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Marlins putting other teams' GM's on the hot seat


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I'd love to be in the room when Drayton McLane asks Tim Purpura about the Florida Marlins.


"Tim," he'll say, "their payroll is $14 million. We're paying Jeff Bagwell more than that not to play. If the Marlins can go to the playoffs with a $14 million payroll, why can't we go with a $105 million payroll? You got any answers for me, Timmy boy?"


A lot of baseball general managers are going to be getting some version of that question over the next few months. If they're smart, they'll tell their bosses they've learned from the Marlins.


No age discrimination

They've learned that timetables for young players shouldn't be set in stone, that maybe, just maybe, young players can advance faster than previously thought.


From a practical standpoint, that means Purpura should look at Troy Patton and Hunter Pence a bit differently next spring.


(Notice the subtle touch. I've begun to plan for next season without officially writing the Astros off for the fifth or sixth time. Now I won't look sillier than usual if they go on a 19-4 run.)


And it's not just the Marlins. The Twins and Tigers have ridden young pitchers to the cusp of the playoffs. The Giants and Phillies have gotten nice contributions from young pitchers. Some of these pitchers were rushed to the big leagues.


Sportswriters rolled their eyes last spring when Tigers manager Jim Leyland went on and on about his young pitching. Forget experience. Leyland said Justin Verlander, Zach Miner and Joel Zumaya were going to produce ahead of schedule. They have. They're 28-15.


Tell it like it isn't

As for Purpura, he should speak carefully.


He shouldn't tell McLane something like: "Well, if you weren't so tight I might not have settled for Preston Wilson last winter." As Gerry Hunsicker, Art Howe and a long list of others have learned, McLane likes things slightly sugarcoated.


One possibility would be: "It's all my fault."


He also could opt for telling the truth.


"Drayton," he should say, "we were as aggressive in promoting our young pitchers as the Marlins and Tigers. We didn't leave anyone behind. We've done some things wrong this season, but that's not one of them."


There's a misperception that Purpura hasn't been aggressive in promoting his young players. That's wrong. The Astros have used six rookie pitchers.


Five of them have combined to start 36 games, or 26 percent of the team's total. The problem has been with production, not opportunity. Those five starters have combined to go 11-15 with a 5.56 ERA. Three Tigers rookies have gone 28-15. Florida's top four rookies are 42-24.


While the Marlins have gotten tremendous years from Josh Johnson, Anibal Sanchez, Scott Olsen and others, while the Tigers, Twins and Giants have gotten significant contributions from rookie pitchers, the Astros haven't had a single rookie come up and contribute consistently.


Signs of life

All five Astros rookie starters have had moments when they looked like they were on their way to dominance. They may get there yet. They've also had failings typical of young pitchers. They all deserve another chance next spring.


Besides, the Marlins didn't plan it this way. If Purpura is feeling really secure about his job, if he has read the fine print in his contract, he can say what your average sportswriter would say.


"Drayton, you don't really want to become the Marlins, do you?" he could ask. "You're not that clueless, are you?"


The Marlins shouldn't be anyone's blueprint. They've used 21 rookies this season because owner Jeffrey Loria ordered the payroll slashed last winter.


He got lucky. His baseball people have done a great job drafting and developing players. They also did a great job scouting the talent on other rosters. They expected to lose, oh, 120 games. Instead, they may go to the playoffs. Once these young kids start making some money, Loria will get rid of them and start over again.


Anibal Sanchez threw baseball's first no-hitter in 841 days Wednesday night. He came to Florida in the Josh Beckett deal with Boston. Ricky Nolasco came from the Cubs for Juan Pierre. He has 11 wins. Johnson and Olsen are a year removed from Class AA ball.


The Marlins aren't successful whether they make the playoffs or not. They're dead last in attendance and seem unlikely to ever become economically viable in South Florida. Newspaper accounts estimate that about 6,000 fans witnessed Sanchez's no-hitter.


Once Sanchez, Johnson and others become eligible for salary arbitration, they'll be shipped out of town like two previous generations of Marlins. Good teams make an effort to hold on to their core players. When they do that, the payroll goes up.


If a team is well run, there will be a constant supply of young players to balance the high-salary players and allow the club to evolve.


Once teams are forced to rely on young players, they almost always find themselves around the bottom of the standings. That's why the Marlins have spent a lot of time there despite winning two championships.


The Twins restocked their farm system with nine straight losing seasons before this current run began. The Tigers have had 12 straight losing seasons.


Lessons to learn

That's not to say general managers can't learn from the Marlins and Tigers. Verlander, Johnson and the Twins' Francisco Liriano succeeded because they were given an opportunity.


If their teams were on a normal player-development schedule, those three might still be in the minors. They were given a chance because their franchises had nothing to lose.


