Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Could Be Worse...

...We could be the Florida Marlins.

The past two seasons, the Florida Marlins have shown signs that they're about to turn the corner and go on one of their improbable runs a la 2003. Unlike the Mets, who seemed to have a reliance on aging veterans, the Marlins were a young team, built mostly out of the prospects received in trades when some of their young stars became to expensive to retain. It was unfortunate, and rather embarrassing, that the Marlins weren't able to keep their championship team of 2003 together for a longer period of time, but, so be it. It's hard to get too broken up about a team in your own division that can't seem to build upon anything they do.

Such is the case once again. Last November, I picked the Marlins to make a major step forward, contend with the Mets and hop over Philly to win the NL Wildcard in 2008. About 3 weeks later, the Marlins dealt their best hitter and, arguably, their best pitcher, Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis, to the Detroit Tigers for a roster's worth of Minor League talent, very few of whom played a role with the team in '08.

The 2008 Marlins again hung tough, and were right there with the Mets and Philly before fading down the stretch. This young team was becoming a cohesive unit, with guys like Mike Jacobs, Dan Uggla, Josh Willingham and Hanley Ramirez finding themselves, and a young pitching staff that was rapidly improving. After the Marlins successfully kicked the Mets in the nuts the final weekend of the season, I figured, once again, that the Marlins would continue to get better and more than likely pass the Mets in 2009, unless the Mets did something major.

Instead, the Marlins are breaking themselves up again. It was one thing when Mike Jacobs was quietly dealt to Kansas City for a pitching prospect. Odd, yes, but Jacobs was due a big raise in Arbitration, and with players like Dallas McPherson and Jorge Cantu clogging up the infield, Jacobs was certainly an expendable commidity. But last night, the Marlins did it again, dealing streaky outfielder Josh Willingham and talented headcase Scott Olsen to the Washington Nationals, again for a package of Minor Leaguers headlined by 2Bman Emilio Bonifacio, which would lead you to believe that a deal involving Dan Uggla is imminent.

So much for the Marlins moving forward. Right now, the best they can hope for is to stand still. Many of the pitchers and the spare pieces remain, but who knows who else is going to be dealt? Ramirez is certainly safe as he's under a long-term contract. But other young pitchers such as Anibal Sanchez or Josh Johnson could be moved as well, interesting from a team that was planning to increase their spending. They're looking at plugging these holes with prospects and raw talent that may or may not be ready yet. Certainly, the "core"of the Marlins team had done that after being mostly thrown together in 2006. Again, I'm not complaining.

On the other side, the Nationals should certainly benefit from having Willingham and Olsen around, but this deal isn't going to suddenly turn the Nationals into contenders. In an outfield that's already clogged up by Lastings Milledge, Elijah Dukes (Bitch!), Austin Kearns and Wily Mo Pena, Willingham becomes, quite possibly, the best of the bunch. On a pitching staff that was headlined by Odalis Perez and a random mishmash of awful, the sweaty (though I figure he won't sweat as much in Washington as he did in Florida), drunken Scott Olsen all of a sudden is the best pitcher on that team. This trade should improve the Nationals, and perhaps the Nats were only a player or two away from contending, but I don't think it was these two players. They've still got a lot of holes. By dealing a pair of their more talented guys to a team mostly devoid of talent, the Marlins have made things a bit easier for the Mets and Philly. They probably won't be a major contender, just a pain in the ass like they usually are. Washington? Who knows.

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