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World Baseball Classic offers hint at ‘What might have been’ for Miami Marlins

Call it a Dream Team — because that’s what it is.

As the second round of the World Baseball Classic gets under way at Marlins Park this week, and a large collection of former Marlins continue to participate in the tournament, imagine for a second if the home team wasn’t owned by Jeffrey Loria all these years.

Instead, envision that someone with deep pockets intent on spending his millions on players and keeping the fans happy has been running the show. He’s like a Steinbrenner from New York, or a former NBA point guard named Magic in Los Angeles.

What would the 2013 Marlins, set to open the season in three weeks, look like if we could hit the reset button, nix bad trades, obvious salary dumps and spend some cash to keep the guys who were here? How much would it all cost? Would the Marlins be defending another World Series title? Would they be good enough to beat one of these star-studded teams in the World Baseball Classic?

“I can tell you that would have been a very fun team to manage,” said Team Puerto Rico manager Edwin Rodriguez, who took a look at a 25-man roster made up of current and former Marlins that would have equaled a payroll of $131 million this season — eighth-most expensive in baseball, right behind the World Champion Giants ($137 million).

“You wouldn’t have to manage that team,” said Rodriguez, who was the Marlins’ manager for parts of the 2010 and 2011 seasons. “You just write down the lineup and let them play. Pretty balanced. Got power, speed, defense and definitely got pitching. That team would be right there in the hunt every year.”

The Miami Herald devised five versions of a 25-man roster on different pay scales (based on actual 2013 salaries) and showed it to a few former Marlins and a few current ones participating in the WBC. Rodriguez was the only person willing to comment on it. Players such as Miguel Cabrera and Hanley Ramirez declined, citing they’re only concentrated on their current teams.

Who was on the team that blew away Rodriguez? The lineup alone cost $64.5 million and featured the Triple Crown winner Cabrera ($21 million) at first base, second baseman Omar Infante ($4 million), shortstop Jose Reyes ($10 million), Ramirez ($15.5 million) at third, left fielder Josh Willingham ($7 million), center fielder Cody Ross ($6 million), right fielder Giancarlo Stanton ($537,000), and catcher John Buck ($ 6 million).

The starting rotation ($53.55 million) featured right-handers Anibal Sanchez ($8.8 million), Ricky Nolasco ($11.5 million), Jason Vargas ($8.5 million), Josh Johnson ($13.75 million) and left-hander Mark Buehrle ($11 million).

The bullpen cost $6.46 million and featured left-handers Mike Dunn ($480,000) and Randy Choate ($1.5 million); right-handers Jon Rauch ($1.5 million), Kevin Gregg ($1 million), Christhian Martinez ($750,000); Clay Hensley ($750,000) and closer Steve Cishek ($480,000).

And the bench was worth $6.86 million and featured utility man Robert Andino ($1.8 million), catcher Miguel Olivo ($1 million), outfielder Alejandro De Aza ($2.075 million), corner infielder Greg Dobbs ($1.5 million) and first baseman Logan Morrison ($490,000).

While everyone can remember the infamous trade of Cabrera, whose Venezuelan WBC team was upset in the first round of the tournament, the names some Marlins might not remember are Vargas (a 2004 second-round pick traded to the Mets for Matt Lindstrom), Willingham (sent at the end of the 2008 season the Nationals for Emilio Bonifacio) and De Aza (claimed off waivers by the White Sox in 2008).

De Aza is now a starter for the White Sox and the Dominican Republic’s WBC team. Vargas, signed to one-year deal by the Angels, averaged 32 starts and went 33-36 with a 3.96 ERA in Seattle during the past three years. Willingham, a relatively cheap, but good bat, has hit .258 and averaged 26 homers and 81 RBI for the Nationals, A’s and Twins over the last four years.

While $131 million is still a lot of money for any MLB roster, there are cheaper versions of the Marlins that would still field extremely competitive teams.

By getting rid of Ramirez and Buehrle that would save the Marlins $26.5 million. Cabrera could move to third base and Morrison could move into the starting lineup at first base. Right-hander Nathan Eovaldi, whom the Marlins got from the Dodgers in the Ramirez trade, would replace Buehrle in the rotation. Left-hander Randy Choate, lost as part of that Dodgers trade, would get replaced by Wade LeBlanc in the bullpen.

That team would cost $110 million — the 13th-most expensive roster in baseball — still less than the Cardinals and Nationals.

Still want to go cheaper and get under $100 million? There are ways.

Dump Ross ($6 million) and Buck ($6 million) and move Alejandro De Aza into the starting lineup in center and Olivo moves behind the plate. As insurance behind the plate instead of trading John Baker, you keep him and his $930,000 salary. Dan Jennings becomes the second left-hander in the pen instead of LeBlanc. At $99 million the Marlins rank right in the middle of baseball in terms of spending at No. 15.

Want to save even more case and improve the situation at catcher and get younger in the rotation? Make the trade with the Tigers that sent Infante and Sanchez away for Rob Brantly and Jacob Turner, and move Donovan Solano into the starting lineup at second base. At $87 million the Marlins rank 17th in spending and still have an envious 3-4-5 punch of Reyes, Cabrera and Stanton.

“Don’t show me that roster,” one current member of the Marlins organization said. “That’s the team that would make me cry. That one is pretty realistic.”

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