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Yelich unveils hand-crafted Louisville Slugger

MIAMI — Marlins left fielder Christian Yelich made history in January when he became the first player in history to sign his bat contract on the Louisville Slugger site.

The hand-crafted Louisville Slugger bat Christian Yelich plans on using in first at-bat on Opening Day.

The hand-crafted Louisville Slugger bat Christian Yelich plans on using in first at-bat on Opening Day.

During his trip to the Louisville Slugger headquarters, Yelich had a special bat made. One bat was personally made by Danny Luckett, a renowned bat craftsman.

That bat was just sent to Yelich at Marlins Park, and it was taken out of its wrapper before Miami opened against the Braves.

Yelich plans to use that personalized bat just once, in his first at-bat, before he switches it out.

Yelich uses a maple S318 model Louisville Slugger that is 34-inches, 31-ounces.

Joe Frisaro

It’s time! Opening Day gets season rolling

MIAMI — At last, a blog post that counts.

All the offseason hype and Spring Training buildup is over.

All the talk, banter, bold predictions can be thrown out the window. Beginning at 4:10 p.m. ET today, it’s all about action, not words.

Opening Day has arrived for the Miami Marlins. They take on the Atlanta Braves at Marlins Park. Those planning to attend are advised to arrive early. Gates open for season ticket holders at 1:30 p.m., and 2 p.m. in general. The four main parking garages are expected to fill up fast, so allow yourself time to park and get ready for the first pitch.

The Marlins enter 2015 with high hopes. They’re focused on making the playoffs, and appear to have the pieces to play deep into October. Starting today, however, they have to prove it. Just like every other club. Yes, that includes the Nationals, a team many are saying can sleep walk their way into the postseason.

Talking a good game no longer cuts it if the performance doesn’t back it up. All the analytics, projected WARs and preseason odds mean nothing at this point.

Legendary boxing ring announcer Michael Buffer will handle player introductions today. But in the words of Michael’s half-brother, Bruce Buffer, we can safely say: “It’s Time!”

The Marlins basically have been ready for Opening Day since the last week of Spring Training. They’re hungry. Focused. Most importantly, they are in good health, which is key.

Here’s some random thoughts entering 2015:

* The Marlins were no-hit by Jordan Zimmermann at Washington in the 2014 finale. So that means, their last hit came in the ninth inning of Game 161 on Sept. 27. Justin Bour singled in the ninth off Drew Storen. Miami did score a run that day. So they enter the season with a nine inning scoreless streak.

* Before the first pitch today at Marlins Park, fifth starter Jarred Cosart will be throwing a simulated game at the Roger Dean Stadium complex in Jupiter, Fla. Cosart, who makes his first regular season start on Saturday against the Rays, is expected to be done in time to be at Marlins Park for the first pitch.

* Triple-A New Orleans added some bullpen depth as right-hander Nick Masset has agreed to pitch for the Zephyrs. Masset, an non-roster invitee in Spring Training, was released on March 31. He decided to remain in the organization.

* New Orleans should be strong in the Pacific Coast League. The Zephyrs projected regulars are: Justin Bour 1B, J.T. Realmuto/Jhonatan Solano C, Reid Brignac 2B, Miguel Rojas SS, Derek Dietrich 3B, Cole Gillespie LF, Austin Wates CF, Jordany Valdespin RF.

During the season, Brignac and Rojas will move around from second, third and short. Dietrich will play some second and first.

Zephyrs rotation will include Justin Nicolino, Jose Urena, Adam Conley, Andre Rienzo and Pat Misch.

* Jose Fernandez should start facing hitters in about a month, and he should be ready around mid-season.

Joe Frisaro

Marlins continue to explore pitching options

MIAMI — The Marlins on Sunday will finalize their 25-man roster, but the front office is far from done searching for pitching depth.

With some concern over their rotation, Miami is exploring possible trade options. Ideally, they’d like another starter, but also could use use a more help in the bullpen.

Miami’s rotation had its struggles in Spring Training. Not only were a number of the performances rocky, but the durability of the staff also has caught the front office’s attention. Mat Latos dealt with a left knee injury last season. And in mid-October he had a scope on his right elbow. Although he is ready to go, and threw well in a Minor League game on Thursday, the team would like some other options, just to make sure.

Latos is the No. 2 starter, and he is set to face the Braves on Tuesday at Marlins Park.

