Marlins' season ending in dissent

MIAMI -- The Florida Marlins' final homestand in a season gone sour began with slugger Miguel Cabrera benched for disciplinary reasons and manager Jack McKeon hinting he won't be back in 2006.

As the injury-plagued Marlins staggered toward the finish all but eliminated from the playoff race, the focus Monday turned to what went wrong, and more evidence surfaced that player animosity toward McKeon was part of the problem.

The dissension issue came to a head Sunday when right-hander A.J. Burnett said the team plays scared because McKeon and the coaching staff are too negative. The rant by Burnett, a free agent this offseason, came after he lost his sixth decision in a row at Atlanta.

"We've all got to look in the mirror," McKeon said Monday.

The manager declined to say whether he'll scratch Burnett from his final start Friday as a disciplinary measure. But McKeon benched Cabrera for one game for an unspecified transgression.

"He's young," McKeon said. "You treat them like they're your own kids, and sometimes they don't do everything you like, like any young guy. You have to have a little chat. He's going to be fine."

Cabrera and Burnett declined to comment.

As for McKeon's future beyond this week, the 74-year-old manager said he has made a decision. He said he hasn't talked to team owner Jeffrey Loria and will likely wait until after the season to disclose his plans.

But he dropped hints, such as when he was asked what the Marlins need to improve next season.

"I'll have to address that at the end of the season -- if I care to," he said with a coy smile.

McKeon led the Marlins to the 2003 World Series championship, and they were touted before this season as a likely playoff team. The Marlins led the NL wild-card race by 1{ games Sept. 14 but then lost nine of their next 11 games to fall out of contention.

In the wake of Burnett's gripes, several players complained privately about McKeon's leadership, but none wanted to be quoted. Others took a more neutral position regarding the pitcher's criticism.

"That's his way of showing his emotions," third baseman Mike Lowell said. "The way things are going for us right now, there are not too many real good things going on in this clubhouse."

Lowell and outfielder Jeff Conine agreed that the mood lately has been negative -- but they blamed the team's declining fortunes, rather than McKeon.

"It's disappointing and frustrating," Conine said. "Any time you get a collection of guys like this together and know you have what it takes to make the postseason and you don't, it's classified as a disappointment."

Injuries, bullpen woes and a lack of power hitting contributed to the Marlins' struggles.

"We just didn't get it done. We're all responsible," McKeon said. "I'm not going to blame anybody. I'm the leader of the ship."