- Bob Klapisch, MLB
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The Marlins lost the battle for the cellar with the Nationals, finishing in last place for the first time since 1999. Florida's pitchers allowed the most runs in the National League, and the team totaled the fewest home victories.
Clearly, the franchise is in flux until it's determined whether a new ballpark will be built in south Florida.
Starting pitching: The Marlins' staff never entirely recovered from the combined losses (due to injuries) of Anibal Sanchez and Ricky Nolasco. Sanchez last pitched in May, after which he underwent shoulder surgery. He likely will not be ready by Opening Day. Nolasco is now working his way back in the Arizona Fall League.
Catcher: Miguel Olivo is likely to move on, and this is one area the Marlins may look outside the organization to fill.
Paul Lo Duca looks like a perfect fit, since he's not in the Mets' plans for '08 and has a history with the Marlins. The 35-year-old catcher made $6.6 million last year, but won't command the same salary in '08. Lo Duca is long in the tooth (1,015 career games) which means he'll likely split time with Matt Treanor even in the Marlins do pluck him off the market.
Miguel Cabrera: It would be a painful transaction, jettisoning their best hitter who is both young (24) and still cheap (not eligible for free agency until after 2009). But dealing Cabrera may be the only way for the Marlins to significantly upgrade their pitching staff. Everyone will be calling about him this winter.
Dontrelle Willis: His 5.17 ERA has practically doubled since his fine 22-win season in 2005. Willis is only 26, so it's hard to believe his arm is tired. But he made a franchise record 35 starts last year, and exceeded 200 innings for the third straight season. The Marlins say they're keeping him around, but you never know.
Chris Volstad: A 6-foot-7 right-hander who is working his way up the corporate ladder. Started at Class A last year and finished with a 4-2 record and 3.16 ERA at Double-A.
Given their budgetary restraints, the Marlins will have to pass on Jones and Hunter (and, it goes without saying, Alex Rodriguez, despite his Florida roots). Until ownership has a more secure revenue stream -- meaning, a new ballpark -- the Marlins will have to rely on in-house solutions to improve on last season's performance. That is, unless they're ready for a radical solution, like trading Cabrera and/or Willis.
Bob Klapisch is a sports columnist for The Record (N.J.) and a regular contributor to ESPN.com.
While it wouldn't be popular, trading Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis could help the Marlins to be more competitive over the long haul.