DALLAS — These are heady times for the Miami (née Florida) Marlins. They are the darlings of the winter meetings with expenditures totaling $133 million in two days. And now, reportedly, they have offered Albert Pujols a 10-year contract.
They have Jose Reyes, the dynamic former Mets shortstop who will move franchise player Hanley Ramirez to third base. They have a new stadium and fancy uniforms. (Even Billy The Marlin received a makeover!) They have Ozzie Guillen, baseball's most bombastic manager.
They also have Heath Bell, the gregarious closer who once slid into the mound upon his entrance in an All-Star Game. Bell was here in Texas for his formal unveiling Monday. And Bell likes his team's chances.
"I think we can win the division right now," Bell told CBSSports.com. "The Phillies, I think we can beat 'em. ... Ryan Howard is hurt. They might not be getting Jimmy Rollins back."
The Phillies, of course, will remain division favorites until someone knocks them from their five-year perch. There is no doubt that the National League East, a division the Phillies held a lead for on all but three days of the season, will be stronger in 2012 than 2011. The Washington Nationals will have a full season of Stephen Strasburg and have money to spend this winter. The Braves have a cadre of young pitching and talent. And the Marlins, they have stolen the national spotlight already.
Miami has starting pitching issues that remain unsolved. (They are apparently enamored with Mark Buehrle, like many.) But an agreement with the game's best player in Pujols would certainly tempt many prognosticators to make the Marlins everyone's sexy pick.
(An aside: Makes you think how different these winter meetings could be for the Phillies had they not signed Ryan Howard to a five-year, $125 million extension in April 2010. Would they be in on Pujols? They would certainly have interest in Prince Fielder, five years Howard's younger.)
"It's a good division, man. It's going to be a grinder," Ruben Amaro Jr. said. "I like our chances, but it's going to be a dogfight."
And you'd expect the man to say nothing less, considering the Phillies have won 199 games in the previous two seasons combined. With an improved division on paper, that doesn't guarantee anything in 2012.