Marlins have room to grow at Winter Meetings

Marlins have room to grow at Winter Meetings

Marlins have room to grow at Winter Meetings
MIAMI -- Times have changed for the Marlins.

Unlike the past, team officials are heading into the annual Winter Meetings with spending money. Their intention during their stay in Dallas, beginning Monday and running until Dec. 8, is to go on a shopping spree.

Before packing their bags for Dallas, the Marlins sealed the deal on their first big free-agent move. Late Thursday night, they reached agreement with All-Star closer Heath Bell on a three-year deal worth $27 million, with a vesting option for a fourth year.

Landing the hard-throwing right-hander scratches the need for a closer off their shopping list. It also makes it highly likely that Juan Carlos Oviedo (formerly Leo Nunez) will be non-tendered.

About to move into their retractable-roof ballpark, the newly named Miami Marlins have franchise stability. They have a long-term home in the Little Havana section of Miami, and their intentions are to become an overnight contender in the tough National League East.

Since the World Series ended and the free-agent signing period began, the Marlins have actively courted some of the highest-profile players on the market. Jose Reyes, Albert Pujols, Mark Buehrle and C.J. Wilson all have visited Miami to meet with team officials and see the new ballpark. Ryan Madson also has been extended a preliminary contract offer.

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The Marlins are selling their new name, the sizzle of the city of Miami and their new manager, Ozzie Guillen.

While in Dallas, they will see if any of their targets are sold and ready to sign.

The Marlins promise to be active at the Meetings, and here is a look at their checklist:

Club needs

Starting pitching: If the Marlins are to seriously contend, they feel they will have to do it with strong starting pitching. Last year, ace Josh Johnson went down with shoulder inflammation in May. He didn't return, and the rest of the staff suffered in his absence. Johnson is healthy and ready for 2012, but the team feels it needs more depth.

The Marlins would like to add two established starters. It is doubtful that Javier Vazquez, a free agent who is considering retirement, will be back. Vazquez paced the team with 13 wins last year.

Miami is in the market for left-handed starters. The club is talking to Buehrle and Wilson. Trade talk has involved James Shields and Gio Gonzalez.

Recently, Miami added an experienced lefty starter when it obtained Wade LeBlanc from the Padres for catcher John Baker. LeBlanc will fit into the mix, but the team is exploring more alternatives.

Impact bat: Hanley Ramirez had a rough time in 2011. The three-time All-Star struggled at the plate and to stay healthy. He missed the final two months with a left shoulder injury, which required surgery. The loss of his bat was felt, and the team would like to add an impact hitter. The Marlins are courting free agents like Reyes and Pujols.

Reyes, of course, adds a threat at the top of the order, while Pujols would provide power in the middle of the lineup. Reyes is considered the more realistic option.

Who they can or need to trade

Looking to become an immediate contender, the Marlins are willing to part with prospects and/or some big league-tested players. Third baseman Matt Dominguez could be dangled for the right offer, as might their best prospects, outfielders Christian Yelich or Marcell Ozuna. Perhaps either Logan Morrison or Gaby Sanchez could be moved if something made sense, because both are natural first basemen.

Top prospects

Dominguez, Yelich, Ozuna, LHP Chad James, C J.T. Realmuto, 2B Noah Perio, RHP Jose Fernandez, LHP Rob Rasmussen, OF Kevin Mattison.

Big contracts they might unload

Ricky Nolasco ($20.5 million for 2012-13)

Arbitration-eligible

Oviedo, Burke Badenhop, Emilio Bonifacio, Clay Hensley, Edward Mujica, Donnie Murphy, Anibal Sanchez, Chris Volstad.

Payroll summation

After years of ranking near the bottom in payroll, the Marlins are on more even financial footing with the rest of the league now that they have their own ballpark. The new revenue streams will translate into more dollars to spend on players. The payroll is expected to jump into the range of $85 million to $90 million after it was about $58 million in 2011. Most likely, it won't reach $100 million, but that number could be challenged if they are to land more than one big-ticket free agent.

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.