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

Marlins remain in talks with Olivera

JUPITER, Fla. — Miami remains in the mix for Hector Olivera, but the club doesn’t know where it stands in talks mainly because the Cuban infielder just changed agents.

The Marlins had been in substantive talks with his previous representation, but now is establishing dialogue with his new agent, Greg Genske of The Legacy Agency. So the process is basically starting over.

There have been reports Olivera, 29, is seeking $70 million. But there is a feeling among those close to the situation that a more realistic figure is $50 million.

Miami, from what I’m hearing, is comfortable with that range.

Because of Olivera’s medical history, the feeling is his market will settle around $50 million. Obviously, all it takes is one team to make a larger financial offer.

The potential offensive production Olivera could offer makes him attractive to the Marlins. And there is a belief he is big league ready right now, although he likely would start off at Triple-A at least for a little while after he signs.

Where would Olivera play? He can play first, second, shortstop and third. The Marlins are set at all four positions, but the team is looking to give first baseman Michael Morse a day or two of rest each week. Shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria also could get some periodic days off.

Playing time tends to work itself out over a long season.

Joe Frisaro

Cosart standing out, Stanton primed for huge season

JUPITER, Fla. — Spring Training games have been going on for about a week. With so many players filtering in and out of the lineup each day, it’s difficult to keep track of what really matters.

Here’s basically what you need to know about the Marlins right now:

* Scouts are raving about right-hander Jarred Cosart, who is making a push to be the No. 2 starter. “Top of the rotation stuff,” scouts say.

* Miami hasn’t announced it’s Opening Day starter, but the safe assumption it will be Henderson Alvarez. The rest of the rotation is shaping up as Cosart, Mat Latos, Dan Haren and the fifth starter — Tom Koehler, Brad Hand or David Phelps.

* Still worried about Giancarlo Stanton? Don’t be. Don’t pay attention to his Spring Training numbers, they mean nothing. Right now, Big G isn’t tentative in the box. There is no lingering issues stemming from getting hit in the face by a pitch last September. That’s encouraging sign No. 1.

Right now, Stanton is still shaking off the rust from not playing in months. His timing is coming. In the upcoming weeks, watch out. In his drills, Stanton is progressing nicely in his pitch recognition. Once his gets locked in, which could be in a week or two, you will start seeing the makings of an MVP-caliber player.

* Dee Gordon has two bunt singles. That’s encouraging because the early part of Spring Training is when he is working on that part of his game. Plenty of time to get his swing figured out.

* Adeiny Hechavarria’s sore right shoulder, or “dead arm,” has kept him out of game action. Problem? The club says no, but it is definitely something to watch. When he made his throwing error in the first Grapefruit League game, he basically pushed the ball on his release instead of letting loose.

* Mat Latos is being eased into game action. Right now, Latos’ health doesn’t appear to be a real concern. More will be known after he throws on Friday in his first game.

* It’s good to see Derek Dietrich’s swing coming around. Granted it is early, but a triple and walk-off homer in back-to-back games is a nice sign.

Joe Frisaro

Marlins in mix for Hector Olivera

JUPITER, Fla. — The way the Marlins see it, Hector Olivera is big league-ready right now. If financially affordable, Miami would like to bring the 29-year-old Cuban star into its organization, according to sources.

But if the price is in the $70 million range, the Marlins are not interested. If the figure is more reasonable, Miami intends to make a strong push.

Miami, however, is not alone. The Padres, Braves, Dodgers, Mariners, Yankees, Giants and A’s have all been linked to the 29-year-old infielder.

Even with stiff competition, the Marlins may actually hold an edge in terms of location. According to the Miami Herald, Olivera finds South Florida appealing.

The Marlins have been in discussions with Olivera’s representatives, but the asking price has been too high. However, Olivera just changed agents, and he is now represented by Greg Genske of the Legacy Agency.

In terms of the player, the Marlins believe Olivera can make an impact at the big league level immediately. Miami’s starting infield currently is set, but Olivera is said to be able all four infield spots. So initially, he could be a factor all over the diamond.

At first base, for instance, Miami will be looking to preserve Michael Morse, who may wind up being a five-days-a-week starter. And the Marlins are hopeful of giving shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria some more off days.

More than his defense, Olivera’s bat is what is drawing so much of Miami’s interest.

Joe Frisaro

From Japan to Jupiter to see Ichiro

JUPITER, Fla. — Call it legend, or maybe it is just myth. Either way, the story about to be told truly reveals the global impact of Ichiro Suzuki.

Ichiro signs for fans.

Ichiro signs for fans.

