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Lopez, Guerrero not in plans


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Lopez, Guerrero not in plans

By Joe Frisaro / MLB.com

 

The Marlins inked Armando Benitez to a one-year, $3.5 million deal Saturday. (Osamu Honda/AP)

 

MIAMI -- Scratch the Marlins off the list of potential suitors for All-Stars Vladimir Guerrero and Javy Lopez. For now, at least.

A series of late-night signings Saturday secured the World Series champions a closer, a starting pitcher and a shortstop for 2004. By adding free agent closer Armando Benitez, and retaining A.J. Burnett and Alex Gonzalez, the Marlins now are within their payroll operating range.

 

Barring any unforeseen changes, the Marlins are not planning on pursuing top-flight free agents Guerrero or Lopez.

 

"Those are great players," Marlins general manager Admin Beinfest said Sunday morning. "I don't see how players of that caliber can fit in our range."

 

Since winning the World Series, Beinfest and the front office juggled and paired down a roster that would have cost about $90 million to remain intact. While several top performers are gone, the Marlins retained a number of core players while remaining within a $60 million budget.

 

Saturday night completed the heavy lifting in a hectic offseason.

 

At 11:30 p.m., 30 minutes shy of the tender deadline, the Marlins inked Benitez to a one-year, $3.5 million deal. An hour earlier, assistant general manager Mike Hill finalized a two-year, $6.2 million contract to keep Gonzalez at shortstop.

 

Earlier in the evening, Burnett agreed to a one-year, $2.5 million deal, the same salary he earned in 2003. Fourth-year arbitration eligible, Burnett is recovering from Tommy John surgery. The team is hopeful the right-hander will be back in the rotation before June.

 

Signing Benitez, who had his struggles with the Mets, Yankees and Mariners last season, means Braden Looper will not be back.

 

Looper paced the Marlins with 28 saves in 34 opportunities, and he was a key reliever in winning the World Series.

 

Fifth-year arbitration eligible, Looper stood to earn about $4 million. The Marlins had discussions Saturday to see if they could re-sign Looper. But both sides remained far apart.

 

Actually, the Marlins were prepared to wake up Sunday morning without a closer signed. There was enough positive dialogue between the agents for Looper and Benitez that Beinfest felt the team could lock up one or the other even after the deadline.

 

It never came to that.

 

Late Saturday, the Marlins officially cut ties with Looper by not tendering him a contract. Also non-tendered were relievers Armando Almanza and Toby Borland.

 

Almanza is not in the plans for 2004, but Borland is. In all likelihood, the veteran right-hander will sign a minor league contract.

 

"I spoke to Braden," Beinfest said. "We are not going to fit [both Benitez and Looper] on this club. He's not going to have a problem getting another job."

 

Looper is now a free agent. With his 98 mph fastball, he could help a team either closing or setting up.

 

What the Marlins have now is pretty much what they will head into the season with.

 

The team has suffered pivotal losses from the squad that hoisted the championship trophy in Yankee Stadium on Oct. 25. Gone are catcher Ivan Rodriguez, first baseman Derrek Lee, right fielder Juan Encarnacion, left-handed pitcher Mark Redman and reliever Ugueth Urbina.

 

Despite the losses, the team re-signed All-Stars Mike Lowell and Luis Castillo to multiyear deals. First baseman Hee Seop Choi, acquired from the Cubs for Lee, is regarded as a promising player. Choi also gives the team a needed left-handed bat with some power.

 

Burnett is expected to replace Redman in the rotation. And while Redman, traded on Tuesday night to the A's, was non-tendered by Oakland, the Marlins will not likely bring him back.

 

Now a free agent, Redman can explore all options.

 

"You never say never," Beinfest said. "But I don't see how we have the ability to entertain him at this point."

 

A more immediate area that could be addressed is left-handed relief help. Michael Tejera will contend for a starting job until Burnett is ready, meaning the bullpen loses a lefty arm.

 

On Monday, the Marlins will explore left-handed relief possibilities from the pool of talent that wasn't tendered.

 

Another order of business is signing starters Brad Penny and Carl Pavano. Both are fifth-year arbitration eligible, and will be back. Beinfest feels deals can be struck before the Jan. 19 deadline. If nothing is done by then, the team will go into arbitration hearings to decide the players' salaries.

 

If the Marlins do some more tinkering, they may think of adding another catcher. The plans for now are to go with Mike Redmond and Ramon Castro.

 

That could change if they are able to make a deal for someone like Paul Lo Duca of the Dodgers or Pittsburgh's Jason Kendall. And while Beinfest downplayed the possibility of signing Guerrero or Lopez, with this team you never know.

 

Before last season, the Marlins shocked everyone by adding "special money" to sign Rodriguez for one season. Such a deal could be available for Lopez, if he is still on the market.

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