Henderson Alvarez, the Opening Day starter, tweaked his left knee earlier in camp. Nothing major, but enough to have the organization being cautious. Plus, Alvarez has a knack for getting shaken up, only to brush himself off and still be effective. He had another close call in his first Grapefruit League start when he had a minor collision at first base.

Jarred Cosart dealt with a blister to his right middle finger late in Spring Training. Again, he appears to be fine.

And Dan Haren, while durable, isn’t overpowering. If he isn’t effective, the team would like additional options, just in case.

Miami’s bullpen depth also took a hit this week with news that Aaron Crow likely will need season-ending Tommy John surgery, and Preston Claiborne will be out at least a month with a right shoulder labrum injury.

Those are two right-handers with big league experience who are not available in the short-term, if at all during the season. The club hopes right-handed reliever Nick Masset, who has big league experience but was cut recently, agrees to join the Triple-A New Orleans squad.

Justin Nicolino and Jose Urena are getting close to being big league ready. Both will be on the Triple-A New Orleans staff. Nicolino, a lefty, has a string of 14 straight scoreless innings in Triple-A exhibitions.

Perhaps the starting depth is already on the roster. Long relievers David Phelps and Brad Hand each are candidates to start at any time. Either of them may end up being the answer.

Joe Frisaro

How Marlins rotation, final roster shapes up

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. — At last, there is clarity to the Marlins rotation and projected final roster.

The only rotation spot the club has announced is Henderson Alvarez will start on Opening Day, which is April 6 at home against the Braves. The rest of the rotation is expected to fall in line with Mat Latos going in the second game, and Tom Koehler sliding into the No. 3 spot. That appears to be the trio that will face the Braves in the first series.

As things are shaping up now, Dan Haren will be the No. 4 starter, making his first appearance on April 10 at home against the Rays. Jarred Cosart, who is dealing with a blister to his right middle finger, projects as the fifth starter, making his first start on April 11.

Miami’s roster currently is at 34, and there is a strong chance the final roster will be set on Tuesday morning.

This is how I see the final 25 coming together.

Catcher: Jarrod Saltalamacchia.
First base: Michael Morse.
Second base: Dee Gordon.
Shortstop: Adeiny Hechavarria.
Third base: Martin Prado.
Left field: Christian Yelich.
Center field: Marcell Ozuna.
Right field: Giancarlo Stanton.

Three bench players are givens: catcher Jeff Mathis, outfielder Ichiro Suzuki and infielder Jeff Baker.

In my opinion, and this is not official, Donovan Solano and Don Kelly will round out the bench. Kelly can play the corner infield spots, as well as the outfield. The left-handed hitter also would be an emergency third catcher. Solano plays middle infield, third base and he is a right-handed bat. What about Jordany Valdespin? He’s had a great spring. He also is signed to a Minor League contract, without an out clause. So if he doesn’t make it, he will open the year at Triple-A New Orleans.

The bullpen is tricky, and is giving the front office plenty to think about.

The locks in the ‘pen are Steve Cishek (closer), Mike Dunn, A.J. Ramos and Bryan Morris. The club plans on taking two long relievers, David Phelps and lefty Brad Hand. That leaves one spot. It likely will go one of three ways. Rule 5 pick Andrew McKirahan has really turned heads and a number of clubs would be eager to trade for him if he doesn’t make the final spot. Miami likes the 25-year-old, too. But the lefty hasn’t pitched above Double-A, and the question remains — is he the best option to win now?

The Marlins will be counting on the bullpen to log plenty of innings, especially with the starting pitching potentially being shaky early. Of concern is whether McKirahan is ready?

If not, are they better off with either Aaron Crow or Sam Dyson, two right-handers who can both throw multiple innings.

My guess is McKirahan makes it. But that may not wind up being the case, and Crow or Dyson, could claim the final spot because the team clearly is in a win now mode.

Joe Frisaro

Hand likely to remain in Miami

JUPITER, Fla. — Brad Hand is getting the start for the Marlins on Friday night. All indications are it won’t be a showcase outing for the lefty, who has been mentioned in potential trade talks.

The Marlins are leaning towards retaining Hand, largely because of his upside (he’s 25) and the fact they may indeed need the depth, either in the rotation or bullpen.

