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.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Praise for Marlins Pursuit of Delgado Misguided

The Marlins are being widely praised of late for their efforts to land free agent slugger Carlos Delgado – at least that’s how it feels locally, as the Marlins seem to have improved the sentiment from the media and the fan base around town. While on the surface, the Marlins recent efforts are laudable, after taking a somewhat deeper look at the reality of the situation, what the Marlins are doing might not be so great after all. Let’s rewind a little…

After winning the 2003 World Series the Marlins made a half-hearted effort to keep Ivan Rodriguez as their catcher. They also off-loaded Gold Glove first baseman Derrek Lee, who would be due a large pay increase. At the time, payroll limitations were cited as the primary reasons for letting these players go. It all made sense, and the post-2003 fire sale was far less severe than the post-1997 fire sale, so fans were relatively pleased. Emerging stars like Miguel Cabrera, Dontrelle Willis, Josh Beckett, and A.J. Burnett would all be back, so there was nothing to worry about.

In exchange for losing Rodriguez, the Marlins received some compensatory draft picks. It will be years before we know how those prospects turn out. Derrek Lee was traded to the Cubs in exchange for Hee Seop Choi and another minor leaguer.

While Choi paid immediate dividends for the Marlins (homering on opening day), he did not stay with the club for very long. By late July, with the Marlins still in the playoff hunt, and in need of a catcher, he was traded to Los Angeles – along with, at the time – at least arguably, staff ace Brad Penny and Bill Murphy, a highly regarded pitching prospect (if there is such a thing). In exchange, the Marlins received all-star catcher Paul LoDuca, relief specialist Guillermo Mota, and outfielder Juan Encarnacion.

In the end the Marlins ended the 2004 season with Paul Lo Duca, Juan Encarnacion, and Guillermo Mota after all these wheelings and dealings. Other players were moved around to fill out the roster and the rotation, but by taking Rodriguez and Lee off the books and replacing them with the players they did, the Marlins saved more than $5 million.

Even though the Marlins didn’t make the playoffs in 2004, they did come close to earning a wild card berth – and we were all under the assumption that they did so while being fiscally responsible.

Then the offseason began. First the Marlins signed Al Leiter to an eight million dollar contract (with much of the money, as has been the case with possibly all of the Marlins recent big ticket contracts, deferred for many years).

In a move that made more sense, at least financially, the Marlins resigned Paul Lo Duca to a three year contract, which will pay him $18 million. They are now, as has been widely reported, in the bidding for Carlos Delgado. Reportedly their latest offer is for four years and $50 million.

Instead of simply praising the Marlins for moving after a high-priced free agent (as they’re doing with Delgado here), let’s break it down and see what the Marlins could have had:

Option A – Reload after the 2003 season
Acquire 1B Carlos Delgado – 4 year deal, $50 million guaranteed (some money deferred)
In Delgado’s absence during 2004, use Hee Seop Choi, or minor league equivalent in his place ($300,000)
Acquire C Paul Lo Duca – pay portion of 2004 $3.9 million salary; next three years for $18 million
Acquire P Al Leiter – pay $8 million for 2005
Acquire RP Guillermo Mota - $1.5 million in 2004; $2.6 million in 2005

Option B – Keep the players that won 2003 World Series
Keep P Brad Penny - $3.7 million in 04, $5.1 million in 05
Resign C Ivan Rodriguez – 4 years, $40 million
Resign 1B Derrek Lee – 3 years, $24 million

Option A, the path that the Marlins have actually pursued up to this point, is actually more expensive and is focused on older players and exclusively on players in the decline phase of their careers.

Option B, on the other hand, centers around two players (Penny and Lee) who are young and have significant upside remaining, as well as it includes a future Hall of Famer at catcher, who was the heart of the team on it’s run to the 2003 World Series.

At the time, particularly as the excuses regarding the financial constraints they were facing, the moves that the Marlins were making made sense. However, looking back at it now, it is clear that the excuses the Marlins were using were simply rhetoric and were not based in fact.

So go ahead, praise Jeffrey Loria and David Samson for going out and trying to lure a big free agent. Just be cognizant of the fact that the Marlins didn’t have to be in a position to go after him. They put themselves in this place. Instead, they could be set for the remainder of the decade at first base with Derrek Lee. It wouldn’t cost them much offensively, and it would be a tremendous upgrade defensively. Most importantly of all – well, if you believe what the Marlins normally tell us – Lee would have come much more cheaply than Carlos Delgado.


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