2003-2004 Off-Season Review

The following list is a complete run down of the Marlins off-season transactions followed by an analysis of the positional changes the Marlins made for the upcoming 2004 season.

2003-2004 Off-Season Review

11/25/03 Marlins trade 1B Derrek Lee to the Chicago Cubs for 1B Hee Seop Choi and RHP prospect Mike Nannini

12/5/03 Marlins re-sign UTL Mike Mordecai to a 1 year deal terms not disclosed

12/5/03 Marlins re-sign OF Lenny Harris to a minor league deal

12/7/03 Marlins re-sign 2B Luis Castillo to a 3 year contract worth 16 million dollars with possible incentives to 21 million

12/7/03 Marlins re-sign RP Chad Fox to a 1 year contract worth $700,000

12/11/03 Marlins re-sign 3B Mike Lowell to a 4 year contract worth 32 million dollars. The contract is guaranteed for 1 year with player options contingent on a new stadium deal in south Florida.

12/13/03 Marlins trade OF Juan Encarnacion to the Dodgers for minor league OF Travis Ezi

12/16/03 Marlins trade LHP Mark Redman to the Oakland A's for RP Mike Neu and LHP prospect Bill Murphy

12/20/03 Marlins re-sign SS Alex Gonzalez to a 2 year deal worth 6.2 million dollars

12/20/03 Marlins re-sign C Ramon Castro to a 1 year deal worth $400,000

12/20/03 Marlins re-sign RHP AJ Burnett to a 1 year deal worth 2.5 million dollars

12/20/03 Marlins re-sign RP Michael Tejera to a 1 year deal. Terms not disclosed

12/20/03 Marlins re-sign OF Brian Banks to a 1 year deal. Terms not disclosed

12/21/03 Marlins release RP Braden Looper

1/6/03 Marlins sign FA RP Armando Benitez to a 1 year deal worth 3.5 million dollars

1/8/03 Marlins sign 2B Damion Easley to a minor league contract

1/20/03 Marlins re-sign RHP Brad Penny to a 1 year deal worth 3.725 million dollars

1/20/03 Marlins re-sign RHP Carl Pavano to a 1 year deal worth 3.8 million dollars

2/6/03 Marlins sign FA LHP Darren Oliver to a 1 year deal worth $750,000

2/6/03 Marlins sign FA 1B Wil Cordero to a 1 year deal worth $600,000

2/20/03 Marlins sign RP Nelson Cruz to a minor league contract

Off-Season Analysis How quickly the Florida Marlins went from a symbol of all of the things that are good about baseball; a bunch of youthful enthusiastic, never give up, all-out hustling kids who didn't even realize they weren't supposed to be where they were, being led by their grizzled old manager speaking words of simple wisdom, capturing the hearts of America by beating the New York Yankees in a World Series that going in could best be described as a David vs. Goliath battle. To the unfortunate reminder of all that is supposedly wrong with baseball; high player's salaries, greedy owners, public funded stadium issues, apathetic fans, and the constant struggle of small market teams facing difficult choices and adverse fan reaction when it comes to retaining or losing their best players.

Welcome to the world of modern day baseball.

Fortunately for the Florida Marlins and their fan faithful we have a front office staff that not only understands these challenges but excels in working under the constraints of being a small market team. In the two years since owner Jeffrey Loria and his front office people have taken control of the Marlins organization they have proven time and time again that they will make personnel decisions that not only work within their budget constraints but also work to put a better team on the field. Some of their most notable successful moves include trading RHP Ryan Dempster for OF Juan Encarnacion, as well a deal that sent RHP Matt Clement for LHP Dontrelle Willis. The Marlins scouting department's savvy have led them bringing in players that either underachieved or were undervalued by their previous team. A notable example of this is LHP Mark Redman who went 14-9 with a 3.59 ERA for the Marlins in 2003. Most importantly, the new ownership and front office has showed us that when they feel that they are contenders they will take the risk and spend the money to bring the kind of player necessary to win. Examples of this from last year are the signing of C Pudge Rodriquez and the mid-season trades for OF Jeff Conine and RP Ugueth Urbina.

Success on the field however has not alleviated the Marlins front office from once again having to make tough personnel decisions based purely on financial reasons. Here's a closer examination of each major transaction that the Marlins made this off-season and a projection of the effect those moves will have on the field in the 2004 season.

