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The Globe and Mail

Youth is not wasted on the rebuilding Miami Marlins

During spring training, major-league teams ordinarily arrange players' lockers in the clubhouse according to a variety of factors, including friendships, seniority, position and, sometimes, mentorship. In Port St. Lucie, Fla., for instance, the New York Mets have a pair of former Blue Jays catchers sitting side by side – veteran John Buck with prize prospect Travis d'Arnaud.

The Miami Marlins have approached clubhouse order differently, by situating lockers in numerical order. Adeiny Hechavarria, wearing No. 3, is in one corner, and the numbers run from there in a sequential square. However, after slashing payroll in the off-season, Miami invited a busload of new faces to spring training, 73 in all. A temporary row of lockers had to be installed to accommodate everyone, and that is why Hechavarria is seated across from a former fellow Blue Jays farmhand, Jake Marisnick, No. 77.

Marisnick, an easygoing sort, had just finished playing in the Arizona Fall League and was riding in a truck back home to Southern California. He recalls the day as something of a blur, but recounts his cellphone ringing and Tony LaCava, the Blue Jays' vice-president of baseball operations, telling him he'd just become part of the 12-player deal that brought shortstop Jose Reyes and starting pitchers Josh Johnson and Mark Buehrle to Toronto. Hechavarria, 23, the prize prospect, and right-hander Henderson Alvarez were core to the swap, from Miami's perspective.

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"It was like, 'oh wow.' I was really surprised," Marisnick, 21, recalled before a workout in warm sunshine recently. "Once we got to camp, though, we were all pretty excited. It's looking like I've got a pretty good shot here."

That last line speaks to the difference in spring-training atmosphere between the two trading partners, as Toronto hiked its payroll to go with veterans, and Miami demolished its payroll to reboot with youth.

A few years may be required to evaluate which of the two club's strategies worked out for the better. As of now, fans are excited about Toronto and disillusioned with Miami.

With Grapefruit League play a mere formality, the Jays have all but set their $120-million-plus (all currency U.S.) roster, pitching rotation and batting order. The club rolled the dice on staying healthy and conjuring the requisite chemistry for a run at an American League pennant. Injuries have become a concern, with third baseman Brett Lawrie (rib-cage strain) sidelined two to three weeks, and closers Casey Janssen and Sergio Santos dealing with the aftershock of shoulder surgery.

The Marlins, having shed 24 players and more than $50-million in payroll, are essentially operating a tryout camp. Early on, when a writer asked manager Mike Redmond about this player and that, he couldn't answer. "I haven't seen them play," he said. The first cuts from that bloated clubhouse are expected in the next 48 hours.

Consider that Marisnick was identified early as a long shot to play centre field, after hitting .233 with a .336 slugging percentage in 55 games for AA New Hampshire last season.

Miami owner Jeffrey Loria has reminded fans that the team won a World Series in 2003 with a $64-million payroll, while in South Florida those same fans are talking about a boycott of the Marlins. Taxpayers are on the hook for $2.6-billion in bond debt, the money having financed construction of the new baseball stadium that opened last year.

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Loria took out full-page newspaper ads on Feb. 24 to explain why the Marlins had to restock the farm system, and he met with reporters afterward.

"We had to do something swiftly, quickly and bold," according to a transcript. "We had three or four prospects in our system. We didn't have people we could call up last year. We didn't break up the 1927 Yankees. We broke up a club that was going nowhere for two straight years. I am about winning. I love winning. I love Miami. I love this ball club, and I love what we've done now."

He raved about Hechavarria, the Cuban expatriate with "a lot of family" in Miami who finished last season with the Blue Jays (41 games, .280 on-base percentage, .365 slugging). Hechavarria is replacing Reyes on the field after training with former Jay Tony Fernandez in the off-season and sopping up intelligence from Omar Vizquel in the Jays' clubhouse last year. The New York Yankees reportedly envisioned Hechavarria as Derek Jeter's replacement before the Jays signed him to a four-year, $10-million deal in 2010.

Along with Alvarez, Hechavarria is a lock to make the opening-day roster. Alvarez, who is pitching for Venezuela in the World Baseball Classic, gave up the third most hits in the American League, 216, last season.

"Love his arm, love his stuff," Marlins general manager Mike Hill said of Alvarez. "When you have a chance to add a front-of-the-rotation starter with his kind of ability, you jump at it. As with Adeiny, it's just a maturation process."

Loria bought a 24-per-cent stake in the Montreal Expos in 1999, wound up with 94-per-cent ownership, and sold the franchise to Major League Baseball for $120-million. He bought the Marlins for $158-million.

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"It's not a fire sale," Loria said. "It's called, hit the restart button."

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