MIAMI -- Major League Baseball is already turning its attention to 2015. The Hot Stove season is set to begin, and the Marlins are expected to be among the more active teams looking to make upgrades in the ensuing months.
Miami enters the offseason seeking to add pieces -- either through trades or free agency -- that will elevate it into serious playoff contention. But the club's biggest order of business is taking care of some of its own. The highest priority is signing All-Star Giancarlo Stanton to a contract extension.
Miami has until Monday to exclusively negotiate with its potential free agents. It's a short list, comprised of mainly role players. The four free agents are infielder Rafael Furcal, right-hander Brad Penny, outfielder Reed Johnson and right-hander Kevin Gregg. It is unlikely any will sign before Tuesday.
The Marlins exercised catcher Jeff Mathis' $1.5 million club option.
At the top of the list is a starting pitcher to help solidify the rotation until Jose Fernandez is fully recovered from his Tommy John surgery. Fernandez could be back around the All-Star break. Ideally, the candidate would be a front-line starter, because the team's top priority is pitching. Two positions are up for grabs -- second base and first base. These are two areas where the club could infuse some more speed and power. Lefty relief depth also will be explored.
Miami projects to have a payroll of around $60 million, but the team is confident it will have the resources to sign at least one high-profile free agent. Could it be James Shields? "Big Game" James may have had his struggles in the postseason with the Royals, but the right-hander fits the front-of-the-rotation profile the Marlins are after. Michael Cuddyer, a free agent and former batting champ with the Rockies, projects to be a target to play first base. There has been some speculation that Miami will explore signing San Francisco third baseman Pablo Sandoval, who would be a long shot.
For the first time in years, the Marlins have quality depth on their big league roster as well as in their Minor League system, enhancing their trade options. Closer Steve Cishek likely will return, but he could be a piece used to land a power bat or starting pitcher. Lefty reliever Mike Dunn and infielder Derek Dietrich could be trade options. Left-hander Brad Hand is out of options, and he has upside. On the market, Hand would attract plenty of attention. If something made sense, catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia could be made available, but look for Salty to stay.
How talks with Stanton go could determine the overall success of Miami's Hot Stove season.
Joe Frisaro is a reporter for MLB.com. He writes a blog, called The Fish Pond. Follow him on Twitter @JoeFrisaro. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.