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Is Miguel Cabrera playing in the World Baseball Classic?

-- Eugenio A., Miami

 

While I haven't seen Cabrera's name officially added to the Venezuelan roster, it is strongly believed that he indeed will represent his native country in the WBC. There is still time for players to formally take care of the paperwork. The two-time All-Star currently is playing in the Venezuelan Winter League.

 

And there is talk in Venezuela about having a lineup that includes Cabrera and Phillies star Bobby Abreu in the WBC. A wire service report out of Caracas, Venezuela recently pointed out that Cabrera is expected to be in the WBC. The Cabrera reference was made in the same story announcing Venezuela has bid to be a host country for the 2007 WBC.

 

Other than Dontrelle Willis, who else on the staff do you think will have an impact on the team? And does the team have a shot at contending in the National League East?

-- J. Deferia, Miami

 

Jason Vargas showed promise after joining the rotation the second half of last season. He is a competitive left-hander who has the makeup to be a productive starter for years. Like Willis, Vargas helps himself with his bat. He's already logged a complete game and extended himself to just over 180 total innings in 2005 (counting his Minor League appearances).

 

Brian Moehler is a solid pro who provides experience and leadership. Through trades, the club stockpiled some promising pitchers in Sergio Mitre, Yusmeiro Petit and Anibal Sanchez. Those three are expected to be Major League ready. Mitre, like Vargas, already has gotten his feet wet in the big leagues.

 

From within, I'm expecting Josh Johnson to emerge as a strong starting candidate. Many scouts feel that Johnson has the makings of a No. 2 and possible ace. Lefty Scott Olsen saw action last season and is highly regarded. Olsen, however, was bothered by an elbow problem much of the second half, so we'll see how he rebounds in the spring. The team also is exploring trade options that may include parting with Olsen.

 

Can the team contend in 2006? With so many young, untested players, realistically, this looks like a rebuilding season. It will be interesting to see how first-year manager Joe Girardi interacts and instructs this group. The Braves showed last year that rookies can make an immediate impact. That said, those "Baby Braves" had the luxury of being surrounded by impact stars like John Smoltz, Tim Hudson, Chipper Jones and Andruw Jones. This Marlins team is building around Willis and Cabrera.

 

Why don't the Marlins open negotiations with Wayne Huizenga to keep the team in that location, instead of alienating the Palm Beach fans and season ticket holders like myself?

-- Raul R., Lake Worth, Fla.

 

I think it's been pretty well documented that the team indeed has been in discussions with Huizenga and Miami-Dade County officials regarding a new home next door to Dolphins Stadium. As of now, this area has been the most realistic place since the county has already discussed how to help finance the project.

 

I hear from Palm Beach County and Broward County residents that a stadium in downtown Miami would alienate them because it is another 20 or so miles away. In late November, when team president David Samson announced the club had received permission to explore relocation, he also said the proposed stadium in downtown Miami (next to the Orange Bowl) had fallen through.

 

This ownership group insists it will not build a stadium in the city of Miami, so that means local choices remain either in the northern part of the county or somewhere in Broward or Palm Beach. If a stadium deal gets done locally, it likely will be next to Dolphins Stadium.

 

Don't the Marlins look like the A's from last season in a lot of ways? The A's were without Tim Hudson and Mark Mulder, much like the Marlins are now without Josh Beckett and A.J. Burnett. Barry Zito, like Willis, is the leader of the rotation. Both are left-handed. Plus, both teams have power at third base. The A's had 88 wins, so why is every one not having faith in the Marlins for '06?

-- Pedro M., Pensacola, Fla.

 

You raise some interesting points. Like Oakland, Florida is a team working with limited resources. Your point is well taken that money alone doesn't buy championships, or winning seasons. Both clubs have been crafty in how they've assembled their rosters with modest payrolls.

 

What has upset Marlins fans is the scope of the "market correction." Few anticipated so many players would be moved, especially since Mike Lowell, Carlos Delgado, Luis Castillo and Paul Lo Duca each had signed multi-year contracts with Florida. Based on the inexperience the team will have in so many areas, an 88-win season is probably not realistic. The team isn't done wheeling and dealing yet, so we'll see how the roster shapes up before Opening Day.

 

Why didn't the Marlins offer salary arbitration to Todd Jones before he signed with the Tigers? If they had, they would have gotten a first-round pick plus a compensatory pick in the draft. Were they trying to save money by not offering arbitration?

-- Francisco P., Sunrise, Fla.

 

From what I gathered, there was a bit of a cat-and-mouse game going on the night of Dec. 7, the arbitration deadline evening. The Marlins had been in touch with Jones' agents, Randy and Alan Hendricks, who were finalizing a two-year, $11 million contract with the Tigers. There was a feeling that had the Marlins offered arbitration before the midnight ET deadline, Jones would have accepted it.

 

Based on Jones' strong 2005 season, he was in line to make between $6-7 million. With the Marlins in a cost-cutting mode, they weren't willing to take that chance. The Tigers, meanwhile, were willing to wait until after midnight to assure they wouldn't have to lose any draft picks.

 

I've seen it reported and speculated that the Marlins didn't want to take on the expense of high draft picks, but that doesn't appear to be the case here. Florida did offer arbitration to A.J. Burnett because there was no chance Burnett would sign a one-year deal with the Marlins instead of taking the five-year, $55 million deal from the Blue Jays. So the Marlins are getting extra draft picks as compensation for losing Burnett.

 

Another reason I don't buy the argument that the club didn't want to pay for high draft picks is because teams so often make pre-draft arrangments with players. Last year, for example, the Marlins had three first-round picks and they talked to the players they ended up taking before the draft, seeing if they would sign for a certain dollar amount. The issue of signing those players wasn't a problem because both sides were comfortable with how the contracts would be worked out. Taking on a few extra picks in 2006 could easily have been addressed by pre-draft deals and tinkering with the team's budget.

 

How do you see the Marlins' bullpen and closer situation shaping up?

-- Gerald J., Orlando, Fla.

 

If recent history is any indication, Joe Borowski will be the next struggling reliever to rejuvenate his career in South Florida. In 2004, Armando Benitez rebounded from a tough 2003 to become an All-Star.

 

And in 2005, Jones emerged as one of the most dependable closers in the league with 40 saves, taking over the job when Guillermo Mota went down with an injured elbow. The recent signing of Borowski gives the club a veteran who has closed in the past. In 2003 with the Cubs, Borowski saved 33 games in 37 chances. The right-hander will get a strong look to win the job.

 

The Marlins also are high on hard-throwing Travis Bowyer, acquired in the Castillo trade with Minnesota. Bowyer lacks experience, but he has a 97-plus mph fastball. The job, obviously, will be won in Spring Training.

 

There will be a number of young arms in the bullpen, including a couple of converted starters. Logan Kensing and Taylor Tankersley, a first-round pick in 2004, are now pitching in relief. The left-handed Tankersley will compete for a lefty specialist spot in Spring Training, but he likely will open the season in Double-A.

 

Another veteran, right-hander Kerry Ligtenberg, has signed a Minor League contract, and he would earn $600,000 if he makes the team. Formerly with the Braves, Orioles, Blue Jays and Diamondbacks, Ligtenberg has had some experience closing.

 

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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