Is Beckett deal the beginning of the Marlins’ end?

I think, on the eve of the 2008 season, as the Las Vegas franchise prepares for its first season after relocating from Miami, the retrospective columns will look back upon this Thanksgiving week as the beginning of the Marlins’ quick downward spiral. Yesterday’s trade that sent Josh Beckett and Mike Lowell to Boston for shortstop Hanley Ramirez and two other prospects will be seen as the start of the series of events that sent the club on its westward journey. In two short years — and 50 years after the Dodgers and Giants left New York — we’ll likely be talking about the Marlins’ impending move during this holiday week.

As for the current team, Carlos Delgado will be the next to go, probably Juan Pierre after that (to one of the teams that loses out on Johnny Damon). That may be enough of a payroll cut for this season. They won’t trade Dontrelle Willis or Miguel Cabrera because they’re not owned by the other 29 owners and if Jeffrey Loria decides to sell, he’ll need some superstars to keep the value at a decent level. Either that, or he’ll need the star power to convince Las Vegas — or Charlotte or Mexico City or perhaps even Portland, Oregon — to build a ballpark for him.

At least Loria won’t have to worry about spending too much on top free agents — after this off-season, there won’t be many players who want to come to South Florida.

Can the Mets get Delgado? The fact that the teams are in the same division shouldn’t matter, as Murray Chass points out. It’s not like the Marlins will be competitive enough to be in a “rivalry” with the Mets the next two or three years. Besides, they’ve done it before, agreeing to pay a good chunk of Mike Hampton’s salary when they acquired him from the Rockies and then sent him on to the Braves.

I think, in the end, the Mets will make the move for Delgado. Chass notes that Manny Ramirez can veto any trade now that he’s a 10-and-5 player, so despite Ramirez’s superior numbers, there are several reasons why Delgado may be a better buy: He’s cheaper (per season), he’s left-handed, he plays a position of need in New York and the Mets won’t have to convince him to play right field, as they will have to do with Cliff Floyd or Ramirez (provided Floyd isn’t dealt to Boston in order to get Manny).

It would probably take Yusmerio Petit to get Delgado, but he might be the only big chip or top prospect they’d have to deal. Add in Steve Trachsel (at, I believe, just $2.5 million next year) and you give Florida a solid veteran replacement for Beckett. Considering the apparent depth of pitching prospects the Mets have (Matt Peterson, Brian Bannister, Philip Humber, Mike Pelfrey if he signs), not to mention the emergence of Jae Seo and Aaron Heilman last season and a relatively young Kris Benson, dealing Petit shouldn’t deplete them too much. I don’t know that he’s even the most major-league ready of all the prospects.

In spring training 2004, the Mets wouldn’t deal Jose Reyes or Scott Kazmir for Alfonso Soriano, and it appears that stance will hold up as a good assessment of the players’ abilities. (Though somewhere between March and July of that year, they somehow decided that while Soriano wasn’t worth Kazmir, Victor Zambrano was. Which brings up another idea: Throw in Zambrano for Delgado.) And there was no way they were dealing David Wright, either. (The best assessment of them all.)

But for Carlos Delgado, I’ll take the chance that Petit could become Scott Kazmir. At least Delgado has proven himself as a major-league slugger during the past 10 seasons, whereas Zambrano proved that he was an underachieving arm who couldn’t catch up to his potential, even if that potential was blown out of proportion.

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