Hand is in the mix for the fifth starter spot, which appears to be going to Tom Koehler. The Marlins are listening to potential offers for Hand, who is out of options. But they are not eager to trade off any of their surplus pitching, at least not at this point.

We saw why this week.

On Thursday, Miami announced Hand would start at the Astros on Friday at Kissimmee, Fla., in place of Jarred Cosart, who is dealing with a blister to his right middle finger.

Cosart also is the subject of an MLB investigation into his possible link to gambling. But even before the Cosart situation surfaced, the Marlins were hesitant to moving Hand. A number of teams have inquired, including the Rangers.

Miami used 13 different starters in 2014, a franchise most. The rotation became a revolving door after Jose Fernandez was lost for the season due to Tommy John surgery in May. All-Star Henderson Alvarez also spent time on the disabled list.

The organization feels they are nine deep on the starting pitching front, and it will be 10 when Fernandez returns in mid-season.

Bottom line is Hand provides both depth and upside. He also is the lone lefty option still in camp. Add in the fact he has a mid-90s fastball, and he is under club control, puts him on the list for any club looking for young, affordable starting pitching.

Joe Frisaro

Figuring out ‘pen tough challenge

JUPITER, Fla. — Nothing is set, and nothing is off the table.

One of the toughest tasks for the Marlins’ front office is figuring out who stays and goes in the bullpen.

The way I see it is Brad Hand holds the key. Out of options, the left-hander is attracting interest on a possible trade front. The Rangers already have been mentioned. Yet, the club may wind up keeping him.

As things appear now, the rotation is set with Tom Koehler getting the fifth spot. Hand was in contention. The Marlins appear willing to carry Hand and David Phelps in the bullpen.

With unpredictable and cold weather on the road in April, you never know what you’re going to get from your starters. If there are rain delays or rain outs, it could shake things up in the rotation. So having two long relievers makes sense for at least the first month, where Miami makes trips to Atlanta, New York and Philadelphia.

The Marlins also have reason to want to retain Hand because he would be a left-handed spot starter. Currently there are all right-handers in the rotation.

But if Hand stays, it creates a situation with lefty reliever Andrew McKirahan, a Rule 5 pick formerly with the Cubs.

McKirahan, 25, has shown terrific “stuff,” including a biting slider and a low-90s fastball.

A number of teams, including the Rangers, would be eager to acquire McKirahan in a trade. But the same reasons they like McKirahan also is why Miami would like to keep the lefty. He has upside and is affordable.

But McKirahan hasn’t pitched above Double-A. Is he ready to help the big league club on what Miami anticipates being a contender?

That’s a burning question, because it places the Marlins in a situation of where they can add a nice organizational piece, but he may not be the best piece for the Opening Day roster.

Joe Frisaro

Yelich contract details

JUPITER, Fla. — The Marlins will officially announce the signing of outfielder Christian Yelich on Sunday at 11 a.m. ET.

The 23-year-old Gold Glove-winning left fielder reached agreement on a seven-year, $49.570 million extension on Wednesday. has learned the complete breakdown of the contract.

The annual breakdown is $570,000 in 2015, $1 million in ’16, $3.5 million in ’17, $7 million ’18, $9.75 million ’19, $12.5 million ’20, ’14 million ’21.

The deal includes a club option of $15 million for ’22, and a $1.25 million buyout.

Joe Frisaro

Hand drawing interest in trade front

JUPITER, Fla. — A couple of left-handed Marlins’ pitchers are attracting interest on the trade front.

The Rangers, who have been scouting the Marlins in recent weeks, are in trade talks for Brad Hand, according to the Miami Herald.

With Tom Koehler emerging as the leader for the fifth starter spot, Hand could become expendable.

Out of options, Hand is in an uncertain spot because he can’t be sent to the Minor Leagues. The lefty has experience as a starter and in long relief, but his preference is to start.

The Dallas Morning News also reported the Rangers are interested in Hand or perhaps reliever Mike Dunn, who signed a two-year deal before Spring Training.

But Dunn is not being shopped, a source told

Because the Rangers are in the market for left-handed pitching, they’re a logical team to link to Miami.

Another lefty in Marlins camp attracting trade interest in Andrew McKirahan, a Rule 5 pick.

A source said number of teams have inquired about McKirahan, who either has to make the Marlins or be offered back to the Cubs. The Marlins could trade the lefty, but that may not be the team’s preference.

