Marlins likely to go trade route for rotation help

Club wants to pair a top starter with Jose, but won't get into bidding for high-priced free agents

Marlins likely to go trade route for rotation help

MIAMI -- As the Hot Stove season gets underway, don't expect the Marlins to provide much sizzle -- at least on the free-agent market.

Unlike a year ago, when the Marlins stunned the industry by signing slugger Giancarlo Stanton to a record-setting 13-year, $325 million contract, the organization intends to spend more cautiously when free agents are eligible to sign with other clubs beginning at 12:01 a.m. ET on Saturday.

Marlins' Hot Stove Tracker

The Marlins have made it clear they are in the market for starting pitchers, but not necessarily the marquee free agents. Barring a change of heart, Miami doesn't anticipate joining the bidding for David Price (Blue Jays), Johnny Cueto (Royals) and Jeff Samardzija (White Sox).

There is another potential big-name starter who could be joining the free agent list -- Zack Greinke, who may opt out of his contract with the Dodgers. Although new Miami manager Don Mattingly was with Greinke in Los Angeles, a reunion in South Florida is extremely unlikely.

Marlins introduce Don Mattingly

Marlins president David Samson said Monday that he would not recommend to team owner Jeffrey Loria to allocate top dollars to a free-agent pitcher.

"I would never have Jeffrey spend his money that way and incur more losses," Samson said. "Long-term position-player contracts work. I just don't think long-term pitching contracts work."

Free agents: C Jeff Mathis, INF Casey McGehee, INF Don Kelly. Mathis is extremely popular with his teammates, and he is valued as a backup. The veteran could be a candidate to return, but the team likely will explore other backup catcher options. McGehee and Kelly are primed to go elsewhere.

Needs: The highest priority is a top-of-the-rotation starter or two to join ace Jose Fernandez. Henderson Alvarez (right shoulder surgery) is not expected to be ready by Opening Day, which increases the need for a starter. Alvarez could be a non-tender candidate. Hard-throwing relievers also are on the shopping list. If there is a closer candidate available, expect the Marlins to look into it. Most position spots are set, but a right-handed-hitting first baseman to platoon with or back up Justin Bour is possible.

Potential targets: An ideal starting pitcher candidate would be free agent Mike Leake, who is open to returning to the Giants. But cost is going to matter. Miami isn't planning on getting into a bidding battle for a starting pitcher. More realistic free-agent targets are Yovani Gallardo (Rangers), Brett Anderson (Dodgers), J.A. Happ (Pirates) and Ian Kennedy (Padres). Expect the club to monitor the market for closer Aroldis Chapman (Reds).

Trade assets: The farm system was depleted last offseason due to several high-profile trades. There are some young pitchers who could be dangled in potential deals, such as Jose Urena and Kendry Flores. Lefty Brad Hand, who hasn't secured a role either as a starter or reliever, is a potential trade piece. There has been much speculation that center fielder Marcell Ozuna could be dealt for a frontline starter. And third baseman Martin Prado enters the final year of his contract. Lefty reliever Mike Dunn, who will made $3.45 million, could be shopped.

Financial situation: No firm figures have been revealed, but the belief is payroll will be in the $80 million range. Five players already under contract -- including Stanton ($9 million) -- account for $23.45 million.

Bottom line: The biggest offseason additions may wind up being hiring Mattingly and making additions to beef up the Marlins' development staffs. The focus is on building a strong foundation over spending big on the open market.

Joe Frisaro is a reporter for MLB.com. He writes a blog, called The Fish Pond. Follow him on Twitter @JoeFrisaro and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.