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Wednesday, April 12, 2006
Updated: April 13, 9:34 AM ET
Fish experiencing growing pains

By Enrique Rojas
ESPNdeportes.com

MIAMI -- Way before the first pitch was thrown in Dolphin Stadium this season, trade rumors had already been surrounding the best two players on the Marlins' roster: third baseman Miguel Cabrera and pitcher Dontrelle Willis.

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As the logic goes, the Marlins might dangle Willis and Cabrera now, before their salaries climb in the offseason. But executives with other teams say they have heard nothing about Willis and Cabrera being actively shopped, and they doubt that Florida will swap the duo during this season.

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In a conversation with ESPNdeportes.com before Florida's home opener against the San Diego Padres, Cabrera and Willis both said they are not paying attention to any trade rumors. On the contrary, they both are very focused on being team leaders.

"I am not paying attention to any rumors," Cabrera said.

"I have to be prepared to take the mound every five days, and I can't afford to stop and listen to what people are saying," Willis added.

Cabrera and Willis, two of the most coveted young stars in the major leagues, are the only remaining members of the Marlins squad that won the World Series three years ago.

After failing to make the playoffs last season, the Marlins dismantled the team, sending most of their players to other teams, in what the franchise called "a market correction."

The payroll was reduced from $60.4 million to $14.3 million while the team wages an ongoing battle to get the city to support the construction of a new stadium.

The latest reports indicate there still could be more "corrections," and Cabrera and Willis could be moved, which would transform the Marlins into something resembling a minor league club.

The Marlins have 11 rookies on their roster and have had six rookies in their starting lineup in the first two weeks of the season, including Tuesday's game.

"I believe I will stay here the whole year, but I can't say what will happen then," said Willis, who has had two no-decisions in his first two starts of the season despite posting a 1.38 ERA. "I don't think they will trade me in the middle of the season."

Willis, 24, finished last season with a 22-10 record and a 2.63 ERA, and he was second in the voting for the NL Cy Young Award. The 2003 Rookie of the Year has a 46-27 record in three seasons.

Cabrera is off to a slow start, hitting .250 with one home run and four RBI. "We have a long season ahead of us, and I think the most important thing is to be focused on playing it," the Venezuelan slugger said. "So far, we've looked good, although the standings don't reflect that."

Cabrera, who hit .323 with 33 home runs and 116 RBI last season, has been the best hitter on the team since he joined the squad in 2003. He will turn 23 Tuesday and has a .310 average with 78 home runs in his first 410 games as a major leaguer.

"I believe Marlins fans will enjoy the style of this team, which is young, but that doesn't mean that it's bad," rookie manager Joe Girardi said.

With Cabrera and Willis on the team, the Fish won only one of their first five games. It would be better not to imagine what the team's record would be without it two young guns.

Enrique Rojas is a reporter and columnist for ESPNdeportes.com and ESPN.com.