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 21, 2004

Fish or Cut Bait?

The trade deadline is just ten or so days away and still it’s not clear if the Marlins should be buyers or sellers in this market (or if they should just stand pat).
There are a number of arguments for turning the Marlins into sellers.  First and foremost amongst them are the players the Marlins risk losing after this season is over.  Mike Lowell can get out of the remaining three years of his contract if the Marlins don’t have a stadium lined up (which they don’t).  Whether or not he’ll do this remains to be seen.  Carl Pavano, the team’s best and most consistent pitcher over the course of the 2004 campaign is eligible for free agency as soon as the season concludes.  He will be a highly desirable free agent, and will likely cost more to resign than the Fish are able to offer.  This will be especially true if Brad Penny, another standout starting pitcher, is awarded the doubling or so of his salary that many expect when he becomes eligible for arbitration this offseason.  It is highly unlikely that the Marlins will be able to afford both Pavano and Penny after this season and, if the Fish aren’t going to be in contention for a playoff berth, it would be nice to get at least something for the two of them (and they’d likely be able to get plenty because after Randy Johnson and Kris Benson, there’s not much that’s attractive on the pitching trading block).
However, there big risk for the Marlins in selling off players here in late July is that they’ll turn off the fan base.  This is something the club can ill afford to do.  Despite attendance being up in the neighborhood of 50% year-over-year, the Marlins are still in the bottom half of the league in attendance this year.
So what should the Marlins do?  Well that’s a tough question to answer.  They are still very much in the playoff hunt – for either a division title (which would be their first) or a wild card berth (like they earned last year).  To make it deep in the post-season the Fish will need more consistency all around – from their starting pitching and relievers, and also from their offense.  A number of players have been rumored to come the Fish’s way.  Here are some thoughts…
Steve Finley, CF, Arizona Diamondbacks
Finley is a nice player, one who seemingly fights off Father Time on a daily basis.  How long Finley can continue to deliver remains to be seen.  Acquiring Finley would, seemingly, force either Juan Pierre or Finley to left field (my guess would be Pierre) and Jeff Conine to the bench.  Finley brings a left handed (which is much needed) bat to the Marlins lineup and he also offers some power. 
If his acquisition would allow the Marlins to put Jeff Conine on the bench, I suppose that’s an upgrade.  While Conine is not an elite outfielder anymore (if he ever was), he would be a pretty solid threat coming off of the bench.
The price that the Fish would have to pay to acquire Finley is the biggest question mark.  Reserve outfielder Abraham Nunez has been widely rumored to be on his way out of town with all sorts of trades, and could be included in a deal here.  I’m not sure that’s worthwhile though.  Nunez for Finley would give the Fish a modest upgrade for the remainder of 2004, but probably not enough incrementally to put the team over the top.  And by 2005 – and certainly 2006 and 2007, the Marlins would probably rather have Nunez around than Finley.
Jason Kendall, C, Pittsburgh Pirates
This deal is a no brainer for the Fish.  Kendall’s game is well suited to the Marlins and he’s an above average catcher, which would fill a gaping hole in the Marlins lineup.  The downside here is purely financial.  Kendall can likely be had for relatively little in terms of players.  The Pirates though would want the Marlins to pick up the remainder of his contract – which owes him more than $30 million.  This is a price that the Marlins probably aren’t willing to bear.  And if they do decide to take it on, they’ll have to accept abuse from nearly everyone for being willing to pay Jason Kendall more than $30 million when they wouldn’t come up with nearly exactly the same money for Ivan Rodriguez, who may be on his way to winning another MVP award with the Tigers this season.
Carlos Delgado, 1B, Toronto Blue Jays
Acquiring Delgado would effectively end Hee Seop Choi’s contributions for the 2004 season.  While this might be a good thing for the Marlins, it would be detrimental to Choi’s development (although he might be part of the package that’s sent to Toronto I suppose).  Delgado has been hampered by injuries for much of this year, but he’s a slugger like the Marlins have not had since Gary Sheffield left town years ago.  Delgado would be a major upgrade for the Fish and would be a solid acquisition.  Like with Kendall though, the drawback is the price tag, of sorts.  As a 10-and-5 player (ten years in the majors and five with his current team), Delgado has a no-trade clause, meaning that he has the right to refuse a trade to any team.  It sounds like Delgado will reserve his right to exercise that clause, unless of course he gets a contract extension (for well north of $10 million annually) from the club that’s going to acquire him.  Like with everyone else, it’s unlikely the Marlins will be able to commit that kind of money to a single player, particularly an aging one like Delgado.
After that, there’s not much in the way of marquee players to acquire.  Ugueth Urbina may be on the block again, but the Marlins could have had him in the offseason if they wanted him.  There are plenty of other role players who will also likely shift around before (or right after – courtesy of waivers – the trade deadline).  None of those role players though, is likely to make the Marlins a pennant contender (although you can argue that the pickup of Chad Fox around this time last year did just that).
Working in the Marlins favor is that the Braves, who the Fish are chasing, are unlikely to add any big name players too.  Allegedly, the Braves are in a bit of a payroll crisis and are unlikely to take on any more salary before the deadline.  However, the Phillies and Mets are likely to be putting players and salary into their organization before the deadline.

Personally, after taking the business side of the picture into the equation, if I was Larry Beinfest or Jeffrey Loria, I would wait as long as possible before making a move.  Give the team a little more time – as presently constituted – to work its way into or out of playoff contention.  Waiting will also give the team more time to ascertain what the other clubs are doing.  If the Phillies and Mets stand pat, which is unlikely, a strong move by the Marlins might be even more effective than it would be otherwise – since the Marlins would be improving while the other clubs stood still.  If other teams add talent though, it might be in the Marlins best interest to stay as is or to trade off a player or two.  Hopefully the Marlins will go on a nice run starting today against the Phillies and Expos and solidify their position in the playoff hunt.


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