When the Marlins head to Spring Training in mid-February, most of their regular position spots will be set. Pretty much the only job unsettled is third base, where prospect Matt Dominguez still must show he is big league ready. If the 21-year-old is, there will be little drama when manager Edwin Rodriguez fills out his lineup card.
What will be up for grabs are a few bench spot, particularly in the outfield. Heading into Spring Training, the Marlins are planning on going with Logan Morrison in left, Chris Coghlan in center and Mike Stanton in right.
A candidate to keep a close eye on is Scott Cousins.
Typically, the Marlins prefer their prospects who aren’t in the lineup every day to get steady playing time in the Minor Leagues. Cousins may be an exception. A third-round pick in 2006, he will turn 26 on Jan. 22.
A left-handed batter and thrower, Cousins has the strongest outfield arm in the organization. He is a plus defender in all three outfield spots.
Cousins has had plenty of Minor League seasoning, including 118 games at Triple-A New Orleans in 2010, where he batted .285 with 14 homers and 49 RBIs.
Late in the season, Cousins also saw action in 27 games with the Marlins, and he hit .297 with two doubles, two triples and two RBIs. His first big league hit was a walk-off, game winner to beat Atlanta. He also came through with some timely pinch-hits, going 5-for-17 (.294) in that role.
Even though he is seeking his first MLB homer, he has 55 as a Minor Leaguer. Also as a Minor Leaguer, he did something yet to be accomplished by a Florida player — hit for the cycle.
Entering Spring Training, Cousins will be looked upon as a fourth outfielder. But that doesn’t mean he won’t eventually develop into a quality every day player. In 2006, the Marlins acquired a player from the Reds who was a similar type of player. Back then, Cody Ross was an unheralded 26-year-old who was looking to prove he could play every day.
— Joe Frisaro
When Spring Training opens, touted prospect Matt Dominguez will be given every opportunity to win the Marlins’ starting third base job.
But the 21-year-old, who hasn’t played above Double-A, will have some competition.
Emilio Bonifacio likely will see a great deal of time at third base when Spring Training opens.
Since he was acquired from the Nationals for Scott Olsen and Josh Willingham after the 2008 season, the Marlins have regarded Bonifacio as an every day player. One of the fastest players in the league, the Marlins would like to maximize his game-changing speed and above average defense.
But the 25-year-old has yet to show the consistency at the plate to be a regular. Bonifacio spent time at Triple-A New Orleans, and he appeared in 73 games with the Marlins, playing six different positions — second base, third base, shortstop, center field, left field and right field.
In 2009, he opened the season as Florida’s regular third baseman, and he played the position in 86 games that year.
During the offseason, Bonifacio has been playing Winter League ball for Licey in the Dominican Republic. He’s been seeing steady time at third base. In 33 games, he’s batting .271 with a .344 on-base percentage.
A switch-hitter, Bonifacio continues to post better numbers from the left side, where he is batting .296 with a .350 on-base percentage, compared to a .222 average with a .333 on-base percentage from the right-side.
If Dominguez doesn’t win the job, there is another scenario that could play out. Bonifacio could go to second base, a more natural position for him, and Omar Infante could slide over to third base.
Infante will enter Spring Training as the starting second baseman, but Florida’s defense may shape up better with him at third and Bonifacio at second. That’s if Dominguez doesn’t claimed the third base spot.
— Joe Frisaro
It’s now official.
The Marlins on Friday announced the signing of Ricky Nolasco to a three-year contract.
Both sides reached agreement on the deal on Sunday night, and the deal became official after the 28-year-old right-hander completed his physical, which was on Thursday.
The three-year contract is worth $26.5 million, and it includes base salaries of $6 million in 2011, $9 million for 2012 and $11.5 million for 2013. Based on innings pitched, Nolasco also can earn bonuses of up to $500,000 for each season, or another $1.5 million total.
Projected as the Marlins’ No. 2 starter, Nolasco was 14-9 with a 4.51 ERA in 26 starts in ’10. He struck out 147 and walked just 33. With a 54-39 record, the right-hander is second in Marlins’ history in wins. Dontrelle Willis is the franchise leader with 68 victories.
The Marlins’ rotation is solidified with ace Josh Johnson, Nolasco, Javier Vazquez, Anibal Sanchez and Chris Volstad.
— Joe Frisaro
Thursday is a big day for Hanley Ramirez. The three-time All-Star is celebrating his 27th birthday, which for him is another reason to celebrate during the holiday season.
