12/02/08 10:00 AM EST
Marlins keeping their foot on the pedal
Florida has pulled off three deals, but team expects busy Meetings
By Joe Frisaro / MLB.com
A year ago, the Marlins grabbed the biggest headlines at the Winter Meetings when they sent Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis to the Tigers for Andrew Miller, Cameron Maybin, Mike Rabelo and three prospects.
Perhaps Florida won't make that big a splash when Major League Baseball gathers at the Bellagio in Las Vegas from Dec. 8-11, but the team expects to be busy.
"I anticipate we will be active in Vegas," Marlins president of baseball operations Larry Beinfest said. "When you get all 30 teams together, you have to take advantage of that opportunity. We'll use that time to meet and cultivate ideas and see in what areas we can improve ourselves."
Pulling off major deals is nothing new for the cost-conscious Marlins, who have their economic challenges with 11 remaining arbitration-eligible players. More movement is expected, but not everything should be considered cost-cutting.
Florida is striving to remold the roster to improve its pitching, defense and overall speed.
The Marlins already have made three big trades this offseason, which have added some pitching, speed and defense.
A day after the World Series ended, first baseman Mike Jacobs was sent to the Royals for reliever Leo Nunez.
Less than two weeks later, left fielder Josh Willingham and pitcher Scott Olsen were traded to the Nationals for infielder Emilio Bonifacio and two prospects.
On Nov. 14, closer Kevin Gregg was dealt to the Cubs for Minor League reliever Jose Ceda.
Those familiar with Florida's pattern of making moves shouldn't be surprised about the already hectic offseason.
"For us, we start the winter the day after the season ends," Marlins president David Samson said. "At the Winter Meetings, instead of using the phones, you're in person. As a team, it doesn't matter where the other teams are located. If they are in the same building, great. If they are not, we use the phone. It's not like we wait for the Winter Meetings to make deals or anything."
When the 2008 season ended, the Marlins had 18 players up for arbitration. Knowing they weren't keeping them all, it was by design that the team has thus far been aggressive.
"It was kind of by design because we wanted to be aggressive on some things," Beinfest said. "But given the overall plan, there are still some things that you'd like to pursue."
The three moves already completed have put the picture of how the Marlins will look in Spring Training more in focus. A number of questions have already been answered, but Florida is still exploring other options.
"We could go play right now as is and feel good about the team," Beinfest said.
The team operates close to the vest, and it doesn't tip its hand on what moves it may be pondering.
But Florida appears willing to deal catcher Matt Treanor and right fielder Jeremy Hermida, if it can get the right offer.
It appears All-Star second baseman Dan Uggla will return.
In terms of going after free agents, a name to watch is catcher Ivan Rodriguez.
There are rumblings that the Marlins will make a push for Pudge, who has family ties to South Florida. Rodriguez also has familiarity with the organization. He was the catcher on the 2003 World Series title team.
Adding a veteran catcher is a priority, because the team has a young pitching staff.
The Marlins are prepared to go into Spring Training with John Baker as their regular catcher. But the club also is seeking more depth at the position.
No matter who else may be acquired, Baker is still expected to see a good amount of playing time.
In 2008, the Marlins set a franchise record with 208 home runs. But a byproduct of the power came an MLB-leading amount of strikeouts (1,371). The team also ranked third to last in the National League in errors with 117.
With some of the top young arms in the game in their system, the Marlins' thinking is improved defense will preserve the pitching while keeping the team in position to win every day.
Thus far, they've added bullpen arms and the speedy Bonifacio, who will get a look at third base.
"I think we said what we wanted to do with the pitching, speed and defense," Beinfest said. "I think we've moved things in that direction."
The addition of Bonifacio could lead to Jorge Cantu switching to first base. Another first-base option is Gaby Sanchez, who excelled at Double-A Carolina this past season.
"We'll see how the defense pans out, whether Cantu will be at third base or if he will be at first," Beinfest said. "We think Gaby Sanchez is ready. We think there is a lot of open competition, and defense will matter in Spring Training as that competition unfolds."
While the Marlins are always seeking pitching, they don't appear to aggressively be searching for a closer. Gregg saved 61 games the past two seasons, but now he is with the Cubs.
In Spring Training, Matt Lindstrom will have the edge to become the closer. When Gregg was resting a hurt left knee late in the season, Lindstrom converted all five of his save chances in September.
"Matt is definitely the front-runner to win that job," Beinfest said. "He will need to continue to do what he's done over two good years. He's got great stuff. He's going to have every opportunity to win that job."
Joe Frisaro is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.