Dontrelle Willis Black Pawn In This Pawn

Updated: April 19, 2006




” WHY ME “

Dontrelle Willis’ biggest problem

is not his 2 disastrous performances

for Team USA in the World Classic

At least that is over. It’s the season looming ahead of him with the Florida Marlins that is a far bigger reason for Concern. This is Willis’ final year of his current Marlins contract and all things being equal Baseball’s hottest young pitcher who just barely lost the Cy Young last season, is poised to Cash in somewhere.

Except that current Florida Marlins owner Jeffrey Luria did not take Dontrelle Willis’ needs into account when he decided to decimate his own team selling off most of the quality professional players who almost took the Marlins to the 2005 post-season and were poised to make a run for their Division in 2006.

Only Willis and Miguel Canrara remains from last year’s first rate and experienced crew remain. The only thing comparable in baseball history to this Massacre is what former owner Wayne Huizenga did after the Marlins surprised the Baseball World and won the World Series in 1997. Now in “fairness” the Marlins came back in 2003 and were World Champs again. Rather amazing. And going from dead last place in May that year to win it all. Which brings us back to Willis.

Dontrelle’s incredible rookie season in 2003 called up in May in desperation before the Marlins thought he was ready for the Big Leagues he went on to anchor the pitching staff with a record of 14-6, won Rookie of the Year honors, and playing an essential role in the Marlins Championship.

While only 2 seasons ago that seems like a distant memory with what current owner Luria has decided to do the last few months leading up to spring training. Through trade and free agency the departed includes Josh Beckett, A.J. Burnett, Luis Castillo, Jeff Conine, Carlos Delgado, Juan Encarnacion, Alex Gonzalez, Paul Lo Duca, Mike Lowell, Guillermo Mota and Juan Pierre. Most have been replaced with minor league players with no MLB experience.

What Luria has done in the process is reduce the Marlins 2006 payroll to a puny $18.5 million which has to be the lowest in the Bigs. At the other end of the spectrum George Steinbrenner’s Yankees have a 2006 payroll in excess of $200 million. Within the Marlins $18.5 million payroll a big slice of that will be going to Willis who had to go to arbitration and was awarded $4.35 million for 2006.

So what is going on here ?

It’s simple

Owner Jeffrey Luria is playing politics not baseball. Luria’s moves to decimate his roster is all about only one thing a new stadium for the Marlins and the Florida legislature’s refusal to come up with $30 million more to combine with Dade County’s commitment and Luria’s own. So that an agreement he thought he had unraveled and Luria decided to play Mean.

Now he has Commissioner Selig’s permission to seek and move the team. That is a Joke. Who are the the 3 leading “contenders” (sic). Portland. Oregon, San Antonio, Texas and Norfolk, Virginia. Sure. If Luria thinks things are tough in Miami let him really try one of those 3 cities which he never will.

He’d be better off moving the Marlins

to Havana or Santo Domingo

The only real unanswered Question is why didn’t Luria dump Willis along with the rest of the Marlins talent. Without Dontrelle’s $ 4.35 million, he could have reduced the Marlins payroll all the way down to $14 million. And with Willis in the last year of his contract Luria has no chance of re-signing him.

That may have been Luria’s dumbest move retaining Willis once he decided on this suicidal path for the 2006 season. He did Dontrelle no favor. There would have been a bidding war for Willis if the Marlins had sold his contract. Luria could have gotten a chunk of cash for Willis or a bevy of new minor leaguers for the team.

It makes no sense. Except if Luria was concerned all the criticism he is receiving would have palled next to the taunts he would have been subject if he let the Marlins Brightest Light go along with all the Others.

Willis is a Pawn in this Game

Willis faces the prospects of going from the winningest pitcher in the Bigs in 2005 to a probable dismal record pitching for a “minor league” team masquerading as something else against heavy duty MLB teams. And if Willis has a poor season as a result that could cost him many millions as he seeks a new contract somewhere else, and maybe even a lack of interest among the top teams. Could this even be Luria’s unprincipled plan to keep him a Florida Marlin ?

Maybe that’s why Willis pitched so poorly

in the World Baseball Classic

he was Distracted.