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CNN/SI Preview: Florida Marlins
Posted: Tuesday March 02, 1999 05:47 PM
By Greg Auman, CNN/SI
Player to Watch: Alex Gonzalez, SS
Most of the Florida Marlins' trades last year were prompted by payroll concerns. One, however, was prompted by Alex Gonzalez.
The promising 22-year-old shortstop made All-Star Edgar Renteria, one of the last remnants of the '97 World Champs, expendable -- he was dealt to the Cardinals for three prospects. A solid season of winter ball should help get his offense -- a .151 average in 25 games last year -- on par with a stellar defense.
Gonzalez has a good shot to make a name for himself, but then again, he's not even baseball's best shortstop named Alex Gonzalez. His namesake in Toronto -- who's from Miami, complicated things more -- will likely be the other Alex Gonzalez by midseason.
1998 Recap (54-108, 5th in East)
An unbelievable World Series in 1997 was trumped by a more unbelievable fire sale that saw the payroll slashed from $53 million to $14 million -- only three Marlins with championship rings played in the last game of the season.
The Marlins finished 52 games behind the Atlanta Braves with baseball's worst record in 19 years. Their 54 wins was 20 fewer than any previous defending World Series champ. On the other hand, they used a league record 27 rookies.
The team had All-Star catcher Mike Piazza for all of five games, acquiring him from the Dodgers and then dealing him to the Mets.
Things can only get better. The opening day starter will likely be Alex Fernandez, who missed all of 1998 with a torn rotator cuff. If only some of those 27 rookies develop -- watch outfielders Mark Kotsay, Todd Dunwoody, Cliff Floyd, Pat Watkins and Preston Wilson, with an average age of 24 on opening day -- the offense will have the power it lacked last season.
Third baseman Mike Lowell, obtained from the Yankees for three prospects, will miss part of the season undergoing radiation treatments for testicular cancer, but his return is eagerly anticipated. Catcher Jorge Fabregas, acquired from the Mets, should be better at the plate than Charles Johnson was, though his skills behind the plate are a dropoff. First baseman Derrek Lee saw his batting average increase 40 points from the first half of the season to the second.
Perhaps the biggest change from last season is in the dugout, where Jim Leyland is gone and John Boles takes over, as he did for 75 games after Rene Lachemann was fired during the 1996 season. He's managed at various levels in the minors and had been the Marlins' director of player development since the team's inception, so if anyone knew who those 27 rookies were last season, it was Boles.
Pitching is a concern -- after Fernandez and '97 hero Livan Hernandez, there's Jesus Sanchez and Brian Meadows, who combined to win 18 games as rookies last year. Dennis Springer, who started 17 games for the Devil Rays last season, also may fit in the rotation.
The worst season in two decades allows for a fair amount of relative optimism in Florida. The Marlins won't be stunning anyone in the postseason this year, but if things go right, Florida can find its way out of the cellar in 1999.
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