The source added Miami would like to keep McKirahan. If Hand is dealt, that could clear a roster spot for the 25-year-old, who would become a second lefty in the bullpen.

Left-handed relief help is hard to find, and also can be pricey. McKirahan, meanwhile, is a bargain at the $50,000 compensation fee that would go to the Cubs. The Marlins are in the process of seeing if he could be a fit as a second lefty.

Joe Frisaro

Yelich deal caps impressive offseason

JUPITER, Fla. — Locking up Christian Yelich long-term is a fitting way to cap what’s been one of the most impressive offseasons in Marlins history.

The seven-year, $49.570 million extension, which includes an option for an eighth season, keeps the 23-year-old left fielder in Miami at least through 2021. It also means two-thirds of one of the best outfields in the National League will be around for a while.

Miami started off its offseason by signing Giancarlo Stanton to his record-setting 13-year, $325 million contract.

Here’s some background on how the Yelich deal came together.

Even though Yelich likely is the last major signing before Opening Day, all along he was one of the organization’s highest priorities. I say likely only because Cuban infielder Hector Olivera remains a free agent possibility.

Regarding Yelich, immediately after the 2014 season ended, the Marlins had made it clear they wanted to lock up some of their core pre-arbitration eligible players. Yelich, Marcell Ozuna, Adeiny Hechavarria and Jose Fernandez all were approached about extensions.

But early on, offseason priority No. 1 was Stanton. While many wondered if Miami would try to sign their young core first as a sign of commitment to show Stanton, the club went in the opposite direction.

We see now how smart that strategy was.

All their efforts were on getting Stanton to buy in, and they succeeded in doing so at the November general managers meetings. Officially, the record-setting signing was announced on Nov. 19.

Once they had Stanton, the front office kept in touch with the core four. Talks didn’t progress much, if at all, even with Yelich.

Phase II of the offseason was addressing needs. Trades were made for Dee Gordon, Martin Prado, Mat Latos and Dan Haren. And the major free agent signing was Michael Morse in mid-December. Ichiro Suzuki signed in mid-January.

Even then, the Marlins had in mind locking up at least one of their core four. But there was no need to rush.

Mike Dunn avoided arbitration by signing a two-year deal. By mid-January it was clear that Fernandez and Ozuna, both represented by Scott Boras, were willing to wait. Not much progress was made with Hechavarria, either.

All along there was a feeling Yelich could get done. Again, there were more pressing matters from the team’s side.

Until late January, the Marlins were in on James Shields, who later signed with the Padres.

Miami even pursued closer Francisco Rodriguez, dangling a two-year, $10 million offer at the veteran reliever.

As the club got deeper into Spring Training, the organization revisited Yelich, hoping to get a deal done by Opening Day. When the salary figure topped the seven-year, $41 million contract Anthony Rizzo signed with the Cubs in 2013, talks progressed rapidly.

On Wednesday, an agreement was reached, securing Yelich’s services in South Florida for the foreseeable future.

Joe Frisaro

Marlins eyeing Olivera, not shopping any starters

JUPITER, Fla. — Cuban infielder Hector Olivera remains a possibility to sign with the Marlins.

Miami is among the frontrunners for the 29-year-old, who reportedly also is being courted by the Dodgers, Braves, Padres, A’s and Giants.

The belief is Olivera is sifting through his options. Miami’s is willing to offer a seven-year package in the $50 million range. There has been speculation that the Dodgers had a $77 million offer on the table, but within Miami’s organization, the belief is that figure is not accurate.

While the Marlins are awaiting a decision by Olivera, the club is not shopping any of its starting pitcher. The objective remains to keep them all.

Some teams have checked in with the Marlins on other players, but the team hasn’t been approached about any starting.

Dan Haren has pitched well in three Spring Training starts, giving up two runs in nine innings. Miami has no intention to trade Haren, who is being looked at as a key part of its rotation.

Lefty Brad Hand is out of options, and is competing for the fifth starter spot. If he doesn’t make the rotation, he could be moved to the bullpen.

Andrew McKirahan, a Rule 5 pick from the Cubs’ system, is being given a long look to make the squad as another lefty relief option. There is a chance Miami goes with McKirahan, Hand and Mike Dunn in the bullpen. But that would be if they carry 13 pitchers, with eight relievers. That idea is being given serious consideration.

Joe Frisaro


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