Sunday, July 14, 2002

Trade could ignite Marlins' fire sale

Florida Today

        After the Florida Marlins traded away Cliff Floyd and Ryan Dempster on Thursday, club president David Samson repeatedly said it was not the beginning of a fire sale reminiscent of the post-1997 season, when the team dumped its payroll by 40 percent.

        “This is not a fire sale by any stretch,” Samson said. “... The definition of a fire sale is to put your bottom line in a position where you can cut losses. This trade does not do this at all.

        “I can't imagine how anyone can look at this as a fire sale.”

        OK, let's think about that for a second ... nope, sorry. Still seems like a kiss-off to me.

        The rebuilt Marlins are about to get torn down again, and the Montreal Expos are starting to look like an actual playoff contender.

        Let's get this straight. You trade two of your best and most popular players, and get what in return?

        Juan Encarnacion is having the best season in his four years in the majors, but he was the odd man out in Cincinnati with Ken Griffey Jr., Adam Dunn and Austin Kearns in the outfield.

        Carl Pavano was once one of the brightest prospects in the Expos organization, but he's had arm trouble the past few years and was pitching in the minors.

        Graeme Lloyd missed the 2000 season with a torn labrum, and his 5.87 ERA doesn't exactly sound as though he's going to make people forget the guys the Marlins already have in their bullpen.

        Let's see, that leaves Mike Mordecai — a utility player — two minor-league pitchers and, oh, yes, the vaunted player to be named.

        Hey, we may have something here.

        “The player to be named later in this trade is a significant and key part of this trade,” Marlins general manager Larry Beinfest said. “I welcome you to not totally judge this trade until that player has been disclosed, because he is a major centerpiece of this trade.”

        Uh, unless his last name is Guerrero — and I don't mean Wilton — I'm still not convinced.

        South Florida fans, who saw their team dismantled after winning the 1997 World Series, better start gearing up for another go-around — despite assurances to the contrary.

        “To our fans, I say change in baseball happens and it's good. This is not a white flag by any stretch,” Samson said. “I would say to the fans that this is a sign that not only do we care about this year, but we actually care about future years, and it's exciting to be in a marketplace where we have the luxury of saying we care about the future, as well.”

        Floyd is going to command between $10 million and 12 million as a free agent.

        Dempster, who makes $2.475 million, is likely to get $4 million in arbitration next year.

        Encarnacion — the big player in the deal — makes $1.55 million and will also be eligible for arbitration after this season.

        The Marlins say the trade isn't a fire sale because their payroll did not decrease. In fact, they even shipped the Expos a reported $1.5 million to make the deal work.

        That may be true, but it's also clear the team is looking to dump salary.

        This year's payroll is roughly $40 million and would have jumped to between $65 million and 70 million next season if the roster had remained intact.

        It has been reported that a number of other Marlins could be had, such as catcher Charles Johnson, outfielder Preston Wilson, pitcher Brad Penny and even second baseman Luis Castillo.

        Beinfest said he doesn't comment on trade rumors, but he didn't exactly close the door on other deals, either.

        “Some people are less likely to be traded than others, but if something makes sense and is mutually beneficial, then there certainly could be more,” he said. “But that doesn't mean that people are on the block, or we have to do this or we have to do that.”

        Instead of names on the backs of their uniforms, the Marlins should simply put “Likely” and “Unlikely.”

        That way you wouldn't need a scorecard.

        What they may also want to do is explain to the Marlins players how this will make them better — especially if the team starts to trade away more core players.

        “You're going to start getting everybody aggravated, and everybody's going to want to get out of here,” Floyd told reporters before the trade was announced. “It's a sorry situation.”

        How about Lloyd, who played for the Jeffrey Loria-owned Expos last season?

        “I would rather be here than there,” the reliever told the Canadian Press in Montreal before the learning of the deal. “I've been lied to by (Loria) once or twice, and I don't want to get lied to again.”

        That should make for a real fun clubhouse — guys constantly looking over their shoulder, waiting for their packing orders, if they come at all.

        I want to take the Marlins at their word, to believe these trades will make the team better, now and in the future.

        Who knows, Wayne could turn out to be a steal. Josh Karp — if he is the player to be named later — would be another former No. 1 draft pick to add to the Marlins list of top arms.

        But I just don't see it.

        What I see are more trades, more spin that this is going to make the team better and a bigger dip in the already-minuscule attendance figures.

        Samson, who said the team will launch its 2003 season-ticket plan in a few months, believes the fan base is aching for a management group it can trust.

        He's definitely got that part right. But I think I'll hold back a while — a long while — before I believe these trades are not the beginning of another roster meltdown.

        It's too bad, too. Because this was a team that had not played its best ball but was on pace to do something only one other team in franchise history had done — finish above .500.

        The July 31 trade deadline is now three weeks away. Marlins' players might want to ask the local grocery store to start saving some boxes. They might come in handy.


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