That's the lesson for the Astros in all of this.


The Astros will be aggressive in free agency this winter. In the end, their long-term success will depend on how their young players perform.


Next spring, Purpura should bring Pence, Patton, Jimmy Barthmaier and others to spring training and evaluate them with an open mind.


He should also be reminded that most of the time young pitchers don't succeed as quickly as the Florida pitchers have. Most of them have some disappointments.


That's why Taylor Buchholz, Fernando Nieve and Jason Hirsh may be dramatically better next season. If that's true, this disappointing season will have laid the groundwork for success in 2007.


If McLane doesn't buy that explanation, Purpura is on his own.



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The Marlins aren't successful whether they make the playoffs or not.


That disturbed me. Maybe the franchise isn't financially successful, but that's the only problem.


If Loria were a smart man, he'd wait another three years with these players and see how they develop until arbitration. When arbitration rolls around, you pay (what will still be a reasonable bargain price) to keep what's already in a Marlin uni that will help you win, you let the non-contributors go, and you dish out the money to replace them with GOOD talent in the free-agent pool. If he does this, the Marlins will still have a payroll around $50 Million at that point in time, and I guarantee will be one of baseball's top 5 franchises. And when that happens, the fans WILL be there. Hopefully, they will be filling a brand-new stadium to watch the best Marlin team fielded in their history.

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The article is not off-target. Sure, on the field the team has had success but if you truly embrace what we have now as the best scenerio, the best path to take then you would support trading Willis and Cabrera before their contracts get out of hand. You would also throw water on the idea of acquiring a current ML CF'er instead of trying out the Amezaga's, Eric Reeds and Cody Ross' of the world.


While teams should look at the Marlins and see that their path should be a part of theirs we must understand that to keep the franchise competitive the path others teams take is also vital. How many fans did we lose by trading off players we are familiar with? How many fans did we lose by with the initial growing pains? How many fans would we have lost if the initial growing pains lasted 1, 2 or 3 seasons? I can tell you...look at 1998...not everyone has returned even to this day.


If next season our CF'er is Torii Hunter or Mike Cameron (free agents) or Coco Crisp(because Boston signs Hunter and deals Crisp) you will applaude the move. I will too. But that is step one on the path other teams take. Btw, I think the reason we didn't deal a prospect for a CF to this point is Loria will surprise us again and we will have a somewhat big-name CF'er next season.

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I dislike the line of thinking that the Marlins didn't plan this. That their success has come from lucky series of actions. That the front office is divided with different motives and different expectations for the club. There clearly seems to be a plan behind this. We've heard as much from Loria, Samson and Beinfest. The plan was to reduce expenses as the Marlins sought a long-term solution to the stadium issue. The plan was to eventually win a World Series, not to field a series of .500 teams. The plan was to build around Cabrera and Willis, and that meant picking up players who could be ready to contribute in atleast 2-3 years time. It just so happens they did that in a half of a year's time. Has there been luck involved? Probably. Sure. Okay, absolutly. But because very few expected them to reach this level so quickly, that means it wasn't planned? Please.


The lesson to learn here is not that if you push young players, they'll succeed. That's a false assumption. Every player is unique with their own unique time frame, path of development and motivational needs.


The lesson to learn is that the old way of thinking is just one way. As long as the days are old, baseball teams have been built upon the success of their farm system. Whether those players became the future stars for that team, cheap role players or valuable trade chips. Every team that has been successful has need to rely on their farm system. What makes the Marlins, Twins, Tigers, Braves and A's consistent contenders is that they recognize this and develop plans to maintain this steady stream of talent. What makes the Astros, Mets, Orioles and others terrible or inconsistent is that they constantly move back and forth between veteran talent and minor league talent. As a fan, that's nice. There's peaks and valleys. Long term commitments. A renewal process. A natural order. The old order. But the old order is extremely risky. The old order offers disappointment (which I feel as a fan must be experienced to test commitment, but alas). The old order gets people fired.

The old order works in true and tried baseball markets. It doesn't in small and developing ones. Developing regions can not offer that commitment. IMO, developing regions take to team identity and results, not to certain players and the role of baseball.

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I agree with Ferry, it's not fair to paint the picture that the Marlins are somewhat taken by surprise of this success so soon.


While I still lack any faith in Beinfest's forward thinking (Penny/Pavano, Lee/Pudge, etc.), I have to believe that this tear down process was aimed at keeping the entire team on the same salary schedule like 2003, rather than having to replace key pieces in the midst of a growing process. What does alarm me, however, is the Marlins continued reluctance to buy out arbitration seasons, when really, that's the only way we can hope to keep the talented core of this team affordable from 2008 and beyond.

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