Ozuna homers in simulated game

JUPITER, Fla. — After a week of fundamentals, the Marlins on Saturday morning went into “game mode,” playing simulated games on fields 4 and 5 at the Roger Dean Stadium complex.

GIancarlo Stanton sports new helmet

GIancarlo Stanton sports new helmet

The blast of the day went to Marcell Ozuna, who belted a home run off lefty Pat Urckfitz. Ozuna drive cleared the fence in left-center.

Some other highlights from field 4, which featured mostly the established big leaguers.

* Michael Morse laced a double to right-center.
* Ichiro Suzuki lined two singles in four at-bats.
* Giancarlo Stanton sported his specialized face guard, and stepped in four times. The low point was Stanton being struck on the left hip by a Henderson Alvarez fastball. Stanton brushed the pitch off, and in his fourth and final at-bat, he ended up striking out against Tom Koehler. However, during the sequence, the slugger lined a long drive to left that drifted just foul.
* David Phelps had a pair of strikeouts, after he got himself into a jam.
* Brad Hand, Jarred Cosart, Henderson Alvarez, Dan Haren, Phelps, Pat Misch and Urckfitz each threw on field 4.

The Marlins will play another simulated game on Sunday, starting around 10 a.m.

Joe Frisaro

Bullpen options pretty much set

JUPITER, Fla. — The Marlins remained in the running for Francisco Rodriguez until the end, right up until K-Rod ultimately agreed to go back to the Brewers on a two-year, $13 million deal.

Miami stayed in talks with agent Scott Boras, at least through Wednesday. The Marlins’ initially were willing to offer a two-year deal in the $10 million range. It’s unclear if they moved much off that number.

Although Miami would have liked to add a proven veteran like Rodriguez to the back end of their ‘pen, the club is perfectly satisfied with the candidates already in camp.

And now that K-Rod is off the board, the Marlins are not likely to pursue either right-hander Rafael Soriano or lefty Phil Coke. At least not on a big league contract.

Had the Marlins signed K-Rod they would have had a safety net to close if Steve Cishek wasn’t available.

Miami may not have that experienced second closing option, but the club has no shortage of power arms. The team has 12 right-handers in camp who throw at least 95 mph. That kind of luxury is a primary reason the team didn’t bid as high as $13 million for two years for K-Rod.

And holding back on paying more than they were comfortable gives the Marlins some flexibility to take on salary if additional moves need to be made over the course of the season.

Joe Frisaro

Talks continue with K-Rod

JUPITER, Fla. — The Marlins remain in talks with reliever Francisco Rodriguez, and ideally would like a quick resolution before going much deeper into Spring Training.

Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com reports the Marlins and Brewers continue to have dialogue with K-Rod, and a decision could be soon.

MLB.com confirms those two teams appear to be the frontrunners, but there also may be a third team lurking, perhaps the Nationals.

Miami has been in discussions with K-Rod’s agent, Scott Boras, since the club missed out on signing James Shields.

The Marlins interest in Rodriguez is simple. They want to be as strong in the back end of their ‘pen as possible. The combination of K-Rod in the eighth inning and closer Steve Cishek in the ninth would be a formidable duo.

Miami also lacks a second option to close if Cishek is unavailable.

Joe Frisaro

K-Rod remains tempting to Marlins

JUPITER, Fla. — Until Franciso Rodriguez is off the market, the right-hander will remain on the Marlins’ radar. In fact, the club still is trying to sign the free agent who has 348 career saves.

Again, it is a matter of finding common ground on a salary with K-Rod and his agent, Scott Boras. If the price tag is one-year, $10 million, then it will be tough.

But if Miami is open to a one-year deal in the neighborhood what closer Steve Cishek is making, then it is possible. Cishek avoided arbitration in January, signing for $6.65 million.

The Marlins like their bullpen, but they don’t have protection in their closer role. There are candidates like A.J. Ramos, Bryan Morris and Mike Dunn, who could step in if Cishek is unavailable. But no one in camp has a big league track record to handle the job.

