Key for Marlins is figuring out way to reach 88 wins

MIAMI — If you’re the Marlins, you can’t dismiss what is happening in Washington. The best rotation in the sport is getting even better with the pending signing of Max Scherzer.

Not only is Scherzer a game changer, he very well could be a season changer. So much so that the Nationals are considered not just a lock to win the National League East, but a strong favorite to also reach the World Series.

So if you’re the Marlins, how do you survey the landscape leading into the start of Spring Training? Actually, you don’t divert off the path you’re already on.

If they make no additional moves, the Marlins have dramatically improved themselves. They’ve added speed in Dee Gordon, power in Michael Morse, starting pitching in Mat Latos and Dan Haren. Martin Prado is a proven veteran who takes over at third base. The club has added some experienced pitching depth with the acquisitions of David Phelps and Aaron Crow.

There is a lot to be excited about. Also, if the team remains as competitive as they think they will, Jose Fernandez will return midseason.

You can boldly state right now, if Fernandez is close to being what he was before Tommy John surgery, he will be the best midseason addition for any club in the Majors. It’s hard to imagine a player moving in a July trade who could make more of an impact than a healthy Jose. Jon Lester and David Price were midseason moves in ’14, and many would take Fernandez over both of them right now.

All this said, how does the N.L. East shape up?

Well, the Nationals won 96 games and won the East by 12 games in 2014. Throw Scherzer into the equation, and bar major injuries or disappointments, this looks like a 100-victories club ticketed for the World Series.

If you’re Miami, remember you won 77 games in ’14, a year in which Fernandez missed about five months and Giancarlo Stanton was out the final three weeks.

A realistic approach should be to improve by at least 11 games. If the Marlins can get to 88 wins, they will like their chances of being one of 10 playing in the postseason.

Guess how many games the Giants and Pirates won in ’14? You got it, 88. Those were the two N.L. Wild Card teams.

We all know which team caught fire at the right time, and went on to win the World Series.

In the American League, the A’s won 88 games and the Royals won 89 games. Those were your two Wild Card teams. Again, we know who represented the A.L. in the World Series.

So, regardless of whether Scherzer is in Washington or not, the Marlins still have to figure out how to at least 11 more games. If they get to 90, they increase their playoff chances even more.

Not that the team is conceding anything heading into the season. Over a long year, you never know. But the approach is to get at least 88 wins, no matter how.

Even though winning the division means not playing a one-game Wild Card playoff, reaching the postseason is the main objective. Once in, anything can happen.

The Giants and Royals proved that in ’14.

Joe Frisaro

What’s next for Miami – invest for now or future?

MIAMI — It’s already been one of the busiest and potentially most productive offseasons the Marlins have enjoyed in years. Still, there and indications the club isn’t finished just yet.

We’re not talking about the obligatory signing of arbitration-eligible players and finding a fourth outfielder. We’re talking another significant move or two.

We do know the club has maintained interest in free agent James Shields. Some in the industry are rumbling Miami could be a sleeper squad in pursuit of Max Scherzer. I can flat out say, there is zero chance Miami is in on Scherzer.

For the sake of discussion, if Miami is willing to pay Shields, 33, a five-year deal worth, say, $90 million, is that a better investment than going after Yoan Moncada, the 19-year-old Cuban sensation?

This much I can say about Moncada. All the hype you hear about him is true. He’s a switch-hitter with power from both sides. He’s also a versatile athlete who can play five positions. He may profile in the infield, perhaps even at shortstop, and he plays the outfield.

Moncada’s price tag also could be in the $80 million range.

The Marlins also are monitoring the market on Moncada.

In recent years, Miami has come up short in the bidding of high-profile Cuban players. They made plays for Jose Abreu and Yeonis Cespedes, but in both cases, they underestimated the market.

Right now, teams like the Yankees, Red Sox and Dodgers have been linked to Moncada. It’s probably a long shot Miami can get the deal done.

But keep this in mind. Center fielder Marcell Ozuna is a year away from being arbitration-eligible. Ozuna also is represented by Scott Boras, who traditionally stays away from contract extensions and allows his players to reach free agency.

If that is the case, Ozuna could move on in a few years. By then, Moncada could be an option to take over in center field.

The Marlins clearly are looking to win now. Shields would help them do that. But Moncada could be the type of impact player who can keep the team competitive for years to come.

Something to ponder.

Joe Frisaro

Marlins proceeding cautiously on Shields

MIAMI — In so many ways, James Shields and the Marlins are a perfect fit. So why does it remain a long shot that Big Game James will sign with Miami?