Trading 1B Derrek Lee for 1B Hee Seop Choi and RHP prospect Mike Nannini
Lee, who hit .271 31 homers and 92 RBIs and won the Gold Glove for his tremendous defensive play in 2003, is set to become an unrestricted free agent after the 2004 season and based upon his play in 2003 was projected to earn in the neighborhood of 7.5 million for the 2004 season after arbitration (he ended up signing for 6.9). The Marlins knew that even if they could've kept Lee for the 2004 season that they wouldn't be able to afford his contract demands for a long term deal after 2004. Thus, Lee was dealt now while the front office felt that they could get quality players. In return for Lee the Marlins received 23 year old 1B Hee Seop Choi and RHP prospect Mike Nannini.

Choi, a left-handed hitter was considered one of the top hitting prospects in baseball. Unfortunately, he went through a difficult and injury plagued rookie season. He hit .218 with 8 homers and 28 RBIs in 202 ABs. Despite his poor season, in which he spent almost a month on the DL for a concussion sustained after a fielding collision with pitcher Kerry Wood, scouts still feel that Choi can be a very good 1B at the major league level. Even with his large frame, 6'5 240, Choi is not known to have plus power. However, he does have tremendous plate discipline with a line drive swing and gap power that will translate into a lot of doubles. The downside is that he can be over-powered with inside pitches and has had trouble with left handed pitchers at the major league level. In the field, Choi is known as solid but not spectacular defensive player.

The Marlins are very happy to have the talented young Choi. Upon his acquisition, GM Larry Beinfest was quoted as saying, "He's not proven yet but we think he is going to be an outstanding player, an above-average first baseman."

As an insurance policy for Choi the Marlins also signed veteran 1B Wil Cordero. Cordero is a free-swinging 13 year veteran that makes good contact with decent power. Last year for the Montreal Expos he hit .278 16 HRs and 71 RBIs in 431 ABs. Cordero's approach at the plate is very aggressive and he will chase a bad pitch every now and again. But his discipline has improved over the years and he will be a valuable addition to the team. He can also play LF when called upon.

Choi is probably going to take a few years as he continues to develop into an everyday major league 1B. This year you can look for a platoon situation with Choi playing primarily against righties and Cordero going against lefties. The signing of Cordero will give the Marlins the patience necessary for developing a young player as well as keeping pressure off Choi as he will go through the typical ups and downs that every young player goes through. It will be impossible for the Marlins to duplicate Lee's offensive production but I believe between these two players that you will see combined numbers that will not be too far off from what Lee produced as a Marlin. Look for a combined average of between .265-.270 25 HRs and 85 RBIs out of the 1B position. Unfortunately, there is no way the duo will be able to match Lee's Gold Glove caliber defensive play.

The bottom line financially for this deal is that the Marlins will be paying approximately 1.1 million dollars this season for the two players combined as opposed to the 6.9 million it would've cost to keep Lee for the 2004 season. The front office did a marvelous job in bringing what will be similar offensive production for 20% of the cost while also receiving a player who is young and still has tremendous upside in Hee Seop Choi.

Trading OF Juan Encarnacion to the Los Angeles Dodgers for OF prospect Travis Ezi
Encarnacion had a very good year for the Marlins in 2003 batting .270 with 19 HRs and 94 RBIs. However, with the mid-season acquisition of Jeff Conine and the strong play of Miguel Cabrera in the World Series in RF made trading Encarnacion just as much of a personnel squeeze out as it was a financial decision. I would love to claim that trading Encarnacion was a pure salary dump but the newly acquired contract of Conine, at 4.5 million in 2004 is actually more than what Encarnacion got in his new deal with the Dodgers (2 years for 8 million). The front office is projecting that Cabrera will at least equal, if not better Encarnacion's offensive production. In the field, Encarnacion was very solid defensively. Cabrera who is new to the position should not be expected to equal Encarnacion this year.