K-Rod saved 44 games for the Brewers last year.

Joe Frisaro

Adding extra reliever not likely

MIAMI — The Marlins have made plenty of moves this offseason, but it doesn’t appear they will make one more splash before Spring Training starts on Friday.

The club has explored the available reliever options, but none appears to be a fit.

Francisco Rodriguez is an interesting option, and Miami has been in contact with his agent, Scott Boras. The team is open to offering a two-year deal in the $10 million range. But there are reports K-Rod is seeking much more than that — like $10 million for one year.

If that’s the case, the Marlins are out.

Lefty Phil Coke has attracted Marlins’ attention, but only on a Minor League deal with a Spring Training invitation. Andrew McKirahan is a Rule 5 pickup from the Cubs system, and he will give him a chance to win the job.

Mike Dunn is signed for two years, and he is the lone lefty who is a lock to make the club. If Coke signed a big league contract, then McKirahan would be squeezed out before the competition even began.

Rule 5 picks typically have at least half of Spring Training to impress. So Coke isn’t very likely.

Miami also doesn’t have serious interest in Joba Chamberlain.

Bottom line is the Marlins like the bullpen they already have. If K-Rod’s demands lowered, he could be the most realistic choice to give another boost to the ‘pen. If not, they will stay the course.

Miami also has an interesting non-roster invitee in right-hander Nick Masset. With the Reds from 2009-11, the right-hander had three straight seasons of tossing at least 70 innings. But he suffered a right shoulder injury, which derailed his career until he joined the Rockies last year.

The Marlins are eager to see if Masset, 32, can bounce back and resemble the pitcher he was in Cincinnati.

Joe Frisaro

Marlins pursuing Coke, plus K-Rod update

MIAMI — It appears the Marlins will make another move or two before Spring Training starts on Feb. 20.

Miami is looking to sign lefty Phil Coke to a Minor League deal with a big league camp invite.

Mike Dunn, who signed for two years, $5.8 million, is the lone left-hander who is a lock to be on the Opening Day roster.

Coke, 32, has been with the Tigers since 2010, and he was 5-2 with a 3.88 ERA in 58 innings.

Coke reportedly also is drawing interest from the Rangers and Blue Jays.

Ideally, Miami would like to add at least one more left-hander.

Andrew McKirahan, a Rule 5 pick from the Cubs’ system, also is a lefty in the mix.

The Marlins haven’t closed the door on signing right-hander Francisco Rodriguez, but the team has an abundance of right-handed candidates.

Another question with K-Rod is how would he accept a setup role instead of closing? Also, at what level of commitment. It likely will take an offer of two-years, $10 million to land the veteran.

Joe Frisaro

Why not make a push for K-Rod?

MIAMI — With James Shields likely heading to the Padres, are there any potential upgrades available on the market? The answer is yes.

Francisco Rodriguez is a free agent who could be a nice final piece to an already incredible offseason for the Marlins. If Miami can’t get that final boost to its rotation, then go for a reliever with a proven track record.

K-Rod, 33, had 44 saves with the Brewers last season. He would add another quality arm to the back of the ‘pen. While Steve Cishek is the closer, Rodriguez is a nice fallback option.

The Marlins actually came into $1 million when they won their arbitration hearing with Mat Latos.

Latos filed for $10.4 million, and Miami countered at $9.4 million. The ruling went in favor of the club.

Make no mistake, the Marlins were aggressive throughout in trying to sign Shields. They were hopeful to land the 33-year-old starter, who appears to have a better offer on the table from San Diego.

Barring something unforeseen, Shields will be headed out West instead of South Florida.

So that means the rotation shapes up as Henderson Alvarez, Mat Latos, Jarred Cossart, Dan Haren, and either Tom Koehler, Brad Hand or David Phelps.

It’s a strong unit. And one or two of those options may wind up in the ‘pen.

