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Going south

Orioles, Marlins, Cardinals look like cellar-dwellers

Posted: Friday March 21, 2008 12:39PM; Updated: Saturday March 22, 2008 7:50PM
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Adam Jones
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FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Down here in the forgotten towns of spring training, reside three teams struggling to find their identities. And once the season starts, three teams that should struggle to find wins, as well.

This is South Florida, where great teams are but a memory, and the Orioles (in Fort Lauderdale) and the Marlins and Cardinals (in Jupiter) barely resemble some of their championship teams of years past. Down here, according to one scout who's seen all these clubs, are "three teams in flux.'' Which is a nice way of saying they don't have a chance this year.

With the help of a group of scouts who have seen them play this spring, here's a snapshot of these three likely also-rans:

Baltimore Orioles

They don't really have a bona fide shortstop, they won't have a second baseman if Brian Roberts is dealt to the Cubs, as expected, and they don't have many sure things in the starting rotation, either. Daniel Cabrera is still hit-and miss, and Adam Loewen "couldn't get the ball over,'' in his last start, according to one scout.

Rebuilding was the right thing to do. But there will be pain to accompany the hope. Adam Jones, who came in the Erik Bedard trade, is seen as a potential star in center field, but one scout said he sees him as an eighth-place hitter at the start. Said that scout, "Fastballs, he's fine ... breaking balls, not so fine.''

They found new homes for stars Miguel Tejada and Bedard but are still stuck with some dead wood, such as Jay Gibbons, who apparently isn't the same player without the steroids. "He can't play at all,'' one scout said.

Said another scout, "I'd be very surprised if they didn't finish behind Tampa Bay.''

Florida Marlins

Unlike the other two, "at least the Marlins have some talent,'' one scout said.

They also have an $18 million payroll, which means they have nowhere to go but up. You'd think that, anyway, but Marlins ownership seems to understand that baseball is an unusual business; if you spend almost nothing, you can guarantee yourselves a profit.

The only Marlins players making seven figures are their closer, Kevin Gregg, and outfielder Luis Gonzalez, meaning Florida will be guaranteed a huge profit again this year (they can say what they want about their financial struggles, but it stands to reason it's impossible not to make money when you're spending next to nothing).

The Marlins do have superior scouting, and as one scout from an American League team pointed out, "What's exciting about them is they have a lot of young power arms coming up.'' (those include Aaron Thompson, Brett Sinkbeil, Gaby Hernandez and Dallas Trahern.) Though for now, they should struggle.

Left hander Andrew Miller, who came in the Miguel Cabrera/Dontrelle Willis trade, "hasn't really shown he's ready,'' one scout said. And Cameron Maybin, the talented outfielder who came with him, might not be, either. Even if he is, the speculation is strong he'll be sent down to the minors to delay his arbitration, and yes, to save the Marlins more money.

St. Louis Cardinals

According to one scout, "They're doing to St. Louis what (Peter) Angelos did to Baltimore. They're ruining the tradition.''

And according to another, "Of the three teams, they're the ones who are going to have a difficult time reaching or exceeding expectations.''

Two years off their surprise World Series championship, the Cardinals are largely a conglomeration of Mitchell Report-mentioned players, starting pitchers who started as relievers and disappointing and/or one-dimensional players. One scout said, "After (Albert) Pujols, (Yadier) Molina and (Adam) Wainwright and Ryan Franklin, I'm not sure who I'd want from this team.''

Pujols' elbow condition is a worry but isn't affecting his play to date; he's hitting .370 with five home runs and 13 RBIs. One scout said opposing teams should walk Pujols like teams used to walk Barry Bonds. And another noted that without Scott Rolen, Jim Edmonds and David Eckstein, "they've lost a lot of athleticism.''

The Cardinals do have tradition, loyal fans, always-prepared manager Tony La Russa and pitching maestro Dave Duncan, who will try to piece it all together. Brad Thompson is the latest to be pulled from the bullpen, a la Wainwright and Braden Looper, to save the rotation.

Their cost-conscious ways appear to be catching up to them, though. They've taken a lot of fliers lately as a way to save money (for instance, Matt Clement and Mark Mulder aren't ready to help). It appears a long season looms

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