Miami raised its profile with the free-agent signings of Heath Bell, Jose Reyes and Mark Buehrle in early December. Last week, the Marlins remained prominent in the news with the acquisition of Carlos Zambrano in a trade with the Cubs for Chris Volstad.
What the team isn't losing sight of is a signing that didn't generate a buzz on talk radio or make headlines across the nation. Still, in terms of significance, Miami feels it made a major move when the club retained Greg Dobbs on a two-year deal worth $3 million.
A key bench player for the Marlins last year, Dobbs tested the free-agent market. He attracted interest from the Nationals, but he ended up signing with Miami on Jan. 3. The veteran will make $1.4 million in 2012 and $1.6 million in '13.
The Marlins feel they're getting excellent value for the dollar while banking on Dobbs being the leader off the bench.
"Dobbs, he just was outstanding last year," president of baseball operations Larry Beinfest said. "His pinch-hitting numbers speak for themselves. This guy is ultra prepared. He takes terrific physical care of himself. He's a student of the game."
The 33-year-old takes on a significant role as a lefty pinch-hit option who can also play third and first base. A year ago, Dobbs was a bargain after signing a Minor League contract with an invitation to Spring Training. Due to injuries, he had plenty of playing time, batting .275 with eight home runs and 49 RBIs in 134 games. He posted a career-high 411 at-bats.
As a pinch-hitter, Dobbs sported an impressive .370 average (10-for-27) with a home run and eight RBIs. In years past, Wes Helms and Ross Gload set a standard with their productivity off the bench.
"We've been very lucky," Beinfest said of uncovering impact bench players. "We found these guys who really bought into pinch-hitting and part-time roles."
The Marlins have clearly upgraded their lineup with Reyes, their bullpen with Bell and their rotation with Buehrle and Zambrano. An area that the team is looking to round out is the bench.
Playoff teams typically are deep. The Phillies added more established depth by adding Jim Thome and Ty Wigginton, while the Braves have veterans like Eric Hinske and Matt Diaz coming off their bench.
Along with Dobbs, catcher Brett Hayes and infielder Donnie Murphy are considered locks to make the Marlins.
Outfielder Aaron Rowand is a non-roster invitee who brings championship experience. Rowand also previously played for manager Ozzie Guillen in Chicago. Other bench candidates are outfielders Chris Coghlan, Bryan Petersen, Scott Cousins and Kevin Mattison.
"We think we have some people here," Beinfest said. "Brett Hayes, who was our backup last year, did a very good job. Donnie Murphy is on the roster and could be a fit in the infield. Aaron Rowand, he could be in the mix. Bryan Petersen did a very nice job in part-time play last year."
Another possible scenario could be if the Marlins sign Yeonis Cespedes, the Cuban-born outfielder who is expected to become a free agent later in the month.
If Cespedes signs with Miami, he would likely open the year in the Minor Leagues to get the necessary reps to get back in playing shape. Even if that happens, Cespedes may only need a few weeks or months at Double-A or Triple-A to be ready for the big leagues.
Under that scenario, Cespedes would likely step in as the center fielder, freeing up Emilio Bonifacio to become a super utility player.
No matter how the battles for the remaining roster spots shake out, the club feels retaining Dobbs was the first big step in solidifying the bench.
"A big part was bringing Greg back," Beinfest said.