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Mailbag: Why avoid long-term deals?

Beat reporter Joe Frisaro answers Marlins fans' questions

By Joe Frisaro / MLB.com

 

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The Marlins will probably sign infielder Miguel Cabrera to a one-year deal until he is free-agent eligible. (AP)

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E-mail a question to Joe Frisaro

 

Why not sign Dontrelle Willis and Miguel Cabrera to long-term contracts now? Why wait? Wouldn't that make a statement to Marlins fans?

-- Ron R., Naples, Fla.

 

In many ways, I agree with your first point regarding Willis and Cabrera, especially after seeing the enormous contracts being signed this offseason. The way this ownership has operated since taking over in 2002, however, it is hesitant to sign players who are arbitration-eligible to long-term contracts. Willis and Cabrera won't have the necessary service time to become free agents until after the 2009 season. So the club can sign them one year at a time until then, which essentially is a long-term commitment.

 

The club understands these two players are very special, and it may consider long-term agreements that would lock up at least one of these players. So it would be four or more one-year deals, if the team decides to go that route. Until a new stadium is finalized, it is tough to imagine the Marlins would shell out long-term contracts to any such player.

 

As for a statement to fans, the team could counter that in the past few years the club did sign multi-year deals with Mike Lowell, Luis Castillo, Paul Lo Duca and Carlos Delgado, and its attendance still ranked near the bottom of the league and there was little public support to get a stadium deal done. So making a statement isn't so cut-and-dry. The biggest hope for Marlins fans now is for the stadium situation to resolve itself before there is a push to sign hefty, multi-year contracts. Also, at the rate free agents are signing for now, the market may settle down after this season. Typically, such spending is cyclical.

 

Who are the most likely candidates to play in center field next season? Is Boston's Coco Crisp a good option? He's very fast and it won't cost much to get him, don't you think?

-- Andy M., Miami

 

Actually, Crisp made $2.75 million in 2006, which is steep for what the Marlins are willing to pay at this time. He played just 105 games and had surgery on his left index finger, so there are health concerns. When he's in the lineup, he batted .264 and didn't live up to the expectations in Boston. So, I'm not sure he's viewed as the answer. Crisp is still part of the Red Sox's plans, so Florida is looking in another direction. At the Winter Meetings, the Rays' Rocco Baldelli's name was circulated around, but if there was any steam to make a move for him, it quickly fizzled out before the general managers left Orlando on Thursday. Keep an eye on a couple of other Tampa Bay products -- B.J. Upton and possibly Elijah Dukes -- as possible candidates.

 

Why don't the Marlins make a run at free agent Kenny Lofton? He would bring excellent experience and knowledge of the game to the clubhouse and would fill out the hole at center field.

-- Lino S., Miami

 

Lofton and the Texas Rangers are closing in on a contract agreement, but money is one reason why the Marlins haven't pursued the outfielder, especially when you're talking about a veteran who will be earning in excess of $5 million. The blueprint for Florida remains pretty much the same as a year ago: Building a young team that will grow together into a championship-caliber squad.

 

Younger, more affordable options are being reviewed over long-time, pricy veterans. The ideal hope for the club is to get the stadium deal done, build around their young rotation and core players and move into a new stadium ready to win it all. Now, obviously, the Marlins proved they could compete last year with an abundance of rookies. If a deal makes sense to upgrade, given the financial restrictions they are working with, it will be strongly considered. But the team isn't going to part with pieces for its long-term success for a quick fix.

 

Have a question about the Marlins?

Joe FrisaroE-mail your query to MLB.com Marlins beat writer Joe Frisaro for possible inclusion in a future mailbag column. Letters may be edited for brevity, length and/or content.

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Why wouldn't the Marlins take a player in the Rule 5 Draft? They got Dan Uggla last year and someone would have been worth a shot.

-- Mitch B., Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.

 

In the Major League phase of the draft, the Marlins had the 12th pick, but they passed. The team definitely had someone in mind, but that player was selected ahead of where Florida was picking. There is a strong belief that the Marlins would have rolled the dice on Josh Hamilton, the first overall pick in 1999 by Tampa Bay. Despite his off-field troubles, Hamilton seemed worth the Rule 5 risk. He ended up being taken by the Cubs, but he was traded to the Reds, who were picking behind the Marlins in the draft. Since the player Florida wanted wasn't available, the team passed.

 

I must say, I am a huge Mets fan stuck in Miami, but I am really happy for the accomplishment of the Marlins in 2006. From the looks of everything, things will probably stay more or less the same for 2007. Are the Marlins going to try to do something different to get people to the stadium? I go no matter what because I love baseball, but Miami fans are horrible!

-- Darwin R., Miami

 

For the record, not all the fans here are "horrible," but the number of truly passionate fans are greatly outweighed by the empty seats in the football stadium that is the Marlins' home. Traditionally, South Florida has been an "event" town. Fan support, obviously, is a huge issue. The main cure to the franchise's woes is getting a new stadium. Right now, there are three stadium location options: Miami, Hialeah and Pompano. Major League Baseball is more involved than ever before, encouraging and pushing a stadium deal to get done. It's a lengthy process.

 

Minnesota and Oakland were in the stadium hunt for a number of years, but now both of those franchises have new parks in the works. MLB's collective bargaining agreement is now in place, so the Marlins' stadium efforts have moved up on the priority list. Once there is a new stadium, it will secure the long-term stability of the franchise, along with increased team revenues and consequently the payroll. In 2007, the team plans to market heavily the 10-year anniversary of the 1997 World Series title team, which should help lure in more fans. Building the fan base remains a work in progress, but the team is plugging away.

 

The Marlins have often benefited from the leadership of an experienced veteran on the bench, with Wes Helms being the best example. Are they looking for a player to fill that role or do they have to wait to see who is unable to find a position as a regular player somewhere else? Are there any likely candidates?

-- Richard F., Key Largo, Fla.

 

Keep in mind, Helms signed on Jan. 3 for $800,000 and no one really knew what to expect. The Marlins wanted Helms to assume the role vacated by Jeff Conine, a veteran who can play a couple of positions, and would be a strong influence coming off the bench. Right now, the spending is pretty high, so the team will likely wait to see which players become available as rosters start to settle. Invariably, veterans who fit that mold will surface. Jose Hernandez, who played for the Phillies last year, is one choice.

 

I have heard things circulating in the news that the Marlins could have a stadium built in South Florida. Do you think this is a possibility or is it just more rumors about the team staying here?

-- Joey C., Miami

 

It's more than rumor that the Marlins are in stadium discussions with the cities of Miami, Hialeah and Pompano. Those are the three options right now. There seems to be some momentum building to resolve this lingering stadium stalemate, which as you know has existed for about 10 years now. What's encouraging is the fact there are conversations and MLB officials are more involved than ever before.

 

http://florida.marlins.mlb.com/NASApp/mlb/...sp&c_id=fla

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