With Escobar out, Marlins' focus turns to hot corner

With Escobar out, Marlins' focus turns to hot corner

With Escobar out, Marlins' focus turns to hot corner
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Trading Yunel Escobar was the Marlins' primary objective heading into the Winter Meetings, and they were able to pull that off late Tuesday night.

All day on Wednesday, the organization was weighing possible candidates to take over at third base.

A career shortstop, Escobar was obtained from the Blue Jays on Nov. 19, and Miami's initial intention was for him to play third base. Escobar was fine with the transition at first, but after giving it more thought, the 30-year-old had a change of heart. When he told team officials he wasn't comfortable making the change, the club sought a trade.

Escobar was dealt to Tampa Bay on Tuesday for infielder Derek Dietrich, who is expected to open 2013 at Double-A Jacksonville.

"We came in with the objective to move Yunel, and that's been accomplished," Marlins president of baseball operations Larry Beinfest said. "We haven't filled back in at third base. That's ongoing. That's what we've worked on all of today, and we'll probably continue down that path."

The Marlins had hoped to sign free agent Jeff Keppinger, but the veteran is close to reaching a deal with the White Sox. Mark Reynolds is another possibility, but he may wind up with the Yankees.

Ryan Raburn is a fit to sign with Miami, and Ian Stewart is in the mix. Matt Downs and Jack Hannahan also are in consideration.

"I don't think there are any third basemen out there that we haven't thought about," Beinfest said.

Third base is the highest priority on the team right now. Chances are the position will be filled with a low-cost free agent. Internal candidates include prospect Zack Cox, non-roster invitee Kevin Kouzmanoff and Greg Dobbs.

Dobbs, however, is best suited as a left-handed bat off the bench. He is expected to be in that role, where he can spot start at third base.

Chris Coghlan, the 2009 National League Rookie of the Year, Award winner has played the outfield since his rookie season. Coghlan could get a look at third base in Spring Training.

The Marlins are planning on reinvesting the $5 million allocated to Escobar back into the payroll. Ideally, they'd like to add some power to the lineup, preferably at third base. But foremost, Miami is looking for a quality player.

The Marlins were willing to move Escobar because they envision Adeiny Hechavarria as their everyday shortstop.

"Really, a great defensive player," Beinfest said of the 23-year-old Cuba native. "We think he's going to hit. It's going to come. I think we have to be patient. But we've seen that with a lot of young, gifted guys. Maybe their bat kind of lags behind some of their defensive skills, because the defense is just so natural for them. We believe he is well above average defensively. That was the huge attraction."

Hechavarria has big shoes to fill, because he is taking over for Jose Reyes, who was a major part of the 12-player deal with the Blue Jays. As a rookie in 2012, Hechavarria appeared in 41 games, and he batted .254 with two home runs and 15 RBIs.

The Winter Meetings conclude on Thursday with the Rule 5 Draft in the morning. Miami has the sixth overall pick in the Major League phase, and the team is expected to make at least one selection, possibly two. Chances are Miami will look at a reliever.

The Marlins have not drafted a Rule 5 player in the MLB phase since 2008, when they went with lefty reliever Zach Kroenke, who didn't make the Opening Day roster and was returned to the Yankees.

The cost of an MLB phase Rule 5 Draft pick is $50,000. The stipulation when taking a player in the Draft is he has to make the Opening Day roster and stick with the 25-man roster through the season. If the player is not part of the team's plans, he can be offered back to his original club for $25,000.

The Marlins made two MLB phase Rule 5 Draft picks in 2005. They hit big with the selection of Dan Uggla. But their second Rule 5 choice that year, lefty Michael Megrew, was sold back to the Dodgers during Spring Training.

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.