Changes on horizon for Marlins

MIAMI — Less than a month remains in a disappointing 2011 season, and already speculation is heating up regarding possible changes the Marlins will make for 2012.

At the forefront is Jack McKeon’s status as manager.

Reports already are surfacing that the 80-year-old won’t be managing the club at age 81.

McKeon told reporters the other day that he has made up his mind but nothing will officially be determined until after the season.

Conventional wisdom suggests the team will make a switch.

After all, McKeon took over on an interim basis for Edwin Rodriguez on June 20. He will turn 81 in November, and it isn’t too far fetched to assume that the organization will seek someone else for a multiyear deal. So a change wouldn’t be startling. In fact, it would be expected.

Still, until something is made official, don’t rule out anything regarding McKeon. He still has plenty to offer.

But if the sagely skipper isn’t in the dugout, he likely would return to his advisory position, which he held from after the 2005 season until he took on the interim tag.

It would be safe to assume the Marlins will be looking for a new voice in the dugout as they enter their new ballpark. Shortly after the All-Star Break, owner Jeffrey Loria went on record saying he wants someone with big league managerial experience.

Loria then also has talked about changes at the Minor League level, in hopes of restocking the system.

If McKeon indeed is through with managing, there will be no shortage of potential replacements.

Ozzie Guillen is the potential candidate who generates the most attention. But he is under contract with the White Sox for next year. Speculation arises out of Chicago on almost a daily basis as to whether Guillen will return to the White Sox or exit.

If available, Guillen appears to be at the top of the Marlins’ list of possible managers. Guillen has a link to the organization, having been Florida’s third base coach from 2002-03.

Another name expected to be in the mix is Bobby Valentine. Yes, the courtship went on twice in 2010, and his hiring appeared to be a done deal after Fredi Gonzalez was let go in June of 2010.

Then after the 2010 season, Valentine again was back in the equation, before Rodriguez signed a one-year contract to return.

Perhaps a third try at Valentine will end up with the former Rangers and Mets skipper agreeing to manage the Marlins.

Will the Marlins be willing to spend money on a manager and payroll?

According to multiple sources, Loria is ready to do what it takes to upgrade the organization as it transitions from Sun Life Stadium to the new ballpark.

For the first time in their history, the Marlins will be in their own ballpark, and increased revenue streams. And their payroll is expected to be more than $70 million and perhaps as high at $80 million.

On the current roster, the team is hoping to bring back potential free agents Omar Infante and Greg Dobbs.

Starting pitching is high on the agenda for 2012. The organization will be targeting at least one left-hander.

The Marlins also are expected to be busy on the trade front. Chris Volstad, who be entering arbitration for the first time, is a possible piece to be dealt.

Hanley Ramirez, headed for surgery on his left shoulder, remains a focal point for the franchise. Getting him healthy for Opening Day 2012 is the team’s priority. The club isn’t looking to deal their three-time All-Star shortstop, especially now when his value isn’t at its highest.

Joe Frisaro

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