MIAMI -- How to handle the hot corner will be the hot topic for the Marlins as they head into the Winter Meetings. With their catching situation settled, the attention will turn squarely to third base when Miami officials arrive in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., on Sunday night for baseball's annual gathering.
In recent days, the Marlins made their first big offseason splash, reaching agreement on a three-year, $21 million contract with free-agent catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia. Reeling in Saltalamacchia was step one in beefing up the league's lowest-ranked offense.
Miami made another free-agent move on Thursday night, reaching agreement on a one-year deal with Rafael Furcal, a career shortstop who will be taking over at second base. On Friday, the team showed more aggressiveness, as it's closing in on a two-year deal with first baseman Garrett Jones.
Third base specifically, and power bats generally, are high on the team's shopping list. If necessary, the Marlins have pitching depth they can use to make deals to add more offense.
"It's a just a matter of thinking through the best deal for us, and finding the best fit for us," president of baseball operations Michael Hill said. "There are obviously options through free agency, and options through trades. I think that's what we're focused on right now, just sorting through that to see if it makes more sense to use our inventory to acquire those pieces or if it makes more sense to do it via free agency."
Third base: Quite simply, more production from the position is needed. Miami's third basemen combined for just three home runs in 2013. Placido Polanco, now a free agent, had one, and Ed Lucas belted two of his four homers while playing third base. In its search, the question is whether to seek a stop-gap veteran for a year or two, or look for more of a long-term option. Internally, 2013 first-round Draft pick Colin Moran is realistically another year or so away from being big league ready. Internal candidates include Derek Dietrich, Lucas or Donovan Solano.
Power bats: When you finish last in the Majors in runs scored and home runs, you tend to be open to making changes. If there is an option, either through a trade or a modestly-priced free agent, the Marlins will consider the player over the position. This makes Logan Morrison potentially vulnerable as a trade piece, which could lead to an opening at first base.
Setup reliever: Ryan Webb was non-tendered, and Chad Qualls is a free agent. So, two spots in the bullpen will need to be filled. The internal choices are still relatively inexperienced. Qualls was a veteran presence, which is a reason why he still could return. For now, the team is exploring what may be available on the market.
Fifth starter: The rotation is a strength, but it remains comparatively young. A year ago, veteran Kevin Slowey was a non-roster invitee who opened the season as the No. 2 starter. If possible, the team would welcome a veteran to eat up some innings, allowing some of the younger arms more time to develop.
Who they could trade if necessary
Morrison: The pending signing of Jones makes Morrison immediately the Marlins' No. 1 trade chip. For much of the offseason, sentiment was mixed in the organization on what to do with Morrison. He's a left-handed hitter with power potential, but two right knee surgeries have slowed him down the past two years. The 26-year-old is healthy and has upside. He's also arbitration-eligible for the first time, and his salary could rise to close to $2 million. Since the General Managers Meetings last month, teams have inquired about Morrison.
Jacob Turner: With depth throughout the organization, the club is open to moving some pitching to bring in another bat or two. Ideally, the Marlins would like to retain their starting pitching, but they may end up having to give to receive. Turner, acquired from the Tigers in 2012, is just 22, with a lot of promise.
Justin Ruggiano: Up for arbitration for the first time, Ruggiano is also set to receive a nice pay raise, to somewhere in the neighborhood of $1.5 million. He plays all three outfield spots, and provides power, as shown by his 18 homers last season. Most likely, Ruggiano will remain with the Marlins and be their fourth outfielder.
According to MLB.com, Miami's Top 10 Prospects are: Jake Marisnick (outfielder), Andrew Heaney (left-hander), Justin Nicolino (lefty), Moran (third base), Adam Conley (lefty), Jose Urena (right-hander), J.T. Realmuto (catcher), Avery Romero (shortstop), Brian Flynn (lefty) and Angel Sanchez (right-hander).
Heaney is pretty much untouchable in any potential trades talks, and the first-round pick in 2012 could find himself in Miami's rotation sometime in '14, if he doesn't make the Opening Day roster. Marisnick, promoted from Double-A in July, may wind up at Triple-A, if he doesn't win the starting center-field spot in Spring Training.
Rule 5 Draft
History has shown the Marlins will explore the Rule 5 Draft. They struck big in 2005, selecting Dan Uggla, who became an All-Star second baseman for them before he was dealt to the Braves. Last year, outfielder Alfredo Silverio was selected from the Dodgers, but he missed all season because of right elbow surgery. Most likely, the team will make a selection yet again next Thursday in the Rule 5 Draft.
Big contracts they might unload
None. Saltalamacchia is the only player on the team with a multiyear contract, and the rest of the veterans are much more modestly priced.
According to estimations, the payroll will increase a bit from last year, when Miami was around $38 million. By the time the roster is set, the figure should be around $45 million. There is flexibility to add some payroll if it makes sense for mid-level free agents.