HOUSTON -- Considering how far the Marlins have come in a year, they are hoping to avoid taking any steps backward.
If things play out the way the organization hopes, Miami will make some sort of splash by Thursday's non-waiver Trade Deadline. How much or little will depend on how the team is trending over the next few days.
"Every series from this point forward, until the Trade Deadline, is big," said general manager Dan Jennings. "Not so much the winning and losing -- that is big, because you don't need to lose ground. But how we're playing is the key. Right before the All-Star break, we started trending the wrong way. It was lifeless. Just the way we lost was bad."
Dropping six of nine on the road trip before the All-Star break raised questions as to whether the Marlins would trade any established players. If so, teams immediately began calling regarding All-Star right fielder Giancarlo Stanton, third baseman Casey McGehee and closer Steve Cishek. Lefty reliever Mike Dunn has also been the subject of inquiries.
Teams were told those veterans are not available, but wait and see. As for Stanton, he's not going anywhere, regardless of what happens.
Whether others stay or go likely will depend on what possible deals are realistic.
To the club's delight, there have been signs of recovery this past week, especially after taking three of four at Atlanta.
The front office is seeking ways to bolster the roster. They're targeting a starting pitcher and second baseman. Before any deal is completed, it would have to make sense without parting with core, young players who are considered part of the future.
While Miami hasn't thrown in the towel on being a playoff contender, the organization is also mindful that they finished 62-100 last year. To be flirting with the .500 mark at the Trade Deadline is already an accomplishment. But unfinished business remains.
"You don't want to do anything that will undo what we've tried to build -- and are building," Jennings said.
Starting pitching sets the tone, and it is an area that is also in high demand. For weeks, the front office has made it clear finding a proven big league starter is a priority. The ideal candidate is someone with controllable service time beyond this season. Still, that doesn't rule out acquiring a rental. But it would have to make perfect sense, without depleting the farm system.
Miami's rotation took a huge blow when Jose Fernandez underwent Tommy John surgery in May. Now, the need for a starter could change in the final days before the Deadline, if those currently on the roster perform.
Brad Hand and Jacob Turner, specifically, have upside. But both are out of options, and the time is now for them to show they can step up. If they keep progressing, suddenly the urgency to secure another starter diminishes.
Regardless of what happens on the pitching front, the focus has been and will continue to be on second base.
The ideal candidate is a top of the order player with speed. Miami was hoping it got that type of player when it signed free agent Rafael Furcal in December. But injuries have limited Furcal to just nine games, leaving the need for a replacement.
While big league experience would be nice, it's not necessarily a requirement. A big league-ready prospect at Double-A or above could fit the bill.
Whomever is brought in would have to be a good presence in the clubhouse. Retaining the positive chemistry will factor into whatever moves the team makes.
"Is it winning that creates chemistry or chemistry creates winning?" Jennings said. "I think if you look at this team, you bring in ingredients -- veteran guys to go along with young kids who have some service time. The biggest question you ask yourself is, 'How is it going to mesh?'"
The Marlins got off to a fast start this season, and one reason is the players were united and bought into the direction.
"I think, early on, you saw a sense of togetherness," Jennings said. "These guys came together, and they genuinely like one another. You can tell when guys rib each other, the way they generally do inside of a big league clubhouse. If it is accepted in a good way, and they give it back, that's usually a good sign. That's been that way from the start."