You can add the Miami Herand’s Dan LeBatard to the chorus of those wondering how a money-pit of a franchise like the Marlins is expected to foot the bill for 4 years of Carlos Delgado at $52 million.

Delgado represents a commitment to spending this team hasn’t shown since Wayne Huizenga owned it. Delgado is one of the 10 best offensive players on this planet. He is Jim Thome at half the price, and a better offensive player than $119 million Met Carlos Beltran. Best hitters in Marlins history? Gary Sheffield and Delgado. That’s the beginning and the end of that list. About the only time we’ve seen a comparable bat in South Florida’s left-handed batter’s box is when Barry Bonds and Jim Thome visit.

Delgado makes the Marlins very, very good.

Best-in-the-league good.

Possible championship good.

But. . . .

Where did all this money come from?

And do all the departed champion Marlins — Pudge Rodriguez, Derrek Lee, Carl Pavano, Brad Penny — have a right to feel betrayed and hurt by the sudden appearance of it?

Because they actually helped win and hold up the trophy here.

And Delgado has never been in a playoff game.

And he gets the $52 million jackpot?

These are not criticisms, just questions. Repeat, in case you just read over it: not criticisms, just questions. Save all your flammable e-mail about the evil journalist raining all over the championship parade on what should and is a day of sports celebration.

Delgado is an exceptional, exciting signing that makes Florida immediately better than any team in the National League except the Cardinals. But the Marlins did something they never do here, getting into a bidding war that inflated an original and fair offer of $30 million to $52 million, pushing aside even a Mets team that has been spending sloppily all winter.

The Marlins, for example, could have kept Pudge and Lee for less than the $69 million they just gave their replacements (Delgado and Paul Lo Duca). In other words, they could have kept a defending champ almost completely intact. I wouldn’t have given a 30-plus catcher the $40 million Pudge wanted, not even after seeing the monster season he just had in Detroit, but it is fair to ask today if Delgado-Lo Duca makes you better today than the champion duo of Lee-Pudge. I think it does, but there’s room for debate there.

That $69 million could also have been used to lock up Penny, Pavano, Josh Beckett, Dontrelle Willis and A.J. Burnett for the next three or even four years if it had been offered, with vision, at the start of last season.

That’s risky, obviously.

Pavano hadn’t really done anything yet. The Marlins rightly fear injuries eating up salary, and Beckett, Burnett and Pavano all have a history of them while Penny is always in the kind of shape that lures them. But if you had your starting staff locked up, you don’t have to fear 2006 the way you do now, when Burnett and Al Leiter will be gone, and the only remaining starter from any of the Marlins championships will be Beckett (Willis was a reliever in the 2003 postseason).

In other words, Florida could have locked up a champion pitching staff that beat Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa/Kerry Wood/Mark Prior and the Yankees — plus Burnett. But it opted instead to give that money to Delgado even though the mathematics show that, whether it is A-Rod in Texas or Delgado in Toronto, teams never do any winning when too high a payroll percentage is in the bank account of a single player.

We can go back and forth on whether pitching or hitting wins. Yankees-Red Sox were one-two in AL runs scored last season. Cards-Astros were one-five in NL.

Lack of hitting crippled the Marlins last September, so you need a Delgado. But the Marlins did win their championship on pitching while Brian Giles, an offensive player comparable to Delgado, has never done any winning and the Phillies have done nothing but underachieve since getting Thome.

Wasn’t $52 million about what the Marlins needed to ensure a new stadium?

Though I think the Giles comparison only holds water in that both Pittsburgh and Toronto were hamstrung by big contracts (ie. Giles’ power numbers are far less impressive than Delgado’s), LeBatard is right on the money here. Which doesn’t mean Florida won’t have a great team in 2005.