Trading LHP Mark Redman to the Oakland A's for RP Mike Neu and LHP prospect Billy Murphy
Mark Redman came to the Florida Marlins in 2003 from the Detroit Tigers amid little fanfare as his career statistics prior to joining the Marlins was 23-30 with around a 4.30 ERA. The Marlins front office however knew that with Redman's pitching style that he would have good success with the Florida Marlins, and they were right. Redman pitched to a 14-9 record in 2003 with 3.59 overall ERA while having a 2.88 ERA in home games. Redman's ability to change speeds and consistently work the outside of the plate with off-speed pitches baited many opposing hitters to hit harmless fly outs to right-center field. His curveball and change-up combination gave opponents nightmares. During the months of June and July when Dontrelle was getting all of the attention, Redman was quietly carrying the Marlins staff going 6-2 in 11 starts while carrying a 2.99 ERA. Redman's salary however was set to go from 2.15 million in 2003 to 3.5 million in 2004 and the Marlins simply had to make a decision between keeping either Redman, Pavano, or Penny. The decision was made a Redman was sent to the A's for RP Mike Neu.

To replace Redman the Marlins signed a player that could end up being one of the best value additions in baseball this year in Darren Oliver. Oliver spent last year pitching for the Colorado Rockies and posted a very respectable 13-11 record with a 5.03 ERA. While the ERA number does appear very high, one must take into account the Coors Field factor when evaluating those stats.

Oliver's pitching approach is almost identical to that of Redman. Both pitchers rely on off-speed stuff and location to get batters out. The humid air in Florida and the wide dimensions in right field will be a tremendous benefit to Oliver this season. The Marlins are really not honestly hoping for much more than Oliver than eating up innings and giving them somewhere around a .500 record, but don't be surprised if Oliver turns in a career best performance in 2004 one similar to Redman's 2003 season. Regardless of whether he pitches at that level, with only a $750,000 salary, he will be an asset.

RP Mike Neu is a quality middle reliever who played college ball for the University of Miami Hurricanes. He will provide much needed depth to what was considered a mediocre bullpen.

Not re-signing RP Ugueth Urbina or RP Braden Looper and signing RP Armando Benitez
As closers, Urbina and Looper both had the same problem of being erratic in closing situations by allowing too many runners to reach base through walks. The cause of their problem was different however. Urbina would lose control due to over-aggressiveness and Looper would lose control because of not being aggressive enough. Either way, neither of them performed well enough to make Marlins management believe that they were worth the estimated 4-5 million dollars a year it would take to keep one of them. The Marlins decided that they would take a chance on another historically erratic closer at the lower salary of 3.5 million in Armando Benitez.

Benitez has proven that he has the stuff to be a top notch closer and has occasionally performed as such. The problem is that he is said to be extremely temperamental and not able to handle criticism. This has been the source of his problems in the media induced pressure cooker atmosphere around his former teams the New York Mets and the New York Yankees. Perhaps the change of scenery to a place where the fan and media scrutiny isn't as high will be good for Benitez. Whether it is or isn't, Benitez will likely produce the same results as either Urbina or Looper would but with a lower salary.

Not re-signing C Pudge Rodriguez
One can make the argument that Pudge was the difference that took the Marlins from a good team to a World Series Champion. Pudge was clutch all season long which was evidenced by his .375 batting average with runners in scoring position, good for 3rd in the National League. In the playoffs and in the World Series Pudge came up with big play after big play both offensively and defensively. Based upon his play in 2003, Pudge without a doubt was worth re-signing to a similar contract as his 2003 deal (10 million for 1 season) on a one or two year basis. Pudge however wanted the security of a long term deal and demanded a 4 year contract. The Marlins did not believe that he would carry his value for all four years of the contract and made the decision to let their team leader depart.

While the decision to let Pudge go was very controversial the front office did have very sound statistical reasons to reach that conclusion. A closer look at Pudge's statistics over the past 5 years reveals that Pudge's career is in a steady decline.

Year

AB

AVG

HR

RBI

1999

600

.332

35

113

2000

363

.347

27

83

2001

442

.308

25

65

2002

408

.314

19

60

2003

511

.297

16

85



Couple these sliding statistics with the fact that Pudge is a 33 year old catcher with a history of severe back injuries and no one can blame the Marlins for not wanting to give Pudge a big money, long term contract. He may have carried his value for a year, maybe two, but at some point during the contract his production would not be worth what he is being paid.

The final decision the front office had to make was whether to hold onto a 33 year old catcher for another 4 years and pay him an average 10 million dollars a year or hold the money and be able to re-sign their core of young pitchers. When looking at the situation from that perspective the answer was clear.

Catching prospect Ramon Castro will be asked to take over the majority of starts at the catcher spot and hit 7th in the lineup with backup Mike Redmond filling in part time.


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