We know the Marlins had Jose Fernandez on an innings limit this year. How many innings do you think he will be allowed to pitch in his sophomore season?
-- Raymond S., Sunrise, Fla.
In general, it is not unreasonable to push a young starter up 30 innings per year early in his career. If that is the case for Fernandez, he could realistically progress to 200 innings in 2014. But reaching the 200-innings plateau raises some other potential concerns -- like his longevity.
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Scott Boras, Fernandez's agent, has pointed out there is risk in too much too soon for the hard-throwing right-hander. At the General Managers Meetings in Orlando, I asked Boras about Fernandez's innings.
"The rule is, basically, you want to keep these guys under 600 innings before they're 24," Boras said. "This is something that really needs to be managed, because the metrics are not good for retaining velocity and durability. They did a good job of it this year, and hopefully, they'll continue with that as they go forward."
Another factor is Fernandez himself. He has made it clear he wants to be on the mound, and not watching the final few weeks. Looking at all the factors, my guess right now is the Marlins will cap Fernandez between 180-190 innings.
The Marlins talked about adding a good doubles hitter. Have they explored any trade possibilities for Kyle Seager, Jason Kipnis or Brian Dozier?
-- Brian R., Honolulu, Hawaii
You mention good names of young, controllable players who are impact hitters. These types of players would be on the top of most team's wish lists. But they also are very difficult to pry away, pretty much for the same reasons the Marlins are not willing to part with their own young core players, like Christian Yelich.
In Seager's case, the Mariners are also struggling for offense, so I can't see a scenario where he would be dealt. Kipnis was a significant piece for a playoff team in Cleveland, thus it's very doubtful he would be moved. And Dozier is part of the Twins' rebuilding process.
Of the three players you've mentioned, Dozier perhaps would be the most realistic, because the Twins are looking for pitching and perhaps the Marlins could be a fit.
Finding teams who have hitting depth and are short on pitching is the best place to start in seeking a potential match with Miami. That's why you are seeing speculation with the Angels, with players like Mark Trumbo being mentioned.
Since the Marlins are willing to trade prospects for prospects, don't you think a trade for one of the Cubs' studs would make since? I particularly think Javier Baez would be a fantastic addition to the club. Justin Nicolino plus Adam Conley maybe gets it done?
-- Alex F., Cape Coral, Fla.
This is the fun kind of speculation you get this time of year. And perhaps you are on to something. Like the Marlins, the Cubs have some attractive players moving up the Minor League ranks. Baez has posted big offensive numbers, but he has struggled defensively, especially at shortstop.
There is some talk he could move to second or third. Nicolino and Conley, two talented left-handers, are part of the pitching depth the Marlins have accumulated. It's tough to part with quality pitching, especially left-handed pitching. I'm not sure Miami would package two of its better young lefties in the same trade. But you have to be willing to give to receive to get any deal done.
How do the Marlins expect to sign free agents when history shows they only trade them away?
-- Yvonner, New York
It's an issue, no doubt. But at this stage in what the Marlins are building, they aren't going after the high-end free agents. They're not in the mix for Robinson Cano. The free agents they are talking about are players like Juan Uribe, who might be only willing to come to Miami on a two-year deal.
The Marlins are showing they aren't moving off their no-trade-clause policy, either, another potential hurdle to signing marquee free agents.
Obviously, the club has a history of dealing players who have signed big free-agent contracts. They did so with Carlos Delgado in 2005, as well as Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle and Heath Bell after the 2012 season.
At the end of the day, it comes down to money. If they make the best offer, they feel confident they can get the players they covet.
Working in the Marlins' favor is Miami is an attractive market, Marlins Park is a beautiful venue, and the team has a good core of players to be around. This is the big leagues, and players go where they feel they have the best overall opportunity.
Could the Marlins possibly sign Omar Infante back for, say, a three-year, $20 million deal? He could play third with Donovan Solano at second. Then when prospect Colin Moran is ready, Infante could move to second.
-- Elliott C., Haubstadt, Ind.
Infante is a class act and a real pro. At this stage of his career, and considering where the Marlins are right now, it's not a realistic fit. The Tigers also seem interested in bringing him back, they have more dollars to spend than the Marlins and they already are a contender. So it is doubtful Infante would want to return to a rebuilding process, especially since he will have several options.
As a short-term solution at third base until Moran is ready, someone like David Freese could be a fit in a trade scenario, or Uribe as a free agent. Even Freese could be a long shot. When a deal is finally made, I believe it will be for a younger hitting candidate who can join the core of players who are right now blending together.