Already one of the top players in the game, the Marlins shortstop is also moving closer to reaching the prime of his career. If he keeps continuing at the pace he’s been at in his first five big league seasons, he will be well on his way to posting Hall of Fame credentials.
What Ramirez has done from ages 22 to 26 certainly is impressive, and you wonder just how much more he will accomplish.
He’s already been the NL Rookie of the Year, a Silver Slugger Award winner, a batting champion, an All-Star and a second-place finisher in the MVP voting.
Since 2006, his rookie year, he tops all players in the game in runs scored with 562, and he’s sixth overall in total hits (934).
Among shortstops, his 124 home runs are the most of any player at his position. And his .313 batting is second only to Derek Jeter’s .314 average in the same time frame.
Across the board, Ramirez’s overall numbers have made him the most impressive player — at least offensively — at his position since he broke in as a rookie. His on-base percentage (.385) ranks first among shortstops in the past five years. He is first in home runs with 124, and he paces his position in doubles with 198.
Ramirez’s 196 stolen bases are second most of any shortstop since his rookie season. Only Jose Reyes, with 239, has more.
In Marlins’ history, Ramirez will enter 2011 within striking distance of Dan Uggla’s franchise home run mark of 154. With 30, he will pull even.
Ramirez currently ranks fourth in Marlins’ history in hits, fifth in home runs, second in runs scored, second in doubles, and tied for first in career batting average. Ramirez and Miguel Cabrera each have a .313 average as Marlins.
By his own high standards, Ramirez is coming off a disappointing season, where he batted .300 with 21 homers and 76 RBIs.
At age 27, Ramirez will be looking for a bounce back year in 2011.
— Joe Frisaro
The more innings Ricky Nolasco pitches, the more lucrative his pending three-year contract will be worth.
Nolasco has agreed to terms on a three-year, $26.5 million contract. The deal, which has yet to be announced by the Marlins, also includes some bonuses based on innings pitched.
According to a source, Nolasco can earn another $500,000 per season (or $1.5 million) based on innings pitched.
Nolasco’s deal breaks down to $6 million in 2011, $9 million in 2012 and $11.5 million in 2013.
In 2010, Nolasco threw 157 2/3 innings, and he made 26 starts. The team shut him down in September due to a torn meniscus in his right knee.
The most innings the right-hander has thrown in a season has been 212 1/3 in 2008, and he logged 185 in 2009.
— Joe Frisaro
The Marlins and Ricky Nolasco are putting the finishing touches on a three-year contract that will be worth about $27 million, according to an industry source.
The contract is not yet finalized, but both sides came close to terms on Sunday night. The deal is expected to be finalized after completion of a physical.
Nolasco made $3.8 million in 2010.
With Nolasco returning, it puts to rest speculation that the right-hander could be dangled in trade talks.
Second all-time in Marlins’ history in victories with 54, Nolasco will enter 2011 in position to catch the team’s all-time leader, Dontrelle Willis (68).
Nolasco was 14-9 with a 4.51 ERA in an injury-shortened 2010 season. In 157 2/3 innings, he struck out 147 and walked 33. In September, he was shut down due to a torn meniscus in his right knee, which required surgery. The procedure went well, and he will be at full strength at the start of Spring Training.
— Joe Frisaro
It appears the Marlins have interest in bringing back Edgar Renteria.
The 35-year-old, who delivered the World Series-winning base hit for Florida in 1997, reportedly is considering the Marlins, Cardinals or returning to the Giants. A decision could be made soon, as Renteria is figuring out the best fit.
In recent days, speculation is that Renteria is leaning towards going back to San Francisco, where he was the MVP of the 2010 World Series.
But if the Marlins offer a better opportunity, he may opt to return where his career started.
The Giants are reportedly offering about $1 million, a figure the Marlins likely could match.
If the Marlins added Renteria, he likely would provide insurance at third base if prospect Matt Dominguez doesn’t make the team out of Spring Training.
— Joe Frisaro
The revamping of the Marlins bullpen continues.
On Wednesday afternoon, the team announced the signing of free agent left-hander Randy Choate to a two-year contract.
MLB.com has learned the deal is for $2.5 million, including a base salary of $1 million in 2011 and $1.5 million in ’12. There are bonuses attached based on appearances.
Choate, 35, went 4-3 with a 4.23 ERA in 2010 with the Rays while making a club record 85 appearances.
