Marlins back to weighing third-base options

Marlins back to weighing third-base options

Marlins back to weighing third-base options

MIAMI -- So much attention has been given to the Marlins' third-base search, but the position remains open to speculation.

Since Thanksgiving, the Marlins have been among the league's most active teams. They've signed three impact free agents and completed two significant trades. None of those transactions, however, addressed the need that many believed was at the top of the club's list heading into the Winter Meetings.

President of baseball operations Michael Hill said late last week the team continues to look at trade possibilities and free agents.

On the free-agent front, the Marlins were in the mix with Juan Uribe, but he agreed to return to the Dodgers on a two-year, $15 million deal.

"We are looking at third basemen via trades, and we are still talking to free agents," Hill said. "Until we find the right fit for us, that search will be ongoing."

Underline "right fit." Finding a fit has been a challenge.

With Uribe off the board, the free-agent market is thinning. Eric Chavez is available, but there are no indications Miami is making a strong push for the veteran. It's doubtful Miami would bring back Placido Polanco, who handled the position last season.

Basically, if a free agent is signed, the move would be a stopgap until Colin Moran, the club's No. 1 pick the 2013 First-Year Player Draft, is ready.

If the Marlins look at trade possibilities, candidates could include Will Middlebrooks of the Red Sox, Danny Valencia of the Orioles and Mike Olt of the Cubs. Sean Rodriguez of the Rays also would fit the mold as a versatile player who could fill several roles.

Miami has starting pitching depth to dangle as trade chips.

"We are not reluctant [to trade pitching]," Hill said. "It depends on who it is, but we are not reluctant. This is why you build and try to create depth, to allow you to do what you need to do to win games at the Major League level."

Thus far, the club has been able to fill several holes without dipping into its pitching surplus. The Marlins used free agency to sign catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia, first baseman Garrett Jones and Rafael Furcal, who is converting to second base.

Logan Morrison was a possible trade piece to move for a third baseman. Instead, Miami announced its deal last Friday that sent Morrison to Seattle for reliever Carter Capps. Justin Ruggiano also could have been part of a package for a third baseman, but on the final day of the Winter Meetings, he was shipped to the Cubs for outfielder Brian Bogusevic.

The team also could make some Minor League signings with invitations to big league camp, which would open up the possibility of bringing in Casey McGehee, who posted big power numbers in Japan, and Wilson Betemit.

In theory, the Marlins have the pitching to get a deal done. In reality, finding a fit isn't quite so easy. To part with a young arm, Miami is looking for players with controllable years before they reach free agency. The player also will have to be versatile to switch to another position once Moran is ready.

As the market settles, the Marlins also are asking themselves, "What's the rush?" Unless there is a deal that absolutely makes sense, the best option may be to wait until Spring Training and then revisit the position.

Miami has internal candidates.

Derek Dietrich, who played in 57 big league games at second base last year, is expected to see time at third base in Spring Training. In less than two months in the big leagues, the 24-year-old belted nine home runs, which was third most on the team.

Dietrich is a left-handed hitter with power. He added 11 homers at Double-A Jacksonville, giving him 20 homers in pro ball last year.

Donovan Solano is another candidate, but he projects more as a utility player. Like Solano, Ed Lucas is a right-handed-hitting option.

Should the Marlins wait until Spring Training, they could evaluate how their own choices are doing, as well as see if additional clubs surface in need of pitching.

With pitching, there is always an unknown. Clubs often believe they have enough of it, only to see either injuries or ineffectiveness change their plans. If that is the case, the Marlins may be positioned nicely to make an even better deal in the spring than what is available now.

In terms of a pure baseball decision, adding someone like Middlebrooks would appear to be the better option than an internal candidate, because he has played the position and put up some solid numbers on a World Series team.

The same holds true for Valencia. But at what price?

The Red Sox and Orioles could use another young arm. Miami isn't looking to move left-hander Andrew Heaney, the ninth overall pick in 2012. The Marlins have other possibilities, but they still have to find a match they are comfortable with.

Justin Nicolino and Anthony DeSclafani were obtained last offseason from the Blue Jays, and both are close to being big league ready. And there are lefties Brian Flynn and Brad Hand, who both pitched for Miami in September. Adam Conley is another left-hander who started at Double-A last season.

As for possible in-house third basemen, Dietrich is a 15- to 20-homer candidate, but he hasn't played third base in the big leagues. So there is an unknown.

Before the Red Sox consider moving Middlebrooks, it is believed they will first have to re-sign free-agent shortstop Stephen Drew. If that is the case, Xander Bogaerts could slide over to third, and Middlebrooks could be available.

Valencia, who is from Miami, should be more readily available.

The Marlins are pretty much open to any scenario.

"We are focused to find that piece that we think will continue along the trend that we have followed this offseason," Hill said. "We are identifying pieces that fit for us. We are still in search.

"As long as we still have areas of needs at the Major League level, we will continue to work to try to fill those needs."

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.