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Saturday, October 25, 2003
Pitching will keep Marlins strong

By Peter Gammons
Special to ESPN.com

Oct. 25

NEW YORK -- Even before the Marlins attempted to become the first visiting team since the '81 Dodgers to drink champagne at Yankee Stadium, and before they took on the ghosts that Derek Jeter hears, Game 6 loomed as a fascinating, if flawed, contrast between teams coming from distinctively different cultures. Five thoughts:

Josh Beckett
Josh Beckett thus far hasn't lived up to the expecations that were placed on him heading into this season.
1. If owner Jeffrey Loria gets a stadium deal in place before Christmas, as he privately thinks he can, the Marlins will have the wherewithal to keep the heart of this team intact. And, if all the postseason scrambling doesn't result in a long line at Dr. James Andrews' office, the Marlins' heart, their young pitching, can keep them in contention for years to come. Josh Beckett can be special. While he has disturbed many with his lack of respect during this postseason and doesn't seem to understand that winning more than nine games is a requisite requirement for greatness, he does have great stuff, apparent tough makeup and a chance to be a No. 1. Brad Penny, who really wants to be good, has learned a lot and showed a ton in the postseason. Carl Pavano, overcoming years of injuries and setbacks, has learned to locate his fastball underneath left-handed hitters' hands and use the rest of the plate. A.J. Burnett, who may be the best of them all, thinks he can be back from injury early next season.

The problem is signing them all. They project to nearly $13 million next year. Then, Pavano is a free agent at the end of the season, as are Burnett and Penny at the end of 2005. The Phish can find solutions to a lot of their payroll issues: Let Luis Castillo and Ugueth Urbina walk, trade Derrek Lee, trade Juan Encarnacion, try to sign Pudge Rodriguez, try to sign Mike Lowell long-term. But if this is going to be a viable franchise long-term, the Marlins must keep their young pitchers. In contrast, the Yankees already have $107.5 million committed for 2005, including $42.75 million to four pitchers: Mike Mussina, Jose Contreras, Steve Karsay and Jeff Weaver.

Incidentally, if then-owner Wayne Huizenga hadn't dumped payroll in 1998, the Marlins wouldn't have Beckett; he was going to go in the top three of the '99 draft, and Florida had to finish last to get him.

The payroll look:

SIGNED
Conine, OF $4.686M
Pierre, OF $2.4M

FREE AGENTS
Rodriguez, C $9.6M
Urbina, P $4M
Castillo, 2b $4.85M

ARBITRATION ELIGIBLE
Lee: 5 years of service; $4.25M in 2003; $7.25M projected for 2004
Lowell: 5; $3.7M; $7.5M
Encarnacion: 5; $3.45M; $6.5M
Pavano: 5; $1.5M; $3.5M
Burnett: 4; $2.5M; $3.5M
Looper: 5; $1.5M; $2.5M
Gonzalez: 5; $1.7M; $3.5M
Penny: 4; $1.875M; $3.5M
Redman: 3; $2.15M; $3.75M

Beckett isn't arbitration eligible, but he made $1.725M and likely won't be cut.

2. Luis Castillo's free agent value has taken a dive this postseason. The Mets, Yanks and Red Sox had interest, but now have serious questions about his ability to play in one of those two markets.

3. There is a lot of Alfonso Soriano trade talk around the Yankees. What has bothered them most is that he's become enveloped in a fog so thick that when Willie Randolph tries to position him from the dugout, he hears nothing. So, the staff has to have Jason Giambi or Nick Johnson get his attention from first base and direct him to the right place.

4. Speaking of Giambi, he hasn't been able to drive off his back leg all season. But then, how does Derek Jeter do what he does with two bad shoulders and a thumb so bad he wears a brace off the field. It's beyond anyone's comprehension.

5. Mariano Rivera is the Cary Grant of his baseball generation.

Barring some unforeseen circumstance, Grady Little will be fired at the end of the World Series, and the Orioles are interested in interviewing him. Little's hunch-playing never went over well with Boston owner John Henry, and the Yawkey Way Offices feel that his indecision in the playoffs was an indication of far deeper issues that would be accentuated if he returns to a city that has made him a scrapecoat above all scapecoats.

The Red Sox do not have a successor in mind, although it is certain that Dodgers bench coach Glenn Hoffman (a former Red Sox infielder), Angels pitching coach Bud Black, A's bench coach Terry Francona and Indians bench coach Joel Skinner will be among those interviewed.

If New England fans think that a new manager will be accompanied by a couple of big-name free agents, they will be disappointed. The Red Sox are committed to nearly $110 million in '04, so unless they can move salary or end up trading Nomar Garciaparra -- unlikely since the Padres have backed off -- they'll have to settle for a Tier II starting pitcher and subtle additions. There is no way they can take a plunge on Bartolo Colon (who reporterdly turned down a three-year, $35 million deal from the White Sox) or Andy Pettitte, so the best hope of improving their starting pitching may be signing Kelvim Escobar and moving Byung-Hyun Kim into the rotation.

Vladimir Guerrero
Guerrero

Miguel Tejada
Tejada

The most impressive early candidate for the Orioles' managerial job was Rich Dauer, although Tom Foley, Francona and Little will all be very strong candidates. Once that is done, Baltimore will try to add two positional players and two pitchers, with the first priority a shortstop -- either Miguel Tejada or Kaz Matsui. The O's will look into Vladimir Guerrero, but won't go hard if he's much past $15 million. ... The Mets are waiting to see if Omar Minaya accepts the Gene Michael role with GM Jim Duquette. ... Now that Dan O'Brien has gotten the Reds' GM job after paying many years of dues, all eyes are on the Dodgers if and when Frank McCourt takes over as owner. MLB insists that his financing is in place, which, when set, will allow him to pursue Billy Beane. A New York investment banker who put together the bid for another Dodgers suitor says, "the problem is that as a baseball deal, it makes no sense. Granted, revenues are absurdly low [under $150 million, 16th in the majors] for Los Angeles, but you can't get the payroll under $95 million next season. It needs to be a real estate deal. Build another park and develop the land where the current stadium sits." The problem facing Dan Evans, or whoever is GM, is that the Dodgers need a whole new infield and two-thirds of an outfield. If George Steinbrenner gets angry enough at Jeff Weaver, maybe L.A. can do Darren Dreifort for Weaver. ... Henry Aaron says "I hope Barry Bonds gets my record. He's a great player, and it's good for the game." Does Aaron hope that the publicity will help America finally appreciate him? "Sure," says Aaron, the most underrated player who ever lived. "But I never was flashy, or flamboyant. I was a steady, everyday guy who tried to contribute to every phase of the game. I wasn't a home run hitter, per se. People compare me to Willie Mays, but we were different types. If you went to see me on Sunday, then on Wednesday, you probably saw the same things. Any day you saw Willie you might have seen something you'd never seen before. I'm proud of Barry. I have great respect for him, and I appreciate the fact that he's been so respectful to me." ... When you spend most of your adult life loving someone from afar, isn't it great when you find out she's even greater than you imagined? Emmy Lou Harris has been a woman of many of our dreams for many years. A friend of the great Minneapolis Tribune columnist Patrick Reusse's wife is seriously ill with cancer. When Ms. Harris played the Twin Cities recently, Ms. Reusse called Harris's publicist and asked for tickets, as this would likely be her friend's last concert. Emmy Lou called the woman, took her to lunch and to the concert and had her backstage afterwards. And sing "Poncho and Lefty," too.