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Marlins search for bargain upgrades

Marlins search for bargain upgrades

LAS VEGAS -- A strong contingent of Marlins representatives have arrived at the Winter Meetings ready to wheel and deal.

In all, the organization has dispatched 25 team officials ranging from team president David Samson to Minor League scouts and trainers to the annual Meetings, which run from Monday to Thursday.

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The team's mission has not varied from comments made by the front office since the regular season ended.

"I think we've said what we wanted to do with pitching, speed and defense," Marlins president of baseball operations Larry Beinfest said. "I think we've moved things in that direction."

Never ones to shy away from making deals, the Marlins were active well before the trip to Vegas. Since the offseason began, they've swung three trades. The day after the World Series ended, first baseman Mike Jacobs was sent to the Royals for reliever Leo Nunez.

Less than two weeks later, left fielder Josh Willingham and pitcher Scott Olsen were shipped to the Nationals for infielder Emilio Bonifacio and two prospects. On Nov. 14, closer Kevin Gregg was dealt to the Cubs for Minor League reliever Jose Ceda.

"I anticipate we will be active," Beinfest said. "When you get all 30 teams together, you have to take advantage of that opportunity. We'll use that time to meet and cultivate ideas and see in what areas we can improve ourselves."

The Winter Meetings will feature more than just trade talk and free-agent talk. On the agenda Tuesday will be the announcement of the Ford C. Frick Award, the highest honor for a broadcast. Marlins radio voice Dave Van Horne is a finalist.

On Wednesday, there will be an announcement on who is participating in the World Baseball Classic. The meetings will conclude with the Rule 5 Draft on Thursday morning.

Entering the Meetings, the most recent trade buzz has centered on third baseman Jorge Cantu.

The Marlins have listened to inquires for Cantu, a candidate to play first base for Florida in 2009. One scenario has the 26-year-old infielder going to the Giants for left-handed starter Jonathan Sanchez. There also is speculation that the White Sox have interest in Cantu.

Pulling off major deals is nothing new for the cost-conscious Marlins, who have their economic challenges with 11 remaining arbitration-eligible players. Cantu, in his arbitration years, could see his salary rise from $500,000 in 2008 to more than $4 million next year.

Beinfest made it clear that the Marlins could go into next year with their current roster, but the team clearly wants to reshape even more.

While more movement is expected, not everything in the works should be viewed as cost-cutting.

Shoring up the defense is a big priority, as is adding an experienced catcher. If possible, Florida will look to lure in more pitching.

When the 2008 season ended, the Marlins had 18 players up for arbitration. Knowing they weren't keeping them all, the club decided to move swiftly on the market.

"It was kind of by design, because we wanted to be aggressive on some things," Beinfest said.

In November, Florida sent out feelers at the annual General Managers Meetings. Typically, ideas discussed in those meetings resurface at the Winter Meetings. Beinfest, however, notes that priorities change every time one team pulls off a deal.

"Some of the things you talked about at the GM Meetings may be dead issues now, or there may be new issues, because it is such a different landscape than it was a month ago," Beinfest said. "There are still some things that you'd like to pursue."

Along with Cantu, a couple of other arbitration-eligible Marlins have been linked to possible trades. For the right offer, the team could deal catcher Matt Treanor and right fielder Jeremy Hermida.

One player not expected to be shopped is two-time All-Star second baseman Dan Uggla.

In terms of going after free agents, a name to watch is catcher Ivan Rodriguez.

There are rumblings that the Marlins will make a push for Pudge, who has family ties to South Florida. Rodriguez also has familiarity with the organization, having been the catcher on the 2003 World Series title team.

Adding a veteran catcher is a priority, because the team has a young pitching staff.

The Marlins are prepared to go into Spring Training with John Baker as their regular catcher. But the club also is seeking more depth at the position. Rodriguez may have slowed down from his prime, but defensively he is still above average.

Regardless of who else may be acquired, Baker still is expected to see a good amount of playing time.

In remolding the team, the Marlins are looking to move away from being a power-hitting, high-strikeout squad. In 2008, they set a franchise record with 208 home runs. But a byproduct of the power was a Majors-leading amount of strikeouts (1,371). The team also ranked second to last in the National League in errors with 117.

Improving in the field the team hopes will help preserve and develop some of Florida's strong young pitchers. A concern with the young staff is needing to get extra outs because of shaky defense.

Thus far, the Marlins have added a couple of bullpen arms, and the speedy Bonifacio who will get a look at third base.

The addition of Bonifacio could lead to Cantu switching to first base. Dallas McPherson and Wes Helms also are third-base candidates. If Cantu is traded, first base could go to prospect Gaby Sanchez, who excelled at Double-A in 2008.

"We think Gaby Sanchez is ready," Beinfest said. "We think there is a lot of open competition, and defense will matter in Spring Training as that competition unfolds."

Landing Nunez and Ceda provides depth to the bullpen.

Nunez was used in a setup role with the Royals, and he could someday be a candidate to close. Ceda, obtained from the Cubs, is a power pitcher who is close to being big league ready.

"If [Ceda] is not ready right away [in Spring Training], we hope he is soon," Beinfest said. "I'm not sure what soon is, whether one month, two months. But based on what he did in Double-A, where he finished up last year, he can come along quickly."

Barring a change in direction, the Marlins are committed to giving Matt Lindstrom the first shot at being the closer.

In September, Lindstrom was 5-for-5 in save chances after Gregg was injured.

"Matt is definitely the front-runner to win that job," Beinfest said. "He will need to continue to do what he's done over two good years. He's got great stuff. He's going to have every opportunity to win that job."

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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