Quite simply, the dollars have to make sense. Miami had no intentions of going five years and more than $100 million for a 33-year-old. Now, there are indications the demands are lowering, which again makes the Marlins a possibility.

But at what price? Would fives years, $90 million get the deal done? Perhaps, but that would depend on how it the contract is structured.

The Marlins are in a precarious place when it comes to their payrolls. The projected payroll for 2015 is in the $65 million range. Now, that figure could have some wiggle room based on Dan Haren’s situation. If Haren retires, Miami still gets $10 million from the Dodgers. And if Haren pitches for Miami, L.A. is paying the $10 million.

Either way, the organizaiton is aiming to avoid the overspending it did in 2012, when the payroll topped $100 million for the only time in franchise history. A number of players on that squad had heavily backloaded contracts. When ticket sales and other revenues didn’t meet expectations in the first season in the new ballpark, upper management opted to break the team up.

The Marlins don’t want history to repeat itself. They don’t want to relive that ugly chapter again.

So Miami must be careful how to approach Shields, because a bad contract could upset the rest of their roster in upcoming seasons.

The Marlins probably could stretch their budget in 2015, and pay Shields perhaps as much as $20 million. But if the club is on the hook for that figure or more in 2016, it could eat up a majority of the projected 2016 budget. No figure has been revealed for ’16, but it could be in the $80 million range.

Four players are already signed for $33 million in ’16. Giancarlo Stanton will make $9 million, while Martin Prado, Morse and Jarrod Saltalamacchia are each on the hook for $8 million. Prado technically is signed for $11 million in ’15 and ’16, but the Yankees are paying $3 million in each season.

Along with those four, 14 players on this year’s roster will be arbitration-eligible in ’16. Many are core players.

Projected arbitration players in ’16 are Steve Cishek, Aaron Crow, Mike Dunn, Dee Gordon, Jose Fernandez, David Phelps, Marcell Ozuna, Henderson Alvarez, Bryan Morris, Donovan Solano, A.J. Ramos, Carter Capps, Tom Koehler and Adeiny Hechavarria.

Miami also is considering extensions for Fernandez, Ozuna and Hechavarria, as well as Christian Yelich, who is eligible for arbitration in 2017.

The Marlins clearly are going for it in 2015. Shields just might be the missing piece to being in the postseason.

What Miami is weighing is how to afford Shields without impairing future budgets.

Joe Frisaro

Fourth outfield search wide open

MIAMI — All options remain in play for the Marlins in their search for a fourth outfielder. There are at least four candidates, and no clear frontrunner.

Free agents Nate Schierholtz and Ichiro Suzuki definitely are in the mix. But the list is deeper than these two.

The organization is pretty much exploring several left-handed hitters to handle backup outfield and pinch-hit roles. Andy Dirks, non-tendered by Detroit, and Will Venable of the Padres, in his final season of arbitration, also have drawn attention.

Schierholtz is an ideal fit because he is accustomed to the role. He’s solid defensively, and an accomplished pinch-hitter. When it is all said and done, he may be the choice.

Ichiro, of course, is the flashy name. It’s still hard to imagine that the 41-year-old, who is 156 hits shy of 3,000, would accept a National League bench role. The American League, with the DH, would give him more chances for playing time.

Miami’s outfield also is set with Christian Yelich in left, Marcell Ozuna in center and Giancarlo Stanton in right. The Marlins feel that trio is as good as any in the National League.

Still, injuries happen. And an established veteran like Suzuki is attractive.

The fact the Marlins continue to consider the 41-year-old shows they may have something creative in mind.

Perhaps the club is entertaining Ichiro also playing more than just three outfield spots. Could some first base be a consideration? Suzuki has never played first in the big leagues, and I have not gotten confirmation that is part of the club’s thinking. But if it were, it would help make more sense in luring the former All-Star to South Florida.

Free agent pickup, Michael Morse, will be the regular first baseman. But depth at the position is needed. Ichiro could get on the field more if he shows he can adjust to the spot.

Miami infield coach Perry Hill, regarded as one of the best in the business, could greatly help with the transition.

Justin Bour, a left-handed hitter, has a chance to make the Opening Day roster as a backup first baseman and pinch-hitter. But it may not be an ideal situation to have a promising young player sitting on the bench in the big leagues over playing regularly at Triple-A.

We’ll likely get more clarity on the fourth outfield situation in the next week or two.

Joe Frisaro

Door remains open for Haren to join Miami

MIAMI — Don’t close the door on Dan Haren pitching for the Marlins just yet.

