ORLANDO, Fla. -- No deals are imminent for the Marlins, but several potential matchups are taking shape as the General Managers Meetings wind down.
"I will leave here encouraged," president of baseball operations Michael Hill said.
The GM Meetings wrap up on Thursday, and in the first few days, team officials have had a number of conversations with teams willing to make deals. Upgrading the offense is the primary focus. To do so, Miami primarily is looking at trade options over free-agent signings. The club's position of strength is pitching.
Despite finishing 62-100, the 2013 squad remarkably boasts the best team ERA in franchise history. The Marlins' starters and relievers combined for a 3.71 ERA, which topped the 3.83 mark posted by the 1997 team that won the World Series.
"When you have starting pitching that you're willing to part with, you should be able to make some deals," Hill said.
The question is whether the team will part with anyone from its big league rotation. Jose Fernandez, who won the National League Rookie of the Year Award on Monday, is, of course, untouchable. But what about Nathan Eovaldi or Henderson Alvarez? Would Miami part with its projected Nos. 2 or 3 starters to improve the offense?
Ideally, the Marlins do not want to subtract from their big league roster.
Jacob Turner and Tom Koehler rounded out the rotation at the end of the season.
Left-hander Andrew Heaney, the ninth overall pick in the 2012 First-Year Player Draft, has been excelling in the Arizona Fall League, and he will get an opportunity to battle for a rotation spot in Spring Training. Perhaps he will be better off starting out either at Double-A Jacksonville or Triple-A New Orleans.
Still, the Marlins showed they will promote a talented arm quickly when they brought up Fernandez at age 20 -- two years removed from being drafted 14th overall in 2011.
"We want talent. We've done our prospect deals," Hill said. "We're trying to get better and acquire players who help us now and into the future."
In the Minors, the Marlins have some attractive pieces to dangle in trade discussions, like Justin Nicolino, Anthony DeSclafani, Adam Conley, Brian Flynn and Brad Hand.
To part with any of their top pitching prospects, the Marlins will be seeking offensive players who can step in and contribute in 2014.
"That's the only scenario that makes sense. In our situation, it's to get something back," Hill said. "Obviously, our close-to-Major League-ready starting pitching and our young Major League starting pitching is attractive.
"There has been in interest in that, for good reason. It's the toughest commodity to acquire. It has to be something that is not, in our eyes, a short-term fix for us to part with."
The Marlins also would consider trading prospects for prospects.
Miami's front office is trying to figure out what makes sense and how to maximize a payroll that may wind up around $45 million.
The Marlins aren't anticipating many changes in the bullpen. Closer Steve Cishek will be heading to arbitration for the first time, but he isn't considered a trade piece.
The team has had discussions about bringing back veteran Chad Qualls, who is a free agent. If Qualls doesn't return, a possible veteran replacement could be someone like Frank Francisco, the 34-year-old free agent who spent the past two seasons with the Mets.
Miami is in the market for a catcher to split time with Jeff Mathis, and the club is seeking a third baseman. A potential fit at catcher is Chris Iannetta of the Angels, who is available as a trade option. The Marlins also are having internal discussions about Cuban catcher Yenier Bello, a 28-year-old free agent.
At third base, Juan Uribe is a free agent who has been mentioned as a possible fit. For the Marlins to land Uribe, a couple of things have to fall into place. First, the veteran would have to agree to go from a contender like the Dodgers to a team that is rebuilding. Second, he may be seeking a two-year deal, and his cost could be higher than Miami has budgeted. David Freese of the Cardinals could be a trade possibility, but at this point, that appears to be a long shot.
In the outfield, the Marlins are hopeful Marcell Ozuna shows his left thumb has recovered and he is ready to become the everyday center fielder. Ozuna suffered his injury in late July, and he recently began playing winter ball in the Dominican Republic.
"He made such tremendous improvement and strides in his plate discipline and his offensive approach at the Major League level," Hill said. "His approach, truthfully, at the Major League level was better than it was at the Minor League level. You didn't see the power numbers, but you saw more average and more consistent contact.
"I'm very much looking forward to him coming in and winning a job in Spring Training."
If Ozuna wins the starting job, it likely would be in center field, where he would be flanked by Christian Yelich in left and Giancarlo Stanton in right.
Jake Marisnick may start off at New Orleans as he seeks to improve offensively.
"[Marisnick] can play defensively, but we need offensive consistency and better strike-zone awareness," Hill said.