The Book of Mike

"This is no junior college. This is the notorious University of Miami.” -- Marlins starter Dontrelle Willis, after getting knocked around for six runs in 2 1/3 innings by the Canes.

Wednesday, July 07, 2004

At Shortstop and batting 3rd for your Florida Marlins, Nomar Garciaparra

Well, I’m certainly not breaking this story here, but in case you haven’t heard it already, the latest Marlins trade rumor is that the Fish are interested in acquiring Boston Red Sox shortstop Nomar Garciaparra for the upcoming stretch run.

Shortstop is one of the Marlins glaring weaknesses, at least from an offensive standpoint, and Garciaparra would represent a humongous upgrade over the incumbent, Alex Gonzalez. However, Garciaparra is set to become a free agent at the end of this year, and it’s unlikely that the Marlins could come up with the more than $10 million dollars required annually to retain Nomar’s services.

The rumors regarding Nomar indicate that the Marlins would have to give up a position player and a pitcher, and would receive Red Sox starter Derek Lowe in return as well. The specific Marlins rumored to be in the deal are some combination of Alex Gonzalez, first baseman (slash DH in the American League) Hee Seop Choi, and starting pitchers Brad Penny and Carl Pavano.

If Choi was included in the deal instead of Gonzalez, it is likely that Garciaparra would be asked to play first base. On the surface this seems odd, but Gonzalez is superior with the glove. Putting Nomar at first is still unusual though. He’s a great offensive player, but not a prototypical first baseman. While it is an easier position to play, I suspect it’s not easy to learn to play in the middle of a pennant race in a new league.

In the short term, this could be a positive move for the Marlins. Nomar would bring a major offensive upgrade, and swapping Lowe for either Penny or Pavano is pretty much a wash, this year at least. Lowe, like Garciaparra, is a free agent at season’s end, and the Marlins are unlikely to be able to afford his asking price, so it would be a summer rental. On the other hand, by keeping their current players, the Marlins retain the rights to Penny for a few more years and are more likely to be able to afford the less pricey Pavano after this season.

Long term, this is a difficult trade to justify. You’re talking about giving up some combination of two young, low salaried players, for slight upgrades who are older and make considerably more money, and who might be lost to free agency come November.

Before the Fish make a trade like this – or any other trade – they really need to consider whether or not they’re actually contenders in this race. Currently, the Marlins are closer to first place in the NL East than they are to the Wild Card. Given how competitive and hot the teams in the NL Central have been this year, it appears that will remain the case over the rest of the season (meaning that the Marlins best chances of reaching the playoffs are by winning their division). However, Philadelphia, with a bigger payroll and deeper pockets to acquire more talent, is both likely to make a move and equipped to go on a run and put the division title on ice fairly quickly.

While it’s sad, it’s also important to be realistic. The Marlins did win the World Series last year, and they started out strong this year, but since going 8 – 1 to open the campaign (including five wins against lowly Montreal), the Fish have won 35 games and lost 40. If that trend keeps up, the Marlins won’t be looking at any sort of a playoff run this year. So before the Marlins start mortgaging the future on winning this year, let’s make sure there’s actually a chance to win something this year. If there isn’t, the Fish would be better served to trade towards building another pennant contender for the 2005 or 2006 season.

An interesting, but unrelated sidebar, to this trade rumor is what number Garciaparra would wear if he played for the Marlins. As a member of the Red Sox, Garciaparra has always worn number 5. No Marlin has ever worn number 5, as it was retired prior to the Fish’s inaugural 1993 season, in honor of executive Carl Barger, who did much to bring a major league team to South Florida. While Barger’s accomplishments were significant, he was part of the original ownership group – one that today is not highly regarded by Marlins fans and one which has virtually no connections to the current ownership group. If the Marlins acquired Garciaparra, I wouldn’t be surprised to see number five unretired and to have Barger’s name only retired and memorialized on a flag in centerfield (much like other clubs do with players from eras before numbers were used and for executives).


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