Florida fans are getting screwed. The Fish will be getting more back in revenue sharing than they spend on payroll.
NAPLES -- "Oh, put me in, coach. I'm ready to play today. Look at me. I can be center field." -- John Fogerty
Yes, but could the songwriter's creation handle the cavernous dimensions at Dolphin Stadium? Could Fogerty's eager ballplayer learn to master the distant Bermuda Triangle 434 feet from home plate?
That's what makes this Marlins search for a center fielder (on a tight budget) so tricky.
It's not just a matter of swapping some excess pitching for an emerging outfielder with some speed, some sock and fewer than three years of service time.
The glove and the arm need to be there, too, in order to maximize the benefit of all that young pitching the organization has accumulated.
"It's one thing to say you can play center," says an American League personnel man. "It's another to do it at that ballpark in Miami. There's so few guys that can play it there."
It's not as simple as prying such a commodity away for the likes of Yusmeiro Petit, Renyel Pinto or Jose Garcia. That's why the Marlins, as they begin the process here at the General Managers meetings, could end up dipping into their sparkling big-league rotation for the right guy.
It won't be Dontrelle Willis. He'll open next year on the roster now that Jeffrey Loria has authorized a payroll in the $25 million range, according to a source familiar with the Marlins' thinking.
Anibal Sanchez would be awfully hard to move, too, after that September no-hitter.
But any one of the other three arms -- Ricky Nolasco, Scott Olsen and Josh Johnson, probably in descending order of likelihood -- could be had in the perfect deal.
Note I said any "one" of them. This isn't General Manager Larry Beinfest's first rodeo.
Who will the Marlins demand in exchange for such jewels?
Topping their list is the Devil Rays' Rocco Baldelli, all the way back after major knee and elbow surgeries. Not only is he an exquisite defender with power and speed, he's signed through as long as 2011 for as little as $26 million.
At worst, an acquiring team would have him for $750,000 next season and $2.25 million in 2008, plus a $4 million buyout on his 2009 option.
That's why a Devil Rays source said Tuesday the club would ask for multiple big-league ready starters, a price that might be too steep even for the pitching-rich Marlins. Then again ...
"That's definitely going to be something the Marlins go after," says a National League executive. "That guy fits everything the Marlins are about."
The Fish also like Astros speedster Willy Taveras, who they tried to get last July when he briefly fell out of favor. Unfortunately, Taveras hit .308 in the second half, thanks to a 30-game hitting streak, and his price may have skyrocketed.
Then again, the Astros have outfield depth and face great uncertainty in their rotation with Roger Clemens and/or Andy Pettitte eyeing retirement. They've also been sniffing around on free-agent center fielder Gary Matthews Jr.
Others who could rate one of the Marlins' starters include uber-prospects Matt Kemp (Dodgers), Chris Young (Diamondbacks) and Jacoby Ellsbury (Red Sox), as well as the Royals' David DeJesus, although none seems available at the moment.
DeJesus, while less gifted than Baldelli, has a similarly desirable contract (a guaranteed $13.3 million through 2010) and a reputation for gritty play.
Another Marlins target, Brian Anderson, has lost favor with the White Sox and could be had. Look for the Marlins to dangle slick shortstop Robert Andino and a lesser arm.
The crosstown Cubs could make injury-marred prospect Felix Pie available, but they'd probably have to re-sign free agent Juan Pierre or nab his replacement first. The Marlins would be interested.
Depending on what the Phillies get for Pat Burrell, speedy Shane Victorino could finally be moved. Trouble is, the Marlins have tried to get him the past two springs and gotten nowhere.
Chris Duffy reestablished himself with a strong finish in 2006, but the Pirates have plenty of young pitching and would probably ask for first baseman Mike Jacobs in return.
Lesser options include Chris Denorfia (Reds), Franklin Gutierrez (Indians), David Murphy (Red Sox) and Cory Sullivan (Rockies), although the latter two aren't much against lefties.
Frustrating, huh? That's life on a $25 million payroll.