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Marlins in search of power bat at Winter Meetings

Marlins in search of power bat at Winter Meetings

Marlins in search of power bat at Winter Meetings
MIAMI -- Most of the Marlins' major moves have already been made, but the organization still has some unfinished business heading into the Winter Meetings.

When the Meetings get under way on Monday in Nashville, Tenn., Miami will be in the market for a middle-of-the-lineup threat who can take pressure off slugger Giancarlo Stanton.

And while there has been speculation surrounding Stanton on the trade front, the organization has no intention to move its 23-year-old All-Star. The Marlins fully expect him to anchor right field and be a force at the plate.

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Besides Stanton, however, power is a concern.

"We'd love to add some power to the lineup, if possible," president of baseball operations Larry Beinfest said.

In 2012, the Marlins hit 137 home runs, with 37 coming from Stanton. They were tied with the Cubs for 23rd in the Major Leagues. Preferably, Miami would like the added pop to come from the left side.

With that said, the Marlins are working with a tighter budget than a year ago, which means they aren't making a serious push for Josh Hamilton, arguably the biggest free-agent prize on the market.

"To make moves, it's just got to fit into whatever payroll structure we have in any given year," Beinfest said. "Kind of where we are is where we are. We're in that payroll range. We'd like to do some more things, sure, and explore some things in Nashville. If something makes sense, then we'll move ahead. But if you're looking for, 'Are we talking about huge free agents, etc.?' I'm not sure that's the mode we're in right now."

Free agency isn't the only vehicle the club is exploring to meet its needs. A trade could be a more realistic option. Or the Marlins may go after more players who project to hit 15-20 homers, getting more of a collective effort.

"We have to be creative," Beinfest said. "We do have some inventory if we decide to move it at the Minor League level. There may be some free agents who haven't been on our radar that we need to look at. Maybe there will be some non-tenders. We need to be open to everything and be creative.

"We have lists, and we've been on the phone. We'll see if there are some opportunities out there."

The Marlins already have had a busy offseason, making two significant trades. Heath Bell was dealt to the D-backs for third-base prospect Yordy Cabrera in October, and on Nov. 19, Miami finalized a 12-player deal with Toronto.

Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle, Jose Reyes, Emilio Bonifacio and John Buck were sent to the Blue Jays for Yunel Escobar, Adeiny Hechavarria, Henderson Alvarez, Jeff Mathis and three prospects -- Jake Marisnick, Justin Nicolino and Anthony DeSclafani.

The Toronto trade removed nearly $160 million in payroll commitments.

Heading into Nashville, the Marlins are not expected to make a push for major free agents, yet they will be busy looking to make adjustments with more financially reasonable moves.

Club needs

Power bat: Besides Stanton, the Marlins didn't deliver much firepower in 2012. Some of that was due to injuries and underperformance. Logan Morrison, for instance, had knee surgery and missed most of the second half. And others, like Hanley Ramirez and Gaby Sanchez, ended up being traded in July after rough first halves. If possible, the club would like a power threat to help protect Stanton.

Bullpen: When Steve Cishek became the closer in the second half, Bell took on an eighth-inning setup role. Now that Bell is gone, it creates an opening at the back of the rotation. Most of Miami's in-house candidates to fill late-inning roles have minimal to a few years of big league experience. A lefty specialist also is a need.

Center field: Signing Juan Pierre gives the Marlins a veteran left fielder, and Stanton is slated to play right field. Center field is wide open. Candidates already on the roster are Justin Ruggiano, Gorkys Hernandez and Bryan Petersen. If a center-field option is out there that makes sense, this could be a position the team fills before Spring Training.

Veteran starter: Trading Johnson and Buehrle removed Miami's Nos. 1 and 2 starters. Ricky Nolasco, who was the team's No. 3 starter last year, is regarded as the ace. The Marlins clearly are ready to groom some young arms, but they could be looking for an affordable veteran who can eat up innings. Carl Pavano has already said he would like to play for Miami.

Who they can or need to trade

Nolasco: In the final season of his contract, Nolasco's $11.5 million salary is the highest on the team. Chances are he won't be moved or shopped at the Winter Meetings. But the fact Nolasco is eligible for free agency next year means he could be moved at some point between the Meetings and July.

Escobar: Acquired in the blockbuster trade with Toronto, Escobar may find his tenure with the Marlins as a short one. A natural shortstop, Escobar will be asked to play third base in Miami. There is a chance he could be dealt.

Top prospects

The trades Miami has made brought significant depth to the Minor League system. Along with creating a better pipeline to the big leagues, the Marlins also have some pieces they could opt to move in potential trades.

Untouchables are Christian Yelich and Jose Fernandez. Their other top prospects are Marisnick, Nicolino, Andrew Heaney, Zack Cox, Marcell Ozuna, Adam Conley and J.T. Realmuto.

Rule 5 Draft

The Marlins' 40-man roster is at 37, which gives them room to make a Rule 5 Draft selection at the MLB phase, if they want. Miami struck Rule 5 Draft gold when it picked Dan Uggla in 2005. But the Marlins haven't picked anyone in the MLB phase since Zach Kroenke off the Yankees' roster in '08.

A few players left unprotected, who could be claimed by other teams, are right-hander Elih Villanueva, right-hander Michael Brady and infielder Jake Smolinski.

Big contracts they might unload

The Marlins' biggest contract is Nolasco's $11.5 million. But with the team already scaled back, and MLB Commissioner Bud Selig closely watching how the team is spending, it is unlikely he will be moved at the Winter Meetings.

Escobar is making $5 million, with club options of $5 million in 2014 and '15. If Escobar is moved, it wouldn't necessarily be over money. It would be to meet another area of need.

Arbitration-eligible

Right-hander Ryan Webb is arbitration-eligible for the first time.

Payroll summation

After spending around $100 million on payroll and finishing last in 2012, the Marlins are greatly scaling back. They signed Pierre for $1.6 million, which put them roughly at the mandated payroll figure, which will be in the neighborhood of $40 million.

Joe Frisaro is a reporter for MLB.com. He writes a blog, called The Fish Pond. Follow him on Twitter @JoeFrisaro. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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