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15 posts from February 2010

February 09, 2010

Leo Nunez is the Closer -- For Now

   Larry Beinfest told reporters at Tuesday's annual media luncheon that when it comes to analyzing bullpens, heading into a season, he's probably "the last guy to ask."

   "When I think they're good, they're not good," Beinfest said. "And when they're good, I think they're bad."

   And when Beinfest and the Marlins tab someone as their closer, as they've done with Leo Nunez, it doesn't mean the job is theirs to keep forever, or even as long as a full season.

   Just ask Guillermo Mota, Jorge Julio, Kevin Gregg and Matt Lindstrom. Each started the season as the Marlins' closer at one time -- Mota in 2005, Julio in '07, Gregg in '08 and Lindstrom in '09 -- before losing the role to someone else.

Over the previous five seasons, only Joe Borowski in 2006 went wire to wire as Marlins closer. Going back even further, Armando Benitez was the team's closer throughout the 2004 season. But Braden Looper ended up relinquishing the role to Ugueth Urbina in 2003.

"Maybe we'll change the (recent) pattern," Beinfest said.

    -- Speaking of  the Marlins bullpen, check out this Q & A with Seth McClung, the former Brewer the Marlins signed to a minor-league deal. Interesting stuff.

February 02, 2010

Sources: Marlins Have Made No Offer to Russell Branyan

   The Marlins are "kicking the tires" on a number of left-handed hitters for a bench role, and Russell Branyan is one of them. But, contrary to a published report, two sources said the Marlins have NOT made an offer for the free agent first baseman.

    "Not true," said one person close to the player.

    Another source confirmed that, saying the Marlins have merely contacted Branyan's agent, as they have done with more than a few players, to gauge the situation. It's possible they might have even tossed around salary figures. But no deal was ever offered.

    The Marlins are looking for someone to fill the vacancy created by the departure of Ross Gload, who signed with the Phillies.

   One player apparently out of the bench mix: former Marlin Alfredo Amezaga.

   Amezaga, a switch-hitter who was non-tendered by the Marlins in November after missing most of last season with a knee injury, is reportedly drawing strong interest from the Los Angeles Dodgers.

   The Marlins can also forget about a Kevin Gregg reunion. The reliever is reportedly closing in on a deal with the Toronto Blue Jays.


Russell Branyan? Really??

   Upon hearing of ESPN.com's Jayson Stark report about the Marlins offering a contract to first baseman Russell Branyan, my immediate thought was, "You mean Mike Jacobs isn't still available?" Branyan is a left-handed hitter with wallop, but one who also strikes out often and doesn't stand out defensively. According to Stark's report, the Marlins are interested in Branyan as a left-handed bat off the bench and insurance in case they decide rookie first basemen Gaby Sanchez and Logan Morrison aren't up to snuff. The Marlins might also be thinking of having the veteran Branyan share first base duties with a younger understudy, either Sanchez or Morrison.

    In typical Marlins style, according to Stark, the team has offered Branyan a 1-year deal that is low on base pay and heavy on performance incentives. That's smart, considering Branyan has back issues.

    Branyan certainly isn't the reincarnation of Ross Gload. Gload was a pinch-hitting monster for the Marlins last season. He led the majors in pinch hits and was a fielding upgrade at first who was often used as a late-inning defensive replacement. The NL champion Phillies recognized Gload's talents and outbid the Marlins for him over the winter.

  Branyan? He has a career pinch-hitting average of .165 and is an average to below-average fielder at first. He swung a hefty stick with the Seattle Mariners last season, belting 31 home runs. But he was a strike out victim more than a third of the time. By comparison, Dan Uggla struck out ONLY 26.5 percent of the time with the Marlins in '09.

 So if the Marlins are to sign Branyan, are they thinking of him as a bench player who stinks as a pinch-hitter? Or are they thinking of him as a starter who comes with defensive liabilities, as well as an excessively high whiff rate?

  To be fair, I spoke with a scout who thought Branyan made sense for the Marlins.

 "If he's healthy, he can play darn near every day and would allow you to take time with Logan Morrison's development," the scout said. "I'm a huge Gaby Sanchez fan. I like the kid. I respect him. But he's the backside of a first base platoon. I like the Branyan offer."

  I just don't see it. Larry Beinfest has said before that he would prefer his bench players be able to play multiple positions. Branyan is your basic corner stiff. Beinfest also doesn't care for swing-and-miss guys, which is why Preston Wilson, Miguel Olivo and Mike Jacobs didn't stick around for very long under his watch.

