MIAMI -- Spend or deal? Neither option is ideal for the cost-conscious Marlins in their attempt to acquire front-line starting pitching to pair with Jose Fernandez.
But it's the reality the organization faces as team officials prepare for the Winter Meetings, which begin on Monday at the Opryland Hotel in Nashville, Tenn.
Whether it is free agency or trade, the Marlins may have to come out of their comfort zone to land a starter with a track record of throwing at least 180 innings a season.
They appear willing to maybe spend more in free agency than they'd like, if the starter is capable of helping Miami make a playoff push in 2016.
"That's definitely an approach we have looked at," president of baseball operations Michael Hill said. "I think we're on the cusp of being one of 10 and being a playoff club. When you feel you have that core, that talented core, you want to add [to your team], if possible. The purest way to add is through free agency."
The catch for Miami is who makes sense in a market where unprecedented free-agency deals are being struck?
Miami never was in on David Price, who signed a seven-year, $217-million deal with the Red Sox, or Zack Greinke, who has come to terms on a six-year, $206.5-million contract with the D-backs. But the club could have had interest in lefty J.A. Happ, who signed for three years and $36 million with Toronto, or John Lackey who, at age 37, agreed to a two-year, $32-million offer with the Cubs.
It may come to the point where Miami has to overpay on a free agent like Yovani Gallardo, or hope that someone like Doug Fister is open to a one-year deal -- with the hope of having a bounce-back season.
The Marlins are also open to signing Cliff Lee, who is attempting a comeback.
Miami pushed hard in free agency for Shields last offseason, before he signed with San Diego. There was also speculation during the last Winter Meetings that the Marlins would acquire Miley in a trade with Arizona. Instead, he was dealt to the Red Sox.
New Marlins pitching coach Juan Nieves worked with Miley in Boston. Joe Kelly of the Red Sox could be another possibility.
The Marlins are striving to avoid moving core position players. They may have to dangle someone like lefty Justin Nicolino or some pitching prospects to make a trade for any of those three work.
Speaking generally, Hill said the Marlins are exploring everything.
"We're evaluating [free agency], and we're evaluating trades," Hill said. "If we have an opportunity to add via free agency, we'll look to do so. And if there is a trade that we think makes sense, we will go that direction also. We [will] work both paths in order to try to improve the roster the best we can."
MLB.com and MLB Network will have wall-to-wall coverage of the 2015 Winter Meetings from the Opryland Hotel in Nashville, with the Network launching 35 hours of live Winter Meetings coverage on Sunday at 8 p.m. ET. Fans can also catch live streaming of all news conferences and manager availability on MLB.com, as well as the announcement of the Hall of Fame Pre-Integration Era Committee inductees on Monday at 11 a.m. ET and the Rule 5 Draft on Thursday at 10 a.m. ET.
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.