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Marlins eyeing bargains on free-agent market

Marlins eyeing bargains on free-agent market

Marlins eyeing bargains on free-agent market

MIAMI -- After going through a transition, the Marlins will enter the Hot Stove season looking for progression.

They will be doing so under new leadership, but the mission remains the same -- win more games.

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The Marlins reshuffled their front office after a rookie-filled roster finished 62-100 in 2013.

Free agency previews

Larry Beinfest was dismissed as president of baseball operations, and Michael Hill was promoted from general manager to inherit the title and the role. Taking over as general manager is Dan Jennings.

Finishing last in the National League East the past three years helped prompt the change, which marks a new beginning.

"I worked with Larry for 14 years," president David Samson said. "Every minute I'd been in baseball was with him. I respect every decision that is made by the ownership. The fact of the matter is, we're all paid to win games. The last few years, we have not won enough games.

"Do I lay it all on Larry? No, of course not. I lay it on all of us. We're all responsible for what happened."

Hill and Jennings have long been part of Miami's front office, but now they have increased say in the roster moves necessary to build a contender.

Their work is about to begin. Free agency gets underway five days after the conclusion of the World Series. In the five-day span, teams have exclusive rights to sign their pending free agents. No signings are expected in that time frame.

The basic plan in '14 is to build from around the nucleus of players who endured more than their share of growing pains in a trying 2013.

Miami's payroll parameters project to mirror the '13 numbers -- about $38 million.

In free agency, the Marlins aren't expected to be in the market for high-priced players.

Still, the club projects to be active in its pursuit to fill needs, which include third base, catcher and more offensive power. Trades are the more realistic avenue to give manager Mike Redmond more to work with in his second season.

The strength of the organization is young pitching, at the big league and Minor League levels. The club needs more production offensively after finishing last in the Majors in pretty much every significant statistical category.

Parting with some young arms may be the direction the Marlins take to add offensive punch.

Returning to respectability is a process.

The Marlins spent '13 restocking their system, and adding some elite-level talent in the First-Year Player Draft.

The club does have payroll flexibility. They're just planning on spending wisely. They saw what went wrong when they missed on a number of expensive free agents in 2012, a year they lost 93 games.

"What our fans I hope are realizing is, we don't have to worry about the ballpark anymore, because we have one," Samson said. "They don't have to worry about the Marlins ever relocating or anything like that, because they're here to stay. Now, we all have to worry about winning more games.

"Mike Hill and Dan Jennings are really tremendous heads of the baseball organization, and they're going to work really well together to help us win."

Contract issues

Arbitration-eligible: RHP Steve Cishek, OF/3B Chris Coghlan, LHP Mike Dunn, 1B Logan Morrison, OF Justin Ruggiano, OF Giancarlo Stanton, RHP Ryan Webb.

Free agents: OF Matt Diaz, OF Austin Kearns, OF Juan Pierre, 3B Placido Polanco, RHP Chad Qualls.

Contract options: RHP Jacob Turner $1 million (club option).

Non-tender possibilities: None.

Areas of need

Catcher: When the Marlins acquired Rob Brantly in July of 2012, they were hopeful they had their catcher of the future. Right now, they aren't so sure. The 24-year-old started on Opening Day, but he struggled at the plate and defensively. Brantly batted .211 with one homer and 18 RBIs in 67 games. Because of his age and level of experience, Brantly still may emerge, but he may need more Minor League seasoning.

Mathis missed the first month due to a fractured right collarbone, and he ended the season resting a slight fracture to his right thumb. The 30-year-old was praised for his handling of the young pitching staff. At the plate, he finished at .181 with five homers and 29 RBIs in 73 games.

Former first-round Draft pick Kyle Skipworth is a 23-year-old left-handed hitter who spent most of the season at Triple-A New Orleans. Skipworth has power, but he has high strikeout numbers and a low batting average. Defensively, he's made steady strides. It is questionable as to whether he is ready to take over on an every-day basis.

Look for the Marlins to explore a trade to address the position.

Third base: Polanco, a veteran presence on a youthful squad, is headed toward free agency, and he may not be part of the '14 plans. The 38-year-old appeared in 118 games, and he batted .260 with a .315 on-base percentage.

Third base is a position to add some power.

The organization projects Colin Moran, the sixth overall pick in the 2013 First-Year Player Draft, as the third baseman of the future. So, the club likely is looking for a one-year stop-gap.

Another potential in-house candidate is Coghlan, who saw limited action at third base in September. The National League Rookie of the Year in 2009, Coghlan has mostly played outfield.

Defensively, he needs some work at third. Foremost, Miami is looking for Coghlan to make his impact more with his bat than he gloves.

Coghlan also is headed to arbitration for the first time, and perhaps he could be used as a trade piece.

Power bat: After finishing last in the Majors with 95 home runs, the Marlins clearly would like to add a power bat. It could come at third base or catcher. First base is another possibility, if the club doesn't feel Morrison is the answer.

The Marlins pushed hard for Cuban slugger Jose Dariel Abreu, who is heading to the White Sox.

Morrison, who has had two surgeries to his right knee, opened the season on the 60-day disabled list. The club is hopeful, a healthy Morrison from the start of Spring Training will lead to increased production.

2014 payroll

Payroll was in the neighborhood of $38 million in '13, and counting pro-rated bonuses, it reached $50.5 million.

The numbers likely will stay about the same for '14.

The Marlins certainly have plenty of payroll flexibility. Greg Dobbs is signed for one-year, $1.7 million. After picking up the club option on Turner, the two will be signed for $2.7 million.

Seven players, including Stanton, Morrison and Cishek, are heading to arbitration. The projected figure for all seven is $15.2 million. So for these 10 players, the Marlins could be around $20 million towards their budget.

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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