  Branyan does one thing well: hit for power. But he doesn't hit lefties, strikes out a ton, and hasn't been successful off the bench. He has played more than 100 games in only three seasons since breaking into the majors in 1998.

  If the Marlins wind up with this guy, I'll be surprised.

Final Thoughts: John Baker Diary

Some members of the Marlins -- including manager Fredi Gonzalez, outfielder Chris Coghlan and president of baseball operations Larry Beinfest -- spent the past week in Iraq on a goodwill mission, visiting troops. Marlins catcher John Baker has agreed to serve as a foreign correspondent, sharing his thoughts and observations on the trip by sending occasional updates to Fish Bytes. Here's his latest.

Time for reflection. Up in the air, somewhere between DC and San Francisco, on the last leg of a twenty four hour travel day...

As I look back on this experience, the people I’ve met and the things I’ve seen, I am overwhelmed with different emotions. It makes me want to live my life in a much more aggressive and proactive fashion. One can only hear someone say, “When I get out of here and go back home I am going to...” so many times with out feeling guilty. I am home. I am “out of here”. I feel a renewed sense of responsibility to seize life, to make the most of each day because each day of freedom is a gift. Our freedom is protected everyday by our armed forces, take away their power, and we as a nation are powerless. Take away their courage, and we will (and SHOULD) be scared. I feel that I have been generally unaware in the past, not in tune to what is really happening in our nation and around the world. I feel embarrassed in my aloof attitude towards our military affairs and global policies, but vow to become more educated and in tune.

I would be lying if I didn’t mention that a few times I looked around and thought “what the hell are we doing here?” I wondered why it is OUR men and women that stand guard at the Iraq and Iran border. How come OUR Marine Corps has to guard the IA General, what is wrong with the IA? But then I talked with the people there and it all became clear. I remembered what we stand for as a country, united against tyranny in our infancy and obligated to protect the weak as we have grown powerful. Not obligated by law, but obligated by our nature as Americans. Many may argue that we shouldn’t be in Iraq at all, but I will say that the overwhelming response from the Iraqis I met is that their country is in a much better place now, than it was ten years ago. They seem very grateful for our help and guidance. Our service members don’t want our pity for their difficult situation, they want our support. They chose their careers.

Another interesting aspect is the sense of team and teamwork. Everyone is united in the same goal, everyone works together. They are the type of people that cannot accept a personal compliment. Every time I received positive feed back, it sounded like this, “What you are doing, just being here, really means a lot to these guys, they really appreciate it.” Never once did people say it in an individual way, they are too tough to admit to something like that. They care more about the man standing next to them than they do about themselves. This sentiment was expressed by the lowest of the enlisted and the highest of the officers that we met. This sentiment moved seamlessly throughout each individual branch and unified our entire armed forces. These people risk their lives to protect our country and our interests without regret. They are my heroes.

The next time you see a veteran, do your part to say thank you, regardless if you believe in our government's politics or motivations for being in any conflict. These soldiers are real people that make a big sacrifice for us, never forget that. I never will.


-- John Baker


If you want to read more about Baker and the trip, you're invited to visit his personal blog at www.johnbakerbaseball.com or follow him on Twitter at @manbearwolf. Coghlan is also updating the Iraq trip on his Twitter account: @cogz4Christ

February 01, 2010

Marlins Making More Bullpen Noise -- McClung, Gregg, Strickland

  The Marlins are going bullpen bonkers.

  Within days of signing relievers Derrick Turnbow and Jose Veras to minor-league deals with big-league invites to spring training, the club continued to beef up the pen by agreeing to terms with Seth McClung on a minor-league deal.

   The Marlins also signed veteran right-handed reliever Scott Strickland to a minor-league deal. Strickland has not pitched in the majors since 2005.Mcclung

   On top of all that, the Marlins continue to talk to Kevin Gregg about returning to the club after spending last season with the Chicago Cubs. The Marlins have discussed contract parameters with Gregg, who is also in talks with the Colorado Rockies.

   While the Marlins would use Gregg as a late-inning setup man if he is signed, he would give them an insurance policy if Leo Nunez doesn't work out in the closer's role. That might make the Marlins more attractive to Gregg than the Rockies, who are set at closer with Huston Street and have Rafael Betancourt in line as a backup option.

   One interesting note that won't exactly put Marlins fans at ease: Gregg and Nunez led all National League relievers in home runs allowed last season: 13.

    Like Turnbow and Veras, McClung is also being invited to big-league spring training. McClung made 42 appearances -- 40 in relief -- last season for the Brewers, going 3-3 with a 4.94 ERA. In 62 innings, he struck out 40 and walked 39.