Marlins exploring market for bench candidate

Club would like to sign veteran right-handed hitter who can play first base

Marlins exploring market for bench candidate

MIAMI -- Roster spots are becoming scarce with the offseason moves the Marlins have already made, but the club still could use an experienced bat off the bench. The ideal candidate would be a right-handed hitter who can play first base.

Working in Miami's favor is that the free-agent market still has several proven players available.

Hot Stove Tracker

"From a position-player standpoint, we'll continue to monitor the market and see if there is anything left that we want to do," president of baseball operations Michael Hill said.

Already this offseason, the Marlins have signed third baseman Martin Prado, outfielder Ichiro Suzuki, catcher A.J. Ellis, left-hander Jeff Locke and right-handers Edinson Volquez, Dustin McGowan, Junichi Tazawa and Brad Ziegler.

The Marlins say they are open to giving left-handed-hitting first baseman Justin Bour more opportunities against lefties. They're also considering occasionally using catcher J.T. Realmuto at first base against tough lefties.

Bour aims to hit against lefties

MLB.com explores five potential free-agent targets:

Chris Johnson: After batting .222 with five home runs and 24 RBIs for the Marlins in 2016, Johnson could be a possibility to return as a non-roster invitee. He appeared in 113 games for Miami, batting .222 with five home runs and 24 RBIs. Johnson platooned with Bour early in the season, but he finished with a .212 average with three homers and 12 RBIs against lefties.

Jeff Francoeur: In a short time with the organization, Francoeur was a presence, batting .280 in 16 games after being acquired from the Braves in late August. He fits the profile as a right-handed hitter who has done well against lefties. In 2016, he had a slash line of .271/.313/.414 with four homers and 19 RBIs against lefties. Francoeur, primarily a right fielder, is open to playing first base.

Francoeur's RBI double

Chase Utley: If the Marlins want to get creative, they can disregard which side of the plate a batter hits from and pinpoint a specific player. Utley would be a tempting alternative. The 38-year-old played for Marlins manager Don Mattingly with the Dodgers, so there is familiarity. In 2016, Utley appeared in 138 games, and he had a slash line of .252/.319/.396 with 14 homers and 52 RBIs. Utley did struggle against lefties (.154) in '16, but in his career, he's batted .254/.357/.439 with 70 of his 250 home runs.

A six-time All-Star second baseman, Utley has seen limited time at first base and third. He would provide proven depth and a winning track record to a franchise that hasn't been to the playoffs since 2003.

Mark Reynolds: Reynolds has shown big-time power with 251 career home runs. With the Rockies in 2016, he belted 14 and drove in 53. The 33-year-old is limited defensively, and he would be mainly a right-handed complement to Bour at first.

Chris Carter: Coming off a 41-home run season with the Brewers, Carter surprisingly has yet to find a landing spot. It appears doubtful the Marlins have serious interest because he lacks versatility. The high home run total came with a .224 batting average and a .321 on-base percentage. Carter, a subpar defender at first base, may be best suited for the American League, where he can also be used as a designated hitter.

Joe Frisaro has covered the Marlins for MLB.com since 2002. 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.