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Marlins' prize prospects are no small consolation


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MARLINS | OFFSEASON MOVES

No small consolation

Though not popular, the Marlins' 'market correction' yielded some top talent. 'They did a tremendous job,' Cubs GM Jim Hendry said.

BY KEVIN BAXTER

kbaxter@MiamiHerald.com

 

Ron Villone.

 

Someday that will be the answer to a trivia question: Name the final player traded in the Marlins' 2005 fire sale.

 

Or market correction. Whatever.

 

Regardless of what it's called, there's little doubt the past month has seen the quickest and most dramatic dismantling of a contending team since . . . well, since the Marlins did it after the 1997 season.

 

This time it began with the Thanksgiving Day trades that sent pitchers Josh Beckett and Guillermo Mota and third baseman Mike Lowell to the Boston Red Sox for four prospects and first baseman Carlos Delgado to the New York Mets for three others, then ended with Friday's deal that sent Villone, a left-handed reliever, to the New York Yankees for Double A pitcher Ben Julianel.

 

By the time the dust had settled, the Marlins had shaved more than $45 million off their projected 2006 payroll by shipping out eight of the nine players in April's opening-day lineup, three-fifths of the starting rotation, the entire back of the bullpen -- even five members of the team's six-man coaching staff.

 

Consider the market corrected.

 

Admirably so, as it turns out. Given ownership's mandate to save the franchise by razing it, Marlins general manager Admin Beinfest obtained some of baseball's top young prospects for his trouble and won the praise of his colleagues.

 

''My view looking from afar [is] when you have to go through what they're going through -- which is obviously not what any club prefers to do -- I think they did a tremendous job of compartmentalizing and organizing the way they did it,'' said Cubs GM Jim Hendry, who gave up three of his organization's top young pitchers in right-handers Sergio Mitre and Ricky Nolasco and left-hander Renyel Pinto to get center fielder Juan Pierre.

 

''It was like a high-stakes poker game,'' Hendry added. ``They weren't bluffing on who they needed and what kind of guys they had to get. It wasn't going to be a, `We gotta dump Juan Pierre trade.'

 

``I knew if we were going to get him, we were going to hurt. We gave them some good guys.''

 

The question now: Where do the Marlins go from here?

 

Although they added 26 players in the past four weeks -- including 15 through trades, one as a free agent and two in the Rule V Draft -- it could be years before those additions add up to winning on the field. And although shortstop Hanley Ramirez, Mitre, first baseman Mike Jacobs and reliever Travis Bowyer all figure to be on the opening-day roster, most of the newest Marlins are at least a year from the big leagues.

 

In fact, some of the new kids might not even be Marlins come Christmas. Fifteen of the 26 additions are pitchers, some of whom the team already has offered in trade talks to fill holes in other places.

 

''There will be moves,'' said manager Joe Girardi, who himself is new to the team, ``but we're going to be really, really young. Just because a guy is young doesn't mean he can't play. It just means that no one in the public besides maybe farm directors and the press know who they are. They can still play. There's a reason that they are top prospects.''

 

But there's also a reason they aren't major-leaguers. And that's because they aren't ready.

 

''It's no secret that the Marlins are going to struggle this year,'' said former Marlin Jeff Conine, who turned down the team's contract offer this month to become a free agent. ``They got some phenomenal players in return for all their trades. But [they have] limited big-league experience. So it's going to take some time for those guys to mature at the big-league level.''

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