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.

MLB.com 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 MLB.com.

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

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