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Marlins set with speed, but seek power

Marlins set with speed, but seek power

LAS VEGAS -- For a few seasons, the Marlins have talked about sliding Hanley Ramirez into the heart of the order. The timing may be right to now make the switch.

The decision ultimately will be made by manager Fredi Gonzalez, who notes that it is way too early to make any idea definitive. But still, he is seriously weighing a lineup that would have Ramirez batting third, instead of the leadoff spot where he's thrived the past three years.

"He's a force," Gonzalez said. "He's a force wherever you hit him, you know. He's a guy that's lurking. During the course of the game, from the other dugout, sitting in the other dugout, he's lurking. He's going to come up sooner or later."

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Since his rookie season in 2006, Ramirez has primarily led off. The results speak for themselves, as he is one of the best all-around offensive players in the league.

A threat to steal a base or connect on a home run, Ramirez was voted in as the National League's starting shortstop in the 2008 All-Star Game.

Ramirez joined the 30-30 club this past season, belting 33 home runs while swiping 35 bases. The 24-year-old batted .301, and he paced the Major Leagues with 125 runs scored.

Yet, the numbers don't tell the entire story. Ramirez has been extremely productive leading off, but he's not enjoyed the same success batting third.

Last season, he hit first in 135 games, and he batted .304 with a .400 on-base percentage and a .559 slugging percentage.

In the first half, the Marlins experimented with Ramirez hitting in the third slot after Josh Willingham went on the disabled list. In 16 games batting third, he hit .268 with one homer and four RBIs.

For his career, the All-Star has a .313 average batting first, compared to .290 hitting third.

The Marlins, however, have lost their two primary cleanup batters in trades this offseason. Willingham was dealt to the Nationals, while Mike Jacobs was sent to the Royals.

Gonzalez acknowledged the club must replace the lost power, and Ramirez fits the mold of a middle-of-the-lineup slugger. He just hasn't shown on a consistent basis that he can be a major run producer batting third.

Another reason the Marlins kept Ramirez leading off is they didn't have a strong candidate to replace him at the top of the order. That situation may be changing. Cameron Maybin, the 21-year-old acquired last December from Detroit, is a player cut out of the Ramirez mold.

Maybin has speed and power, and if he shows he can get on base regularly, he could be the option to lead off.

"Maybe we'll start off with Maybin hitting first and hitting Hanley third," said Gonzalez, adding that if it doesn't pan out, he could switch things up. "I wouldn't go any further back than third [with Ramirez], I wouldn't think, unless we're just absolutely struggling and can't get any runs, and [then] we'll try to do something else."

The top of the Marlins' order could be Maybin first, followed by John Baker, Ramirez and Jorge Cantu.

If that is the direction the team goes, it would have excellent speed with Maybin and Ramirez. Toss in the possibility Emilio Bonifacio being in the lineup, and Florida has three burners.

"Speed comes to the ballpark every day," Gonzalez said. "You've got to have somebody that hits the ball out of the ballpark. You've got to have somebody that scares somebody during the course of the game. But speed, defense and pitching is our philosophy. If those three guys get on, it's going to cause havoc."

With no mandate to move players to stay within their budget, the Marlins aren't under any pressure to complete any deals at the Winter Meetings. But they've had a number of discussions.

Marlins president of baseball operations Larry Beinfest said the team may leave the Meetings having stayed put.

"I am not optimistic at this time that anything will happen," Beinfest said. "We can play right now."

The Marlins are working on a mid-range trade that would send infielder Robert Andino to the Pirates for infielder Brian Bixler. Even that may not be completed before the teams depart on Thursday.

Seattle and Texas on Wednesday approached Florida about outfielder Jeremy Hermida. Neither offer, however, was a fit. The Rangers talked about sending catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia to the Marlins.

The club isn't confirming or denying any trade speculation.

The team also has initiated contact with the agents of catcher Michael Barrett and pitcher Carl Pavano. Those discussions are very preliminary.

"We can go play right now. It's not like we need a fifth starter or we can't go play tomorrow," Beinfest said. "I don't think we're in that position."

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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