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2008 Season Preview: Inside The Florida Marlins

We have two more teams in the NL East to jump to, so we’ll do that today.

Florida MarlinsThe Florida Marlins’ history goes in cycles. The 1993 expansion team built a young foundation before going for broke and winning the 1997 World Series. Then they demolished the entire team, started over with a young foundation before going for broke and winning the 2003 World Series.

Since then — you know — they demolished the team, put together a young foundation and … well, if the cycle holds, Hanley Ramirez and Scott Olsen will be hoisting the trophy next October.

(Yes, Phillies fans, it’s not fair.)

Chances for 2009 — and this year — is among the many things tackled in a Q&A with Craig Strain, author of Fish Stripes, a well-written and enjoyable Marlins blog.

This has to be the lowest the Marlins payroll will go, correct? Or can it get lower?

Mathematically, it could go lower but it is hard to imagine that it will. Assuming the team is going to keep some of the first time arbitration-eligible players, such as Hanley Ramirez and Josh Willingham, and have a few veterans in the mix, it will have to go up.

If the Marlins decide to trade all of the first-time arbitration eligible players in the offseason, it could stay at about the same level next year. I don’t think they will.

It seems every time the Marlins strip its roster bare of big-money stars, the team surprises everyone and becomes a contender. Could the 2008 Marlins be that team, or will it take another year or more?

It should take at least another year or maybe two. The Marlins young starters are still rehabbing from the injuries suffered during the 2006 and early 2007. It’s hard to imagine the team will be contenders with this year’s starting rotation.

What must we know about Cameron Maybin?

Cameron Maybin is as advertised; he is truly a five-tool player, but he is still very young and isn’t ready for the show. Maybin to date has only 20 at bats at the AA level. During spring training it became apparent he still needs to learn how to consistently hit breaking pitches. Once he gets some seasoning, he should be something to watch.

Could Hanley Ramirez be a Triple Crown candidate this year or in the near future?

Hanley Ramirez probably can’t threaten to win a Triple Crown while he’s still batting leadoff, which he is this year. The Marlins will eventually move him down in the order, since that is destiny, but it won’t be this year and probably not next. The other factor is the home park for the Marlins isn’t the most home run friendly park in the NL. The batting title is the most likely award he could win this or next season.

Which player that the Marlins received in the Miguel Cabrera/Dontrelle Willis trade will make the biggest impact in 2008?

Andrew Miller. He is already slated to be the Marlins No. 3 starter. In a perfect world he would’ve started the season in the minors in order to work on his control, but the Marlins didn’t have that luxury.

None of the other players from the trade are on the 25-man roster.

Mark Hendrickson anchors a young pitching staff of mostly lefties. Is Hendrickson the right guy to lead the staff and what can you expect from the young arms this year?

No, Hendrickson is not the right guy to lead the staff. Unfortunately, Minnesota wouldn’t trade Santana for a bag of balls. (The Marlins best offer.) So you take what you can get — in your price range. Like all the young pitchers in the Marlins system, they are very talented, so they could show some flashes. But VandenHurk and Miller are being rushed to the majors and Nolasco is being forced into the rotation when he would be better served building arm strength out of the bullpen. I will be happy if they all just stay healthy.

Scott Olsen is coming off a shoulder injury. He seems to be a high-ceiling pitcher, but he’s faced many obstacles (I won’t get into his much-publicized personality issues). Are you optimistic in his rehab and for his upcoming campaign?

I had Olsen pegged to have a breakout season this year, that was before the injury. Olsen wasn’t cleared to throw until late in spring training and he was hurriedly stretched to get him ready for the season. In other words, his rehab wasn’t on the normal schedule and he was rushed out of the need to have someone fill out the rotation. Let’s just say I’m nervous about the first few weeks of the season.

Returning to the club are relievers who played pretty well in 2007 (Taylor Tankersley, Matt Lindstrom, Lee Gardner, Kevin Gregg). Is the bullpen the team’s biggest strength, and do they get better or worse this season?

The bullpen was last season’s brightest spot. All the pieces are returning and everyone is expecting good things. The one thing I have learned about middle relief is just because they were good last year doesn’t necessarily mean they will be the following year. However, I have high hopes.

Of all the offseason acquisitions, one under-the-radar move I loved was grabbing Luis Gonzalez off free agency. What will he give to this team in 2008?

His main contribution will be veteran leadership — something the Marlins were completely lacking. In the past couple of years, leadership fell to Dontrelle Willis and Miguel Cabrera. While both have been the majors for a number of years they were still very young and in need of leadership themselves. He will also provide a bat off the bench and a spot starter in the outfield and first base.

Finally — seriousness out the window here — how do you feel about the Marlins Manatees?

The person in the Marlins PR department who thought up the idea should be fired!

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