— Joe Frisaro
Speculation at the Winter Meetings had the Marlins expressing trade interest in Royals’ ace Zack Greinke. There was little substance to the rumors, and the story faded as fast as it surfaced.
But now that the Phillies have assembled their dream rotation by adding Cliff Lee, should the Marlins counter and make a run at Greinke? Such a move would create a formidable one-two punch with Josh Johnson and Greinke. It certainly would stack up with Philadelphia’s duo of Roy Halladay and Lee.
South Florida already has the “Big Three” with Wade, LeBron and Bosh in basketball. So the possibility of having Greinke in the Marlins’ rotation would clearly stir plenty of excitement in a big-event market. For Internet sites, newspapers, blogs and talk radio, this would give the fans and the media plenty to talk and write about.
But at what cost could making a “dream rotation” happen? This is the sticking point, and the major reason why it is highly doubtful that Zack Greinke will become a Marlin in 2011.
To even get the Royals seriously to engage in trade talks for Greinke, the Marlins would have to be willing to part with Mike Stanton. Foremost, the now 21-year-old slugger would be the centerpiece. The asking price may also include Logan Morrison. Then, the Marlins would likely have to be prepared to include Ricky Nolasco as well a prospect or two. In all, it would take about four or five players, including major parts of the current club, to land the former Cy Young award winning right-hander.
Some have speculated that Nolasco and Leo Nunez could get the deal going. It wouldn’t even pique Kansas City’s interest.
Considering the Marlins already have a formidable rotation with Johnson, Nolasco, Javier Vazquez, Anibal Sanchez and Chris Volstad, there isn’t the urgency to acquire Greinke. At least not at the price of trading perhaps the best young power hitter in the game, who is under club control through 2016.
As the Marlins front office has repeatedly stated, the price of quality starting pitching is extremely high. It is either costly in terms of contracts (Lee will make $120 million over five years), or players offered to obtain a true ace. Grooming your own starting pitching — like the Giants have done — remains the most effective way to build a rotation.
When you look at the possible return for someone like Greinke, it also shows why the Marlins have no intentions of trading Johnson to the Yankees or anywhere else.
With Lee going to the Phillies, it didn’t take long for reports out of New York to suggest the Yankees inquire about JJ. For the record, the Marlins’ ace is not on the market. But if he were, Florida wouldn’t narrow its trade partner to exclusively the Yankees. A player like Johnson would generate wide appeal, and even the best package the Yankees may be able to offer might not stand up to other clubs.
The bottom line for the Marlins on the Greinke front is — is it worth overpaying for a right-hander they’d have under contract for two years?
— Joe Frisaro
Landing Cliff Lee gives the Phillies the strongest rotation in the game.
The pending signing also reinforces what the Marlins have been preaching for a long time — Pitching and defense wins.
“A good team just got better,” Marlins manager Edwin Rodriguez said of Lee joining Philadelphia. “Our plan has been to build a team to win, and to do that, you have to beat the best teams. So, we’re planning to do just that.”
Well before Lee picked Philadelphia, Florida’s front office has been working towards crafting a formidable starting rotation. The recent free agent signing of Javier Vazquez was another step in piecing together a top-flight starting five.
The Marlins certainly like their rotation of Josh Johnson, Ricky Nolasco, Vazquez, Anibal Sanchez and Chris Volstad. The team feels they can match up favorably on most nights. It’s just a matter of these young starters gaining consistency, along with staying healthy.
With Lee off the market, the Marlins certainly aren’t looking to trade away their top starters. There will be speculation about Nolasco, who has a three-year contract offer on the table that hasn’t been agreed upon.
But Nolasco has two more years left in arbitration, and the Marlins certainly value him as either their No. 2 or No. 3 starter, depending on the competition in Spring Training shapes up.
Florida is prepared to go year-to-year with Nolasco, who remains a highly valued right-hander for the cost. The team has no urgency to move him.
Obviously, the Marlins would listen to offers, but to trade Nolasco, Florida would covet pitching in return. Because the team is trying to compete in 2011, they would seek a big league-ready starter in any trade.
Johnson, who has three-years remaining on his contract, is a franchise player who isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. The Marlins are looking for Johnson to be their Opening Day starter in the first game in their new ballpark, which opens in 2012.
In order to contend in the NL East, the Marlins will be banking on their rotation. They won’t be looking to break it up.
— Joe Frisaro