But if the Marlins want even more depth, K-Rod is a viable alternative.

Joe Frisaro

New seats, sound system at The Dean

JUPITER, Fla. — Roger Stadium, the Spring Training home of the Marlins and Cardinals, will have a fresh, new look when both teams report to camp later this month.

New seats at Roger Dean Stadium.

New seats at Roger Dean Stadium.

A couple of upgrades fans will notice immediately are brand new seats and a higher-quality sound system for Grapefruit League games.

All 6,500 seats have been replaced. The new, forest green one range from 19-22 inches wide, depending on location. The sound system also will be better.

Marlins pitchers and catchers begin workouts on Feb. 20, and full-squad workouts get underway on Feb. 24.

The first Marlins games at the park will be March 2 against Florida International University, and March 3 vs. the University of Miami. After two exhibitions against college clubs, Miami opens its Grapefruit League play on March 5 as the home team vs. St. Louis.

Roger Dean Stadium also is offering two new batting practice packages. The park is opening 2 1/2 hours before 1:05 p.m. ET starts for those who purchase either a $5 or $25 package. For $5, fans can have their normal access to the park, which allows them to watch the home team’s BP.

Wider seatsThe visiting squad regularly takes BP following the home team.

The $25 package gives fans on-field access in designated areas. Those fans receive a souvenir pass, plus they get a close-up view of both teams hitting and fielding.

Miami slugger Giancarlo Stanton tends to put on a show in batting practice, routinely launching 400-plus foot home runs. But he isn’t the only Marlin who can drive the ball a long way. New first baseman Michael Morse also has light-tower power.

Spring Training also will be the first opportunity to see Miami’s newcomers, such as Morse, Dee Gordon, Martin Prado and Ichiro Suzuki.

Joe Frisaro

Last-ditch scenario to land Shields

MIAMI — Before throwing in the towel, the Marlins may consider tossing one last Hail Mary pass at James Shields.

With no clear frontrunner for Sheilds’ services, what’s the harm in making a final run at the best starting pitcher on the market?

To make something clear, there is no indication the Marlins are thinking this way. In fact, the door to signing Shields may already be firmly closed.

From what I’m hearing, Shields would practically have to fall into Miami’s lap to get a deal done.

Just in case there is a sliver of hope, here’s a scenario that might work.

The proposal the Marlins should consider is two years in the $35 million range. If it makes sense, then add an option year. That’s it.

Miami has balked at a four or five year deal, for good reason. The club is gradually building up payroll over the next few seasons as it seeks a better local TV deal. It would be devastating to the long-term success to risk blowing up the long-range budgets.

The solution could be offering a shorter deal.

After signing Ichiro Suzuki, the Marlins may have already maxed their 2015 budget. To squeeze in Shields at, say, $17.5 million would require the front office convincing owner Jeffrey Loria that the right-hander is the missing piece to reaching the playoffs.

Say they do get the financial commitment, could they convince Shields to accept a two-year deal? It could be tough. Shields’ camp has sought at least four years and $70 million.

Cutting those demands in half to two years, $35 million likely would open up a larger market for Shields. For the Marlins, it’s still worth the risk.

The Marlins could sell sunny South Florida and no state income tax. Miami is a team on the rise, and it plays in a pitchers’ park.

Why should Miami consider a two-year deal over one, which could again get Shields back on the market in ’16?

Because Shields rejected the Royals $15.3 million qualifying offer in November, Miami would surrender the 12th overall pick in the 2015 First-Year Player Draft.

Giving up a high first-round pick, plus the dollars it would take to pay Shields, would be too much for one season of service.

Two years works for Miami because it would mean the club has a front-line starter to join Jose Fernandez and Henderson Alvarez for 2016 as well. Mat Latos and Dan Haren, two key rotation pieces, are both one-year options.

If Shields still says no, the Marlins can close the door completely, with no regrets.

Joe Frisaro

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


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