Posted on: February 26, 2012 8:40 pm
Edited on: March 1, 2012 8:37 pm
JUPITER, Fla. -- When someone suggested to Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria that the Marlins "certainly would be entertaining,'' Loria corrected that person. "More than entertaining,'' Loria said.
"Don't sell us short,'' he further advised.
That probably won't happen, not with two of the game's better salesmen in tow. The best, of course, has to be new manager Ozzie Guillen, who had the players in stitches in his pre-preseason speech, according to Mark Buehrle, who like Guillen came to the Marlins from the White Sox. Guillen saved his best for the speech, because he was maybe too tired to be his outlandish self by the end of the workout, when he finally met with the media.
The speech to the team, though, was said to have been doozy, covering everything up to and including ballplayer patriotism (on that score, he told his troops, "I expect to see everyone get up on that bleeeing step'' for the national anthem). One of the more substantive speech highlights, according to Marlins players, came when Guillen reminded them how much money Loria spent on this team, and also told them he didn't want to see them waste it. An old veteran pooh-poohed the impact of the speech, yet this much is true: the Marlins clubhouse seemed lmuch more alive than ever before.
Some of that has to do with a mix of talent so enticing that when they looked around, it could do nothing but excite them, no matter how much Loria, the other great salesman, spent. (For the record, it was $191 million between shortstop Jose Reyes, lefty starter Mark Buehrle and closer Heath Bell alone). Indeed, there is a lot to love about this team, including the manager and owner who taken together make it three rings in this circus.
The Marlins have maybe the player with the most power of any in the majors in Mike Stanton. They have the player who may be the fastest in the game in Emilio Bonificio. And, for good measure, they have the one who may have the most to prove in the perpetually temperamental Carlos Zambrano after the Cubs wanted him gone so badly they paid all but $3 million of his $18-million salary to be rid of him. (Though talented new third baseman Hanley Ramirez may not be far behind in that competition.)
Whatever happens there, Loria isn't going to be able to pull a John Henry and act like he wasn't behind the Zambrano deal since Loria said, "The trade was made with my enthusiastic support. I don't care what's happened before. The page is turned''
What happens next is really what's on the mind of the Marlins. The excitement truly was palpable in a clubhouse filled with interesting people. "This team has a lot of personalities,'' Loria allowed.
They also have the friendly lefthander Buehrle, a transplanted American Leaguer. They have the chatty veteran closer, Heath Bell. They have the superstar on the move, Ramirez. They have the safety-last veteran outfielder Aaron Rowand, another of Guillen's former White Sox. And they have the baseball's twitter champion, Logan Morrison, who last year upset his bosses with some dazzling tweets (though truth be told, they were much tamer than those of Giuillen's youngest son Oney, who used to rip his daad's boss Ken Williams all the time in tweets).
For now Guillen has no complaints with anything here, certainly not Loria, whose big winter disappointment was the failure to sign superstar first baseman Albert Pujols, which would have at least doubled their payout, depending on who you ask. Marlins people say they bid $201 million for Pujols, while someone in Pujols' camp suggested they actually offered $275 million. There were a couple brief dalliances with Prince Fielder, but there seemed to be a hierarchical split over whether to seriously pursue him, with Loria seemingly much more interested than team president David Samson, who declared during the middle of continuing reports that the Marlins were still involved that they had actually no interest in Fielder. A few people who dealt with the Marlins did say they sensed a bit of a split on a couple choices between Loria and Samson, Loria's former son-in-law. And in a couple of those cases, Samson seemed to have gotten his way (Fielder would have been yet another big personality in the Marlins' vastly improved clubhouse.)
Even though the Marlins didn't get the supertsr first baseman they badly wanted or the second-choice first baseman some of their top people wanted, they still spent more than anyone by the Angels, the signers of Pujols and C.J. Wilson, yet another top pitcher the Marlins tried for (they offered $99 million before Wilson went to his hometown Angels for $77.5 million). Speaking of the winter, Loria said, "We met out expectations.''
With all the money spent, and all the excitement that comes with the new players plus the say-anything Guillen, the hope is that the Marlins get back to the playoffs this year, even if Loria wouldnt go far as to out-and-out predict that. While he did say this is the strongest Marlins team he's had to start a season, including the eventual World Series champion 2003 edition, Loria declined to predict a World Series for this talented, eclectic mix.
Instead, the Marlins owner offered a bit of advice to the reporters. "You want predictions,'' Loria said, "call Samson.''
Posted on: February 25, 2012 5:20 pm
Edited on: February 26, 2012 8:21 am
Ft. Myers, Fla. -- Joe Mauer praised Jose Reyes for his great season and National League batting title, but Mauer, the three-time batting titleist, said he wouldn't sit on a lead to win a fourth title, as Reyes did.
"I don't think (personal) awards like that should take the place of playing the games,'' Mauer said. "You should play the game the right away, and let the chips fall where they may.''
Back in 2006, when Mauer was trying for his first batting title and holding a slim lead over Yankees Derek Jeter and Robinson Cano going into the final day of the regular season, in 2006, Twins manager Ron Gardenhire came to Mauer and said to him something along the lines of "What do you think?'' Gardenhire appeared to be opening the door to Mauer possibly sitting the game out.
The Twins already had wrapped up a playoff spot, but the idea of sitting out was so far from Mauer's mind he didn't even know what Gardenhire meant at first. Once explained to him, Mauer said he wanted to play. He DH'ed, went 2 for 4 and won with a .347 batting average, to .343 for Jeter and .342 for Cano. Mauer has since won second and third titles in 2008 and '09, with averages of .328 and .365 for the unprecedented three titles for a catcher. Before Mauer won even one, the last catcher to win one was Ernie Lombardi with the Reds eons ago.
Of course, Mauer would love a fourth batting title. But first he has to show he's back to being a star. To have a chance do that, he has to be heatlhy. He knows he tried to come back too soon last year, starting the season with the Twins after his winter knee surgery wasn't all healed. Some team doctor really should have stepped in, but Mauer took the blame. "You want to be in there and play the game,'' he said. "It's easy to look back on it now and I say I definitely wasn't ready. You learn from it and move on.''
Mauer said he's feeling much better now. "Night and day,'' he said.
He wouldn't guess at how many games he'll catch, though. "I'm going to be in the lineup as much as I can. When I'm in the lineup, we're a better team. And when I'm catching we're a better team,'' he said. "If it's up to me, I'd be out there for 162.''
Most of the Twins teams failed to come close to the 162-game mark last year, as disaster befell them. Mauer wound up having only three home runs, 30 RBIs and a .287 batting average. Justin Morneau never fully recovered from concussion symptoms and other ailments.
"Last year everything that could go wrong went wrong,'' Mauer said. "I don't want to say it was a fluke. We still want to get after it.''
He's thrilled to see Morneau putting in the long days without hesitation now. Morneau accidentally made a stir the day before when, responding to a hypothetical question about what would happen if he had another concussion, honestly mentioned he might not have a career under that circumstance. But Morneau said today he has remained symptom-free for more than a month and seemed pleased by how he'd held up here. "So far, so good,'' he said.
The others have noticed, too. "He's smiling and out there moving around,'' Mauer noted of Morneau.
That's a positive sign, because as Mauer and Morneau go, so go the Twins.