Hot Stove Daily: Florida Marlins

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Editor’s note: Yahoo! Sports will examine the offseason of every MLB team before spring training begins in mid-February. Our series continues with the Florida Marlins.

2008 record: 84-77

Finish: Third place in the National League East.

2008 Opening-day payroll: $21.8 million

2009 estimated Opening-day payroll: $23.5 million

OFFSEASON ACTION

For a team with yearly salary expenditures equivalent to, oh, an average Yankees free-agent signing or so, the Florida Marlins manage to pack plenty of action into their offseasons. While this year’s hasn’t matched the 2007-08 version in terms of heft – that’s to speak of Miguel Cabrera’s weight as a player, not a person – it has outdone last season by volume.

The Marlins’ winter purge has become an annual event for owner Jeffrey Loria, and jettisoned via trade so far are Josh Willingham and Scott Olsen to Washington, Mike Jacobs to Kansas City and Kevin Gregg to the Chicago Cubs. Next could be Jorge Cantu or Dan Uggla. And even Hanley Ramirez’s name was bandied about, according to SI.com.

All, except Ramirez, are eligible for arbitration next season, and that means they’re in line for big raises. In Miami, that is unacceptable. So in come the latest pre-arbitration acquisitions – Emilio Bonifacio, Leo Nunez and three prospects – who hope to be just like the men for whom they were traded: good enough to eventually get spun to a team that actually cares.

Holes do remain after the trades, particularly in the bullpen and at catcher. The Marlins can plug the pitching staff from within. Larry Beinfest and Mike Hill, the team’s brain trust, possess a knack for finding good pitching. The catcher spot, on the other hand, could use a veteran to handle the Marlins’ young rotation. Like, say, Ivan Rodriguez. Who, of course, the Marlins won’t pay much more than the minimum salary. Which, naturally, takes them out of the race.

Perhaps the Marlins could pluck a bargain free agent or two so they don’t enter the season with more than two-thirds of their roster making near the league minimum. Because, hey, this is a franchise with an excellent young rotation, one of the best players in baseball in Ramirez, a power-hitting force in Uggla, the exciting Cameron Maybin primed to take over in center field, Jeremy Hermida poised for a breakout year, Matt Lindstrom throwing 100 mph as closer, and with the right piece here and the right part there, they could contend.

Yeah, right.

Like Loria would actually go out and try to improve.

REALITY CHECK

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Loria

The Florida Marlins really should move to Detroit, because they are baseball’s version of the American auto industry.

The product is decent. It would improve if money were diverted toward it. Instead, the business suffers because of greed. And worst of all, it gets huge sums of bailout money to continue propping up a poor model.

How Loria, professional sports’ preeminent miser, continues to propagate this farce without any backlash from his fellow owners or the players’ association is a mystery. He receives more than $60 million in shared money every season. Yes, the Marlins’ stadium is a sinkhole, and the Florida fans show no desire to support this team. Though the chicken needs to come before the egg? Right?

That an executive of Beinfest’s talent puts up with the constant juggling – it’s like Marlins players are college football stars, three years and gone – highlights just how talented he is and makes him something of a masochist. Imagine what he could do with even Oakland’s payroll seeing as he has stocked the Marlins with not just their bevy of pre-arbitration talent but a minor-league system teeming with prospects.

That’s the frustrating thing about the Marlins: They could be great. They have been, winning two championships in their first decade. Loria has lowered the bar so much that a no-brainer deal like the one Ramirez got last season – $70 million over six years, the only Marlins deal longer than two seasons – was huzzahed as a sign that the Marlins intend to compete.

Not anytime soon, barring a dandy confluence where those minimum-salary kids turn into stars and the leftovers continue to succeed and the rest of the division regresses to the point where it’s for the taking.

That’s not just the hope. It’s the plan. What a joke.

NEXT: Seattle Mariners

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