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Marlins need pitching more than Pujols
The Marlins gave Albert Pujols the grand tour of their new ballpark. They made him a nine-year offer. They plan to meet with his agent, Dan Lozano, at the winter meetings on Monday or Tuesday and apply even more of a full-court press, major league sources say.
But the Marlins should not sign Albert Pujols.
No, the Marlins should sign one of the free-agent left-handed starting pitchers, C.J. Wilson or Mark Buehrle. They should try like crazy to trade for another starter, preferably someone like the Rays’ James Shields or Athletics’ Gio Gonzalez. They should fix their rotation, the weakness that they supposedly wanted to fix all along.
Now, it’s impossible to say that signing Pujols is bad. The Marlins have wanted both Pujols and free-agent shortstop Jose Reyes from the start, sources say, to build a fearsome lineup behind two Dominican stars who would be big box office draws in Miami.
Well, the Marlins got Reyes on Sunday, reaching agreement with him on a six-year, $106 million contract. And they view Pujols — correctly — as one of the best hitters in the history of the game, a slugger who could break Barry Bonds’ home-run mark in their uniform. Pujols, with 445 career homers, needs 318 more to pass Bonds.
“If you’ve got a chance to sign Reyes and Pujols, you do it, you just do it,” one Marlins official said early Monday morning. “It’s unheard of; historic.”
That it would be, particularly for a team that only a year ago trumpeted catcher John Buck as a major free-agent signing. Just consider what the Marlins’ lineup might look like if both Reyes and Pujols wore the team’s garish new uniforms:
Pretty darned impressive, but the question would remain: How the heck would the Marlins shut opponents down?
The bullpen should be strong after the addition of closer Heath Bell, who signed a three-year, $27 million free-agent contract. The rotation, however, is one question after another, starting with ace right-hander Josh Johnson, who did not pitch after May 16 because of a shoulder injury that was not surgically repaired.
Righty Anibal Sanchez, coming off consecutive 195-inning, sub-3.70 ERA seasons, would seem a good bet, particularly in his free-agent year. But righty Ricky Nolasco finished with a 4.67 ERA last season — only slightly worse than his career average — and righty Chris Volstad was so bad, he spent time in the minors.
True, the Marlins would trade first baseman Gaby Sanchez if they signed Pujols and maybe third-base prospect Matt Dominguez now that Hanley Ramirez is expected to move from short to third. Perhaps Sanchez (.266, 19, 78) could fetch a lesser Rays starter such as Wade Davis (11-10, 4.45) or Jeff Niemann (11-7, 4.06). But he’s not enough to bring back Shields (16-12, 2.82) or Gonzalez (16-12, 3.12), both of whom, by the way, are starting to earn big salaries.
Trading Ramirez (.243, 10, 45) before he could sulk over his proposed position change would open all kinds of possibilities. Problem is, the Marlins likely are recruiting Pujols with the promise that they will keep their best players, not trade them away.
Trading Morrison (.247, 23, 72), the team’s only left-handed power threat, would be even more counter-productive. The Marlins’ switch-hitters, Reyes and Bonifacio, aren’t sluggers. Outfielder Chris Coghlan, another left-handed hitter, frequently is injured.
But let’s go back to the start. Signing Pujols would turn the Marlins into one of those clubs that would win games 10-8 but be completely vulnerable in the postseason, should they actually qualify.
Signing Pujols also would cost the Marlins at least $210 million over nine years, and probably closer to $250 million over 10; the team might need to offer him the extra year to separate itself from the Cardinals.
The better solution would be to sign Wilson (16-7, 2.94) or Buehrle (13-9, 3.59), trade Sanchez for a Davis or Niemann and find an inexpensive solution for left to pair with Coghlan.
Buehrle, though, might be out of the question — he wants a no-trade clause, and the Marlins, in keeping with club policy, did not even grant one to Reyes. Wilson, meanwhile, might command $100 million over six years. Many teams consider that too high a price.
You can almost see the Marlins’ logic: Neither Wilson nor Buehrle is a true ace, so why not load up on the best available hitters? Pujols and Reyes would be the Fish’s version of LeBron James and Dwyane Wade (the portly Bell, while quite accomplished, is not to be confused with Chris Bosh or any sleek NBA athlete). But basketball is more of an individual sport than baseball. A major league team cannot win with just a few offensive stars.
No, a team needs starting pitching, quality starting pitching, the kind the Marlins lacked last season when they ranked 12th in the National League in ERA. Pujols would transform the franchise, packing the new park, elevating the offense to elite. But would he make the Marlins winners? Not single-handedly. Not if the rotation stunk.
It’s a time-honored formula, but the Marlins, who overnight have gone from a revenue-sharing recipient to the Yankees of the South, are not exactly following conventional wisdom, or logic.
Pujols over pitching it is, at least for now.
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