I’m hearing rumblings that Miami hasn’t given up hope the 34-year-old will have a change of heart and ultimately report to Spring Training with the rest of the pitchers and catchers on Feb. 20.

Perhaps with Spring Training 41 days away, Haren is open to pitching for the team that acquired him from the Dodgers on Dec. 10.

During the holidays, Haren informed the Marlins that his preference remained to pitch close to home on the West Coast. He also told the team he wanted to go through Spring Training in Arizona.

With a limited trade market, the Marlins have explored their options. The Giants and Padres are considered two possibilities.

Haren is doing his part, preparing himself for Spring Training somewhere. That place may end up being with Miami at the Roger Dean Stadium complex in Jupiter, Fla.

If Haren is indeed having a change of heart, it would be an ideal situation for the Marlins. Bottom line is Miami wants a veteran pitcher, and Haren is an ideal candidate.

If he is dealt, the Marlins would likely seek other options, like signing free agent James Shields. But “Big Game” James is a costly alternative because reportedly he is seeking a deal in the five-year, $100 million range.

The Marlins have no intention of meeting those demands.

Haren, acquired from the Dodgers on Dec. 10 as part of the Dee Gordon trade, fits what Miami is seeking — a proven veteran who adds depth to an already strong rotation.

The Marlins would certainly welcome the chance to go into Spring Training with a rotation of Henderson Alvarez, Mat Latos, Jarred Cosart, Dan Haren and either Tom Koehler or Brad Hand.

The rotation also will get a huge boost midseason when Jose Fernandez completes his recovery from Tommy John surgery.

Another plus to having Haren is, if he reports, his $10 million salary would be picked up by Los Angeles. There are a lot of positives to having Haren say yes to Miami.

Joe Frisaro

Haren situation creates uncertainty

MIAMI — The Marlins have taken so many steps to create franchise and roster stability. It really is a different culture now than, say, in 2012, when the team sold its fan base sizzle — immediately saw that wasn’t working — and abruptly sold off most of the parts less than a year later.

Things are much more settled now. Manager Mike Redmond had his contract extended through 2017. Giancarlo Stanton, convinced promising pieces were in place for the foreseeable future, bought in and signed the richest contract in North American sports history — 13 years, $325 million.

The offseason has thus far been a big success, with the additions of Dee Gordon, Michael Morse, Mat Latos, Martin Prado and more. The club is even flirting with signing Ichiro Suzuki as a backup outfielder.

For all the positive momentum the team has generated, it is a bit surprising the club has gotten into a bit of a bind with Dan Haren.

It was no secret Haren’s preference was to play on the West Coast. Yet, knowing that is where Haren’s heart was, Miami still included him in the seven-player deal with the Dodgers on Dec. 10.

Now, Miami is covered financially, because the Dodgers are covering the $10 million owed to Haren. And if he retires or is traded, the Marlins still get cash considerations from L.A., believed to be $10 million.

The question that hasn’t been completely answered is why get Haren in the first place? Perhaps the team truly believed he would pitch in Miami, or it wanted the cash considerations to cover other areas of its payroll. Latos is projected to get around $8.4 million in arbitration, so the money would come in handy there.

Gordon, obviously, was the centerpiece of the deal. But Miami may have been able to land him for Andrew Heaney alone. On the same day, Heaney was spun to the Angels for second baseman Howie Kendrick.

Miami also acquired infielder Miguel Rojas, but parted with reliever Chris Hatcher, infielder Enrique Hernandez and catching prospect Austin Barnes.

Until the Haren impasse is resolved, we don’t know exactly what the return will be for Miami. What it has created is some confusing uncertainty.

Joe Frisaro

Trading Haren most likely option

MIAMI — The writing is on the wall regarding how the Dan Haren situation will play out.

Expect the Marlins to trade the 34-year-old right-hander to a club out West. Haren has already informed the team that he prefers to pitch closer to home, and with a team that has Spring Training in Arizona.

From what I’ve heard, there is a market for Haren, and the Marlins will do their best to work out a deal that accommodates both parties. Those talks are already underway.

Now, Haren hasn’t completely closed the door on reporting to Spring Training with Miami. From a business perspective, that makes sense. He is keeping his options open, and not walking away from $10 million.

The Marlins were giving Haren as much time as he needed to make up his mind. With that being the case, if he truly intended to be part of Miami’s plan, why inform the club shortly before New Years Day that he still hoped to pitch closer to home? He could have taken more time to make his decision.

