PRESEASON PREVIEW: Florida Marlins

PRESEASON PREVIEW: Florida Marlins

After winning the 1997 World Series, the Florida Marlins let go of many of the players involved. But after their win in the 2003 World Series, many players stayed on with the Marlins, leading them to an 83-79 finish in 2004, good enough for third in the National League East. Despite losing several players to free agency, the Fish will start the season with high hopes.

Additions: Right-handed Pitcher Antonio Alfonseca (free agent- two years, $4.75 million); First Baseman Carlos Delgado (free agent- 4 years, $52 million); Right-handed Pitcher Todd Jones (free agent- 1 year, $1.1 million); Left-handed Pitcher Al Leiter (free agent- 1 year); Right-handed Pitcher Jim Mecir (free agent- 1 year); Right-handed Pitcher John Riedling (free agent- 1year, $750,000). Losses: Right-handed Pitcher Armando Benitez (free agent); Infielder Wil Cordero (free agent); Right-handed Pitcher Josias Manzanillo (free agent); Infielder Mike Mordecai (free agent); Right-handed Pitcher Carl Pavano (free agent); Catcher Mike Redmond (free agent); Right-handed Pitcher Rudy Seanez (free agent); Right-handed Pitcher David Weathers (free agent). Projected Lineup: 1. CF Juan Pierre 2. 2B Luis Castillo 3. RF Miguel Cabrera 4. 1B Carlos Delgado 5. 3B Mike Lowell 6. C Paul LoDuca 7. OF Jeff Conine/Juan Encarnacion 8. SS Alex Gonzalez Juan Pierre gained much of his experience playing in the expansive outfield in Denver with the Rockies. His speed, knowledge, and determination are assets both defensively and offensively, and his clutch play has sparked many a rally throughout his career. The Blue Jays' mediocrity often undermined Carlos Delgado's talent during his twelve seasons with Toronto. He now appears ready to move on and eager to play his first season in the NL.Paul LoDuca struggled a bit after being traded from Los Angeles early in the second half, but he and the Marlins agreed to a contract extension over the winter. Knowing that he's playing for an organization that clearly wants him around should boost LoDuca's spirits and bring him back to All-Star status.Bench: OF Chris Aguila C Mike DiFelice INF Damion Easley INF Lenny Harris Chris Aguila only played in about one quarter of the Marlins games last season, but his power numbers make him a promising rookie. Mike DiFelice has bounced around the last few seasons, never quite settling with one franchise. But as a non-roster invitee, he appears ready to prove his worth. Damion Easley has played all over the infield and does his best when he is a lineup regular. But as a replacement player, he hasn't quite found his niche.Lenny Harris broke the record in 2001 for most career pinch hits and continues to be a threat off the bench. His career centers on his clutch play, and he remains an asset in the eleventh hour. Rotation: RHP Josh Beckett RHP A.J. Burnett LHP Dontrelle Willis LHP Al Leiter RHP Ismael Valdez Coming off a successful 2003, in which he was named WS MVP, Josh Beckett managed a .500 record in 2004, despite injuries. A.J. Burnett remains a big question mark after Tommy John surgery in 2003. His 2004 season ended early, but he appears ready to make a comeback. Dontrelle Willis, the 2003 NL Rookie of the Year, is still settling into the MLB. But his youth may prove to be an asset to a franchise loaded with seasoned players. Al Leiter was part of the 1997 World Champion team and has returned after several seasons with the New York Mets. Though he is eclipsing 40, Leiter has the energy of a younger pitcher, coupled with the experience needed to be a leader in an injury-prone pitching staff. Since his departure from the Los Angeles Dodgers, Ismael Valdez has had trouble settling in with other franchises. He is prone to blisters, but when he is well, his stuff can be quite potent, despite his tendency to give up home runs. Bullpen: RHP Antonio Alfonseca LHP Luke Hagerty RHP Tim Spooneybarger RHP Jim Mecir LHP Matt Perisho RHP Guillermo Mota RHP Todd Jones RHP Tim Riedling Closer Antonio Alfonseca has a proven track record, but his health continues to be a concern. Guillermo Mota has enjoyed success as a setup man with both the Dodgers and the Marlins. However, Florida must groom him for the closing role before handing it over on a silver platter. Tim Spooneybarger had success with the rival Braves, but has struggled since coming to the Marlins. His arm must heal more before he can pick up where he left off. Biggest Question Mark: Tie- A.J. Burnett and Guillermo Mota. Burnett has struggled since his 2003 surgery. He managed to stay just above .500 in 2004, but his season was cut short by arm soreness. He needs more time to mend before he can step back into the No. 1 role. Mota is a great asset to the bullpen as a setup man and long reliever, but struggles as a closer. With Alfonseca's health a major issue, the Marlins need someone that can close out games. Mota seems the logical answer, but in past attempts, the role proved too much for him to handle. It may be in Florida's best interest to acquire or train a backup closer until Mota can show he is ready for the responsibility.Breakout Player: Dontrelle Willis Dontrelle Willis made a name for himself in 2003. Despite a 10-11 record in 2004 and a so-so 4.02 ERA, Willis logged 197 innings in his second season. Projection: Florida lost many players to free agency, but their acquisition of Carlos Delgado shows that they have not resigned themselves to being a perennial .500 franchise. With a mix of youthful energy and experience, the Marlins should put up a good fight against Atlanta. They may not be ready to knock the Braves out of first, but they shouldn't go down quietly.

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