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Marlins turning up the heat in NL East

DALLAS - They were the Florida Marlins when the 2011 season ended, then became the Miami Marlins in November.

(Kathy Willens/AP)
(Kathy Willens/AP)Read more

DALLAS - They were the Florida Marlins when the 2011 season ended, then became the Miami Marlins in November.

Now it appears they want to be the Miami Heat.

Like their NBA cousins, the Marlins are trying to gather a team of superstars in their effort to end the Phillies' divisional dominance and win a third World Series title.

The fact that the Heat's quest for a championship came up short in the NBA Finals and everybody's favorite NFL dream team has crashed and burned right before the sore eyes of Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie has not deterred Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria.

Maybe he remembers that the 1997 Florida Marlins were able to buy a championship.

Loria and the Marlins already had made the biggest news at these winter meetings by coming out of the gate with a six-year, $106 million deal for shortstop Jose Reyes and a three-year, $27 million deal for closer Heath Bell.

With the signing of Reyes and Bell, it seemed as if the Marlins wanted to make a big splash as they prepared to move into their new ballpark. Instead, they want to be the 400-pound guy who does the cannonball that empties all the water from the free-agent pool.

Immediately after completing the Reyes megadeal, the Marlins entered into serious negotiations for Albert Pujols, the grand prize of this free-agent class and the most accomplished player to ever reach the open market. As Tuesday night neared an end, the Marlins were on the verge of giving Pujols more than 200 million reasons to leave behind his legacy in St. Louis for a chance to hang out on South Beach.

If the Marlins can pull off this deal, they will have a Big Three that sizes up quite nicely with LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh, and looks significantly better than the trio of Nnamdi Asomugha, Cullen Jenkins, and Vince Young.

Just the thought of a lineup with Pujols, Reyes, and Hanley Ramirez got Charlie Manuel's blood flowing, especially considering that the Marlins also have the game's best young slugger in Mike Stanton and another rising young slugger in the lefthanded hitting Logan Morrison.

"You bring in Pujols, that's a leader right there," the Phillies manager said. "He's going to bring a lot of pop in there, and those young players are going to look up to him. He's just a really great piece to have as far as leadership goes."

Yeah, and the .328 career batting average, .420 on-base percentage, and 445 career home runs would look nice, too.

"That's a big-time lineup you're talking about," Manuel said. "Yeah, that's a hell of a lineup."

Manuel then started filling out the lineup card that will be in the hands of Marlins first-year manager Ozzie Guillen.

"Reyes leading off . . . you hit Hanley third or you could hit Hanley second and Pujols third," he said. "Stanton fourth, Morrison fifth. You could do a lot of things with that lineup. That's loading up right there. You're talking about some homers and some speed, too."

You're also talking about a team that resides in the National League East and would pose a serious threat to the Phillies' half-decade of divisional dominance.

"I think we're the team to beat until somebody beats us," Manuel said. "I don't think we're going to scare away, but at the same time they got better. How much better? That's what the season is all about."

Everybody remained skeptical about how good the Marlins would be when they signed Reyes. The addition of Pujols obviously would change the perception, although you still have to wonder whether they have enough pitching.

"I don't think they do," a baseball source said.

Josh Johnson is a true ace, but injuries have limited him to 37 starts the last two seasons. The rotation arms behind Johnson are Ricky Nolasco, Anibal Sanchez, and Chris Volstad, although there were rumblings Tuesday night that the Marlins might go after free-agent lefthander C.J. Wilson.

You cannot dismiss anything being said about the Marlins at these meetings.

If the Marlins add Pujols and Wilson, it will be fascinating to see how the oddsmakers in Las Vegas view the NL East.

The Phillies, of course, have their own Big Three with Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, and Cole Hamels, and that pitching against the Marlins' hitting could make for a heated rivalry.

"If that happens, that means our [division] got better, and we're going to have to play better," Manuel said. "That's what I would have to preach to our team. Look, we ain't backing down to nobody, but we know we have to outplay you."

Manuel was asked to answer one final question: Would you rather have Halladay, Hamels, and Lee, or Reyes, Ramirez, and Pujols?

The manager's answer: "They say good pitching always beats good hitting, don't they?"