The last thing the Marlins need is to have a player in camp who may not want to be there. Sure, if he arrived for camp, everyone might say the right things the first few days, weeks or months. But at some point over a long season there is adversity. What then? The front office and manager Mike Redmond have worked too hard the past couple of years to get everyone to “buy in.” They have done their best to avoid distractions, not work around them.

The Marlins had a similar situation with a player on the fence about joining the club in 2012. Yunel Escobar, acquired in the November trade with Toronto, was being asked to switch from shortstop to third base. Initially, Escobar said he would do so, but then had a change of heart.

Miami traded Escobar to the Rays a few weeks later for Derek Dietrich.

My guess is the Marlins will find a fit for Haren pretty soon.

Joe Frisaro

Haren not intending on joining Marlins

MIAMI — Dan Haren has informed the Marlins that his preference remains to pitch out West, and for a team that has Spring Training in Arizona. The 34-year-old California native had been weighing his options sinced he was traded to Miami from the Dodgers on Dec. 10.

If Miami cannot work out a trade, it is not clear yet if the 12-year big league veteran will retire.

Haren’s decision does not change the terms of the deal.

The Marlins were aware of Haren’s intentions to pitch closer to home prior to including him in the seven-player trade with the Dodgers at the Winter Meetings in San Diego. In the blockbuster deal, Miami also acquired second baseman Dee Gordon and infielder Miguel Rojas for Andrew Heaney, Chris Hatcher, Enrique Hernandez and Austin Barnes.

As part of the trade, the Dodgers agreed to pay the $10 million Haren is signed for in 2015. The Marlins are still receiving a cash consideration from the Dodgers, believed to be $10 million, even if the club is able to trade the right-hander.

The only West Division team that has Spring Training in Florida is Houston. It is unclear if Haren would accept a deal for a central division club that trains in Arizona.

Joe Frisaro

Unpopular trade may turn out right for Marlins

“What’s right isn’t always popular. What’s popular isn’t always right.” — Howard Cosell

MIAMI — The words of Howard Cosell, the late broadcasting legend, can certainly apply to the Marlins’ controversial 12-player trade with the Blue Jays two offseasons ago.

Few moves in any sport created as much negative backlash as what the Marlins received for dealing several high-priced, popular players after the inaugural
season at Marlins Park.

Here’s a refresher for one of the most criticized deals in recent MLB history.

On Nov. 19, 2012, Miami completed a deal that sent Josh Johnson, Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle, John Buck and Emilio Bonifacio to Toronto for Henderson Alvarez,
Adeiny Hechavarria, Jeff Mathis, Yunel Escobar, Jake Marisnick, Anthony DeSclafani and Justin Nicolino.

As unpopular as the trade was, Marlins’ ownership insisted it was the right thing to do.

Yes, the trade was a money purge, ridding Miami of $163.75 million in guaranteed salaries owed through 2018. Yes, the trade made the club younger, and in the short-term meant more losing. That clearly happened with a 100-loss campaign in 2013. And to the Marlins, yes, the deal was necessary because it helped reset the culture in a clubhouse in need of changing. Mike Redmond replaced Ozzie Guillen as manager, and the organizaiton now has a “team first” mentality.

Why rehash one of the darkest days in Marlins’ history today? Because of how that blockbuster continues to influence the roster overall as we head into 2015.

Four players directly involved in the deal remain: Alvarez, Hechavarria, Mathis and Nicolino. Alvarez, an All-Star in ’14, is a top of the rotation fixture.
Hechavarria was a Gold Glove finalist at shortstop. Mathis is a highly-respected backup catcher, and Nicolino was the Organizations Top Minor League pitcher last season.

Apply the six degrees of separation theory to the trade, and seven more players with links to the Toronto trade are now with the organization — infielder
Derek Dietrich, right-hander Jarred Cosart, right-hander Mat Latos, second baseman Dee Gordon, right-hander Dan Haren, infielder Miguel Rojas and outfielder Austin Wates.

Each of these players is connected, either directly or indirectly, to the Blue Jays’ deal.

Haren’s situation remains up in the air, because he is considering either retiring of requesting a trade to a West Coast team. But Cosart and Latos are
projected to be in the rotation. Gordon will be the starting second baseman, while Dietrich, Rojas and Wates will be in Spring Training competing for bench
spots.

Cosart and Wates, for example, were acquired in July from the Astros in a package of players that included Marisnick. Enrique Hernandez was also part of that trade. At the Winter Meetings a few weeks ago in San Diego, Hernandez was part of the trade with the Dodgers that brought in Gordon, Haren and Rojas.

