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.

Monday, August 02, 2004

Marlins Win Deadline Deal Sweepstakes, which Guarantees Nothing

Most of the experts have crowned the Marlins as the winners of the deadline deal derby, which wrapped over the weekend on Saturday afternoon. The Marlins made one big deal with the Dodgers, and two smaller deals – one with the Padres and one with the Royals. Whether or not the deadline deal champions crown is something that the Marlins will be proud of or not remains to be seen. I suppose we’ll all know a lot more about that come October. If the trades the Marlins made propel them into the post-season, then the trades will have been a success (since the roster, as constituted on July 29th, did not have them in playoff position). The trades may still be a success, even if the Fish finish out of the playoffs this year, and here’s why:

The Marlins are still in contention for the division title or possibly another wild card berth. However, they haven’t hit quite enough this year. The second biggest concern is relief pitching, particularly the “set-up” role (while Armando Benitez has been nothing short of spectacular this year, and hopefully his recent arm troubles will go away quickly – he’s been about the only positive in the Marlins bullpen). The third concern for the team has been consistency from the starting pitchers.

As the trade deadline approached, Larry Beinfest was tasked with addressing these three issues. Also complicating matters for Benifest was that the Marlins, as always, are working on a limited budget. Making it more complicated than usual though, was that Brad Penny would become eligible for arbitration at the conclusion of the season, and at the same time Carl Pavano would become eligible for free agency. This would mean that both players would become immediately eligible for multi-million dollar raises. While the Marlins might be able to afford one of the players next year (and beyond), it would be nearly impossible to foresee them being able to retain both.

Going into the weekend, right before the big deal went down actually, my advice to the Marlins was to give up on the current season and not to mortgage coming years on a post-season push this year. I said that because I did not think it was possible for Larry Beinfest – or anyone really – to be able to make a post-season push AND better the position the team for the long run. With the trades that were made, that’s exactly what the Marlins did. They now have a better chance than they did as of a week ago of making the playoffs in 2004 and again in 2005.

Penny or Pavano was going to have to go. Given that Pavano has been more consistent over the past year and a half than Penny, it probably made more sense to deal Penny. However, once the deals went down, it probably wasn't necessary for whoever at the Miami Herald to ensure that all of the emotional, tear-filled photos of the trade included Brad Penny (or his girlfriend - a sad photo of the couple was in yesterday's print version of the Herald, but doesn't appear to have made it online). It was bad enough (and this could only happen with the Marlins) that Brad Penny was part of multiple promotions during the week, including a poster before he was traded and a Rubik's Cube like give-away on Saturday, after the trade.

In exchange for Penny (first baseman Hee Seop Choi and minor league pitcher Bill Murphy), the Marlins acquired Paul Lo Duca, Juan Encarnacion, and Guillermo Mota. Lo Duca helps to answer the Marlins number one concern – getting more offense – and from a position that it’s typically difficult to acquire offense from – catcher. Sure, you could argue that Choi’s numbers aren’t really all that different from Lo Duca’s, and you’re right. But it will be easier to replace Choi’s at bats with a similar first baseman than it would be to replace Lo Duca’s AB’s with those of another catcher. There just aren’t as many catchers walking around on the streets or in the minors as there are first baseman. The Marlins have catching prospect Josh Willingham in the minors, but he’s not lighting the world on fire. With Matt Treanor and Mike Redmond in the majors, catcher seemed to be an area of weakness for the Marlins going forward, and this trade addresses that in a big way.

Mota plugs the second hole in a big time way (relief pitching and a set-up man). Just ask anyone in Los Angeles today. Sure, what Eric Gagne has done over the past few years is incredibly impressive. But what Gagne was able to accomplish would not have been impossible if not for the presence of Mota in the 8th. Gagne shortens games one inning, effectively, for the Dodgers, but Mota also took three outs away from the other team’s offense. That will prove to be positively huge for the Fish over the remainder of the season.

The one sticking point to this trade is the re-acquisition of rightfielder Juan Encarnacion. Juan is a stellar defender and seems to be a decent enough guy, but he just doesn’t hit. Plus, he’s expensive. The Marlins will pay Encarnacion around $5 million next year. When he was acquired on Friday, I don’t think it was the Marlins intention to keep Juan. It seems the plan was to send him to Colorado (Larry Walker), or Cincinnati (where they got rid of him once before – but this time to get the Fish Adam Dunn), or somewhere else (for more pitching). None of that happened though (mainly because Walked kept it from happening), so the Fish are stuck with Juan. This means that Encarnacion will slide into left, where he’ll be a huge upgrade over Miguel Cabrera. But realistically, a huge defensive upgrade in right field isn’t going to change a thing about the standings. With Juan in right, Cabrera moves to left, and Jeff Conine moves to first base. Conine has to be at least Choi’s equal defensively – he certainly can’t be worse.

From an offensive perspective, the changes have been to replace Matt Treanor/Mike Redmond (catcher) and Hee Seop Choi with Paul Lo Duca and Juan Encarnacion. That’s probably a slight upgrade, but definitely not the Larry Walker-sized bat the Fish were hoping to stick in the middle of the lineup.

On Saturday the Fish also acquired starter Ismael Valdez (no longer Valdes, thank you) and reliever Rudy Seanez (for disgruntled reserve outfielder Abraham Nunez). Valdez will serve as the Marlins fifth starter and will allow the team to keep Justin Wayne in the minors or the bullpen for the time being. Since they only gave up one minor leaguer (Travis Chick), this is a decent move, which will help bring some stability to the starting rotation. Seanez is another solid acquisition, and for two reasons: one, he will help bring needed stability to the bullpen; two, getting Nunez out of the clubhouse may be an addition by subtraction (on his way out of town, Nunez was quick to criticize Marlins management for not giving him more playing time and stated that he’d prove that the Marlins mismanaged him by putting up good numbers in Kansas City).

So what has to happen now for the Marlins to make the playoffs?

  1. The offense has to wake up. There need to be runners on base (Pierre, Castillo) for Lo Duca, Cabrera, and Lowell to drive in. A little spark (like in June) from Alex Gonzalez and the rest of the lineup wouldn’t hurt either.
  2. Consistency from the starting pitching – the two wild cards here are Dontrelle Willis and Josh Beckett. These two need to finish strong for the Fish to make a push. Valdez will have some impact, but it will be limited. Pavano’s been solid all year. Burnett, too, has been good, but he just hasn’t gotten any offensive support.
  3. Mota has to be the glue that holds the bullpen together and that gets the ball to Benitez with the lead in the 9th. That’s putting a lot of pressure on two pitchers – one who hasn’t been in these pressure situations before (Mota) and another who has been in them, but has failed (Benitez).

All told, making the playoffs is very possible for the Marlins this year. They’ll have to stay healthy and catch a few breaks, but there’s nothing to say that can’t happen. What you can say today is that Larry Beinfest and Jeffrey Loria did everything possible to put this team in a position to compete. As a fan, that’s all you can ask for.

There were lots more trades too. Go here to find out more.


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