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Marlins will look for new starting catcher

Marlins will look for new starting catcher

MIAMI -- As expected, the Marlins will be turning the page when it comes to finding their starting catcher.

On Wednesday night, the club bid farewell to Miguel Olivo when it did not tender a contract to its primary starting catcher the past two seasons. The move was expected, with Florida leaning towards splitting the job with newly acquired Mike Rabelo and Matt Treanor.

Olivo appeared in 122 games in 2007, and he batted .237 with 16 home runs and 60 RBIs. Defensively, he was shaky, committing a career-high 12 errors, and he had 16 passed balls.

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Also before the tender deadline at midnight Wednesday, the Marlins signed reliever Justin Miller to a one-year contract.

The 26-year-old Rabelo was acquired in the megadeal that sent Dontrelle Willis and Miguel Cabrera to Detroit. After being stuck behind Ivan Rodriguez on the Tigers' depth chart, the switch-hitting catcher will be given every chance to win the starting job.

Treanor, viewed more as a backup, is in the arbitration process for the first time. The 31-year-old earned $380,000 in '07. He appeared in 55 games and finished with a .269 batting average, adding four home runs and 19 RBIs. Respected for his defense and handling of pitchers, the Marlins envision Treanor making about 60 starts, and Rabelo working the difference.

This past season, Treanor had a career-high 171 at-bats.

In all, the Marlins had six players eligible for arbitration. Olivo is the only one who will not return. Contracts were tendered to Treanor, infielder Alfredo Amezaga, right-hander Sergio Mitre and closer Kevin Gregg.

A byproduct of the big trade with the Tigers is the Marlins once again have payroll flexibility.

The blockbuster deal has wiped roughly $18 million off Florida's books. Had Cabrera remained with the Marlins, in arbitration, the four-time All-Star was in line to earn between $10-11 million, while Willis was on pace to receive about $7.5 million.

When the offseason began, Willis and Cabrera also were part of Florida's group of players eligible for arbitration.

Olivo earned $2 million in 2007, and had he been tendered his salary, he likely would have jumped another million dollars.

Gregg is in the arbitration process for the second straight season. A year ago, the right-hander lost his case with the club, and he received $575,000 instead of the $700,000 he was seeking.

After enjoying a strong season as the Marlins' closer, Gregg may end up being the club's highest-paid player. There are indications his arbitration salary will jump to about $2.5 million.

The 29-year-old Gregg enjoyed a strong first season with Florida. Acquired in November 2006 from the Angels for reliever Chris Resop, Gregg appeared in 74 games and logged 84 innings. He solidified the closer role, which was up for grabs, finishing with 32 saves.

Gregg was considered a strong candidate to win the closer job when Spring Training opened, but the team pushed for a veteran with more experience in the role. Florida ended up trading for Jorge Julio about a week before Opening Day. But after Julio floundered and some other relief options didn't pan out, Gregg stepped up and solidified the job in May. He held it for the remainder of the season, even after the Marlins picked up Armando Benitez in a trade with the Giants for Randy Messenger.

Gregg offers a lot of value because of his versatility. When he broke in with the Angels in 2003, he was used as a spot starter. He's also been used in long relief and setup spots. Now, he has the experience of closing. He projects to be the frontrunner to close when Spring Training begins in February.

Mitre, meanwhile, is projected as one of the team's top three starters. In '07, he also made $380,000, and his salary likely will increase to seven figures after his 27 starts and 149 innings. Mitre was 5-8 with a 4.65 ERA. In the first half of the season, however, he was pretty much the club's most reliable starter.

However, as the season progressed, Mitre began to wear down. It was understandable since he logged 41 total innings in an injury plagued 2006 campaign.

The 30-year-old Miller was a surprise in his first season with Florida. The right-hander avoided the arbitration exchanging numbers process by signing his one-year deal. A durable workhorse, Miller appeared in 62 games and compiled 61 2/3 innings in a setup role, finishing with a 5-0 record and 3.65 ERA.

Amezaga is a valuable all-purpose player who is being coveted by several teams in trade discussions. A switch-hitter, Amezaga turns 30 in January, and this is the first time he is in the arbitration process.

The past two seasons he has played every position except pitcher and catcher.

In 133 games this past season, Amezaga had 400 at-bats and finished with a .263 average. A natural middle infielder, Amezaga saw a bit of time in center field, where he had 271 at-bats.

With Cabrera gone, Amezaga may see more time at third base. The Marlins ideally like him coming off the bench because of all the options he can bring to the club.

Joe Frisaro is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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