Taking it a step further, moving the $163.75 million off the books, also gave the Marlins the financial flexibility to sign Giancarlo Stanton, their MVP-
candidate, to the richest contract in North American sports history — 13 years, $325 million.

It’s often said, you can’t measure the true impact of a trade until three or four years later. In the Marlins’ case, that big deal, as unpopular as it ws at the time, may end up being right after all.

Six degrees of Marlins trade with Blue Jays

Nov. 19, 2012

To Blue Jays: RHP Josh Johnson, LHP Mark Buehrle, SS Jose Reyes, C John Buck, INF Emilio Bonifacio

To Marlins: RHP Henderson Alvarez, SS Adeiny Hechavarria, C Jeff Mathis, INF Yunel Escobar, OF Jake Marisnick, LHP Justin Nicolino, RHP Anthony DeSclafani

Dec. 4, 2012

To Rays: INF Yunel Escobar

To Marlins: INF Derek Dietrich

July 31, 2014

To Astros: OF Jake Marisnick, 3B Colin Moran, RHP Francis Martes

To Marlins: RHP Jarred Cosart, INF Enrique Hernandez, OF Austin Wates

Dec. 10, 2014

To Dodgers: INF Enrique Hernandez, LHP Andrew Heaney, RHP Chris Hatcher, C Austin Barnes.

To Marlins: 2B Dee Gordon, RHP Dan Haren, INF Miguel Rojas

Dec. 11, 2014

To Reds: RHP Anthony DeSclafani, C Chad Wallach

To Marlins: RHP Mat Latos

Joe Frisaro

Wheeling and dealing at frantic pace

MIAMI — When the Marlins said they were open to making moves to improve, they weren’t kidding. The front office swung two trades on Friday that capped a frantic three-weeks in which six trades and one major free agent signing were completed.

You have to go back to the offseason in 2005 to find a time when the Marlins made six trades in a three-week span. The difference then was the club parted with established core players like Josh Beckett, Mike Lowell, Juan Pierre and Luis Castillo. Those moves were prompted by the fact the organization’s bid to secure funding for a new ballpark fell through.

This year, the team has made significant upgrades, bringing in first baseman Michael Morse, second baseman Dee Gordon, right-hander Mat Latos and third baseman Martin Prado.

Dan Haren, who may opt to retire, was acquired, as were David Phelps, Andre Rienzo and Aaron Crow.

“We felt like we needed more offense at first base,” president of baseball operations Michael Hill said. “We felt we needed a true four hole hitter, to hit behind the big man [Giancarlo] Stanton. And it wasn’t on the immediate priority list, but as the meetings unfolded in San Diego, and it became clear we could access Dee Gordon, I wanted Dee Gordon, because he’s a game-changer. His speed is a game-changer.”

Marlins major moves since Thanksgiving:

Nov. 28: RHP Aaron Crow (Kansas City) for Brian Flynn, Reid Redman
Dec. 10: 2B Dee Gordon, RHP Dan Haren, INF Miguel Rojas (Dodgers) for LHP Andrew Heaney, RHP Chris Hatcher, INF Enrique Hernadez, C Austin Barnes
Dec. 10: RHP Andre Rienzo (White Sox) for LHP Dan Jennings
Dec. 11: RHP Mat Latos (Reds) for RHP Anthony DeSclafani and C Chad Wallach
Dec. 17: Signed free agent first baseman Michael Morse, two-years, $16 million
Dec. 19: 3B Martin Prado, RHP David Phelps (Yankees) for 1B Garrett Jones, RHP Nathan Eovaldi, RHP Domingo German
Dec. 19: RHP Kendry Flores, RHP Luis Castillo (Giants) for 3B Casey McGehee

2005 Marlins Trades

Nov. 24: Josh Beckett, Mike Lowell, Guillermo Mota to Red Sox for Anibal Sanchez, Hanley Ramirez, Jesus Delgado, Harvey Garcia
Nov. 24: Carlos Delgado to Mets for Mike Jacobs, Yusmeiro Petit
Dec. 2: Luis Castillo to Twins for Travis Bowyer, Scott Tyler
Dec. 5: Paul Lo Duca to Mets for Gaby Hernandez, Dante Brinkley
Dec. 7: Juan Pierre to Cubs for Ricky Nolasco, Sergio Mitre, Renyel Pinto
Dec. 16: Ron Villone to Yankees for Ben Julianel

Joe Frisaro

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