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, December 13, 2004

Marlins Weekend Recap

With the Winter Meetings in full swing, there was plenty of Marlins news over the weekend. Stadium relocation and the threat of moving the team, the signing of Todd Jones, and trade rumors involving A.J. Burnett headlined the weekend’s Marlins action. I’ll try my best to recap:

Stadium Issues/Team Relocation
The cover story for Saturday’s edition of The Miami Herald screamed that the Marlins are being evicted from Pro Player Stadium as of 2010. While on the surface this sounds like big news, it is really just a ploy to motivate the powers that be throughout the state, county, and city to come together with the money needed to build the Marlins their new baseball palace.

For some time now, the Marlins have had a year-to-year lease, which they have the option to renew – through 2010. There is no contract after 2010. Mr. Huizenga’s claim that they no longer wish to have the Marlins as tenants simply means that they’re not going to sit down to negotiate a new contract. This isn’t an eviction. It’s simply saying – albeit a few years in advance – that the contract isn’t going to be renewed.

Leaders from Las Vegas also attended the Winter Meetings in Anaheim – arriving replete with showgirls. They were quick to point out though that they weren’t there to meet specifically with the Marlins, with whom they claim they’ve only had one, informal conversation. Instead, they were in Anaheim to meet with leaders from each club and to make everyone aware of the potential that exists for a team in their growing city.

All told, it seems like a well orchestrated plan for the Marlins to raise awareness for their needs for a new stadium and to put pressure on local government to come up with the rest of the funding for the team. To make the matter seem all the less credible, upon his return from Las Vegas, team president David Samson’s only comment for the press was, “Whatever happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.” Classy. I hope that David had the courage to tell his wife that. At least she could probably slap him – like the rest of us usually wish we could.

Marlins Sign Todd Jones
When I first heard this news, I laughed. This is the most comical signing the Marlins could have possibly made – and it has nothing to do with Jones’ ability as a pitcher or what he’ll contribute to the team on the field.

Last May, Jones openly told reporters that he would have a problem with having a gay teammate. Later, in his apology, Jones said he wasn't sorry for saying what he said - because it's how he feels - but that he was sorry that he made the comment publicly.

Apparently Jones wasn’t treated to the whirlwind tour of Miami that other free agents, like Carl Pavano, often receive of their prospective new home towns. Miami is a very diverse town – ethnically, racially, and even sexually. Hopefully Jones is prepared to accept with this. If not, I suspect Jones will be treated to what could be an amusing series of interactions at Pro Player Stadium and around town throughout the year.

A few years back, when Matt Mantei pitched for the Fish, a group of young girls (teenagers) dressed up in “Ice Man” (Mantei’s nickname) t-shirts and serenaded Mantei when he was in the bullpen and as he entered the game. I would imagine that it would be rather comical to see a group of thirty-something men do something similar to/for the homophobic Jones.

Although, since the Marlins have been so creative and media savvy of late (see note above about the stadium and relocation issues), maybe signing Jones was just an effort to reach out to the gay and lesbian community in a (backhanded) way and to get them to buy tickets and come out to the ballpark (even if it is to deride the new reliever).

Burnett Trade Rumors
The Randy Johnson-to-the-Yankees rumors are heating up again, and this time around it mainly involves Marlins rehabbed (elbow) starter A.J. Burnett ending up in Arizona, with the Fish picking up current Yankee Javier Vazquez.

My initial reaction to this trade was that I’d hate to give up Burnett. But, A.J. has had a history of arm troubles – although he appeared to rebound from the latest one last year and pitched very well. Possibly even more importantly to the Fish, Burnett will be eligible for free agency following the 2005 season, meaning that his salary ($2.5 million in 2004 and likely double that in 2005) will literally go through the roof (with a solid season, he should easily be able to surpass the $10 million per year that Carl Pavano received from the Yankees). At that price, he’ll be far too expensive for the Marlins to keep onboard.

Given that, it essentially boils down to three options for the Marlins. One, Burnett stays with the Marlins for 2005, he struggles or is injured, and the Marlins receive little or zero productivity from his roster spot. At this point, Burnett would likely become a very affordable option for the Marlins in 2006 and beyond, but he wouldn’t be very attractive. The second option is that Burnett stays with the Marlins, is very successful, and thus prices himself out of the Marlins budget for 2006 and beyond. Neither of these alternatives is very promising for the Marlins, and that is why the third option – trading Burnett before the 2005 season – is such an attractive alternative.

If the Marlins are able to trade Burnett to the Diamondbacks and include Juan Encarnacion – somehow in this deal, while also picking up money from the Diamondbacks to pay Vazquez’s salary, then this seems like a win-win.

Vazquez is a young pitcher, at 28 – one year older than Burnett, who has pitched well for many years in the major leagues. Despite his struggles with the Yankees last year, he was still an All-Star at the mid-year point and has tremendous upside for the future. Plus he’s signed for three years, so the Fish would get three years of service from him instead of one from Burnett. Besides, being able to rid themselves of Encarnacion, and his cheddar cheese like bat, might be the biggest upside of this trade.


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