A man named, Tats Suzuki (no relation) actually traveled from Japan to Jupiter just to see the iconic Ichiro. As the story was relayed to me, Tats waited for an autograph from his idol, and after receiving one, he departed the next day to return to Japan.

I assume this story to be true because it was verified by two people who were present at the Roger Dean Stadium complex. My regret is not knowing earlier, which prevented me from actually interviewing the man said to be in his early 40s. And actually, after posting this blog, Tats contacted me. Initially, I was told his name was believed to be “Kats,” but he noted it is Tats (Tatsunori). My apologies.

“Ichiro Mania” is certainly nothing new on the world stage. The 41-year-old future Hall of Famer has been a sensation since he was a teenager in Japan, and during his remarkable career with the Mariners. The 10-time All-Star spent the past couple of seasons with the Yankees before signing as a free agent with the Marlins in January.

Miami’s Spring Training home in Jupiter, Fla., is starting to understand what so many other places already know when it comes to Ichiro. The 41-year-old, 10-time All-Star is more than just a baseball superstar. He is a legend. He’s a Michael Jordan-like figure in his native country.

The tale of Tats Suzuki is more proof.

From what I’ve gathered, Tats traveled to Florida for a couple of reasons. He ran the Jensen Beach Marathon on Sunday, but his mission was much more than running 26 miles. The next day, aware Ichiro wasn’t playing in the Marlins’ exhibition against Florida International University, Tats made the 30-mile trip to Jupiter.

He stood behind the barred gate that blocks the public from the players on their way to the parking lot. Tats, who speaks pretty good English, told those in the crowd how much he respected Ichiro. And how proud he is to share the Suzuki name.

When finished with his workouts, Ichiro headed to his car, but stopped to sign about 10 autographs. Not pushing himself into the crowd, Tats stood patiently in the distance. It was brought to Ichiro’s attention that a man from Japan made his way from Tokyo to South Florida simply for a signature. Tats did get the autograph, as well as a picture. He even caught a couple of innings of the Miami-FIU game.

The next day he was gone, said to be back to Japan, where he brings a signature and a great story.

Joe Frisaro

Observations from first Grapefruit League game

JUPITER, Fla. — For Dan Haren on Thursday, the box score didn’t necessarily reflect the performance.

Haren was charged with two runs on three hits in two innings. The reality is his defense didn’t really help him out, and he had some tough luck. Matt Adams floated a two-run single off the end of the bat into short left field in the first inning.

With better fortune, Haren wouldn’t have been in that jam. With one out, Jason Heyward reached on a single on a liner that deflected off Michael Morse’s glove at first. It was ruled a hit, but could have been an error.

Matt Holliday followed with a ground rule double that left fielder Christian Yelich lost in the sun.

Bad breaks aside, Haren admittedly isn’t as he’d like. One reason is he started his offseason throwing program a couple of weeks later than normal. His offseason throwing program was pushed back a couple of weeks due to arthroscopic left shoulder surgery in October.

“I usually start throwing in the middle of December,” Haren said. “When I went to the doctor two more weeks after the surgery, they wanted me to wait two more weeks to throw. So I took two more weeks of throwing off. I was still a little bit behind.”

Leading into Spring Training, Haren typically throws six or seven bullpens. But because of the surgery, he threw four or five.

“It could be why I’m not as crisp right now as I usually am,” he said.

* Many are wondering if Giancarlo Stanton is going to flinch on inside pitches. At least in the short-term it’s something to watch. Rightfully so, considering what he went through in September.

In reality with Stanton, what he’s going through right now is simply shaking off the rust. His timing is off. Give him some time, he will be fine.

* Hat tip to Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina for setting up pitches away to Stanton with hard-throwing right-hander Carlos Martinez on the mound. Aware Martinez was throwing 95-96 mph and it was the first Grapefruit League game, Molina took no chances testing Stanton inside.

Let’s remember this is Spring Training, a time for players to prepare. Some common sense is needed, and the veteran Molina gets it.

* Don’t be surprised if the Marlins open the season with eight relievers and 13 pitchers, compared to 12 position players. Ideally, the club would like to carry 12 pitchers and 13 position players. But the club hasn’t ruled out 13 pitchers.

Why? Brad Hand is out of options and Andrew McKirahan is a Rule 5 pick. The two lefties will be given every chance to make the club. If necessary, Miami may keep them both. If Hand doesn’t win a rotation spot, he could be used in the ‘pen. Yes, Miamni might actually carry three lefty relievers, Mike Dunn, Hand and McKirahan.

Right now it is also speculatives. Still a long way to go in camp.

Joe Frisaro

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


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