In their World Series championship season of 2003, they attracted 1,303,214 (16,290 average). They say the year or two after a World Series is when the impact of the title will catch on at the gate. In 2004, attendance still wasn't great. Season tickets were about 10,000 and the Marlins averaged 22,091, which ranked 14th in the National League and 26th overall.


While there was interest in the signing of Delgado, season tickets dropped slightly in 2005 (mainly because ticket prices increased). For a variety of reasons that have been explained and rehashed for years, the Marlins have been a hard sell to South Florida. They really had three seasons with solid or better crowds. In their inaugural 1993 season, they drew more than three million fans and averaged 38,311. The strike season of 1994 obviously hurt everyone, but the Marlins still averaged 32,838 in 59 home games. In their 1997 championship season, they brought in a total of 2,364,387 for an average of 29,555.


Joe Dillon has put up incredible numbers the last two years in Triple-A. He can play multiple positions. Will he be an everyday player in 2006?

-- Drew F., Santa Rosa, Calif.


I don't see Dillon being an everyday player because his best position has been third base, and Cabrera is moving there. Dillon has played second base in the Minor Leagues, and that is an option as a fill-in. The organization experimented with him in left field, but that didn't go well.


All that said, Dillon's story is truly inspirational. He overcome back surgery and even retired a few years ago, but he came back to make his Major League debut last season. Dillon has a compact swing, and if given enough at-bats he likely can post solid numbers. I wouldn't be shocked if the Marlins dealt Dillon to an American League team where he can be a designated hitter option.


Why all of a sudden are the Marlins basically dismantling their team after signing all these big name players the past few seasons? Also, why do the Marlins want to get rid of Castillo and Lo Duca? They are basically going to have no one back.

-- Brian R., Randolph, N.J.


Team president David Samson summed it up pretty succinctly last week when he announced the club has been granted permission to seek relocation. The Marlins have hit repeated roadblocks in numerous attempts to get funding for their own stadium, and they are no longer willing to lose tremendous sums of money. Samson referred to the streamlining as "market correction." While the club hasn't said anything officially, there have been whispers that Loria is losing roughly $20 million a season.


When the Marlins signed Delgado, they worked a back-loaded contract because they were hopeful of getting a new stadium. Had the team secured a stadium deal next to the Orange Bowl, which they were close to doing until the project collapsed recently, Delgado likely would have remained. Now that there is no stadium, the Marlins have no foreseeable solid revenue stream on the horizon. So rather than sustain more losses, payroll is being slashed. It's sad and unfortunate. It's also the reality of business. Samson added that if and when a new stadium is secured, either in South Florida or in another state, Loria's commitment to payroll will again rise.


Do you think Lo Duca will stay? They shouldn't let him go like they did with Pudge Rodriguez. Also, do you think the Marlins will stay in Miami if they come to a stadium agreement?

-- Carmen, Aventura, Fla.


A sound argument can be made that a veteran catcher would help the development of so many young pitchers. Willis, Beckett and Todd Jones credited Lo Duca for their fine seasons in 2005. Economics are now part of the factor. Lo Duca is set to make $6.25 million in 2006 and the team is dramatically trimming payroll. One option is to keep Lo Duca, a three-time All-Star, to assist the development of the pitchers. Finding quality catchers is very difficult throughout the league, increasing Lo Duca's value. But if the team does find a less expensive option, I'm sure they would explore trading Lo Duca. Another possibility is holding Lo Duca until the July trade deadline. The Marlins could see where they are in the standings, and if they aren't in contention, he could have prime trade value. That logic holds true if the club decides to keep Castillo and Pierre for now.


Will the Marlins stay if a stadium is built? They've said that is their first choice. The most realistic place to build a new stadium is on land next to where they are playing now. The Marlins continue to talk with Wayne Huizenga, who owns the land, and Miami-Dade County officials about the prospects of making something happen.


Joe Frisaro is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.




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