Bolstering rotation high on Marlins' list
Florida shopping Cabrera for upgrades in center, at catcher
MIAMI -- Bolstering the starting rotation remains high on the Marlins' shopping list heading into the Winter Meetings, but pulling off a deal for a quality arm will be pricey.
Florida president of baseball operations Larry Beinfest has a general rule of trying to lure in some pitching in every trade the team makes, but he understands the difficulty of pulling off deals.
"It's very expensive, in terms of players and in terms of dollars, to acquire pitching," Beinfest said on Friday. "You better grow your own. But that doesn't mean you're crossing anything off."
When Major League Baseball officials converge in Nashville, Tenn., on Monday, the Marlins promise to be active exploring ways to strengthen themselves in a number of areas.
Along with finding quality starters, the Marlins also are in the market for a catcher and a center fielder. In general, the club seeks to improve dramatically on defense.
The Marlins are not expected to retain catcher Miguel Olivo, who is eligible for arbitration. Matt Treanor, also going through the arbitration process, is regarded more as a backup than an everyday catcher. Center field, meanwhile, has been in flux since Juan Pierre was dealt after the 2005 season.
It's no secret Florida's front office is determined to upgrade the club defensively, especially after it ranked last in the Major Leagues in fielding percentage (.977).
Catcher and center field may ultimately be resolved in any possible trade that involves 24-year-old sensation Miguel Cabrera, who remains at the forefront of numerous trade scenarios. The Angels and Dodgers continue to push hard for the services of the four-time All-Star from Venezuela. Both Los Angeles-based teams have trade candidates who can play center field.
In talks with the Angels, the Marlins are eyeing outfielder Reggie Willits and catcher Jeff Mathis as part of their package. The Dodgers, meanwhile, have Matt Kemp as a potential trade choice.
"[I have] no comment on specific trade rumors," Beinfest said when asked about Cabrera. "I'm not going to get into specific plans. Things haven't changed since the season ended. We are trying to address the areas we identified some time ago. Nothing has changed as we head into the Meetings."
The Marlins made Cabrera available for trade discussions dating back to the General Managers Meetings in Orlando, Fla., in early November. For weeks, the Angels and Dodgers have been believed to be the front-runners for the four-time All-Star.
The asking price for Cabrera is understandably high. In fact, what the Marlins have been seeking in return for a young superstar has drawn public criticism from some teams in the league.
A few days ago, Angels owner Arte Moreno told reporters: "I've felt we had a deal with them twice. It's going to be hard to give up that talent [in return]. They're doing it to everybody. I read that the Dodgers [general manager] Ned Colletti had a deal, and they changed [players] on him.
"They've maneuvered us against each other. They've got a 24-year-old power hitter who plays third base, and you've got about six teams that need a third baseman."
Moreno added that the Marlins are asking for four Major League players -- three position players and a pitcher, or two position players and two pitchers.
When reminded Friday of Moreno's quotes, Beinfest said: "No comment.
"We just continue to work with things. ... I don't know if there's progress or not. You really never know. We continue to do our work and see how we move ahead."
With minimal financial resources, the Marlins don't believe they could sign Cabrera for the long haul, so they are trying to maximize the slugger's trade value before he gets too costly. Still, he is eligible for arbitration for two more seasons, giving the team the option to retain him at least through 2009.
When the Marlins won the 2003 World Series, they were strong up the middle with Ivan Rodriguez behind the plate and Pierre in center field. The middle infielders then were All-Star Luis Castillo at second base and slick-fielding Alex Gonzalez at shortstop.
As the Marlins work toward tweaking their roster for 2008, they would like to get back to that blueprint of winning with strong starting pitching and airtight defense. If those two areas rank near the top in the league, the team feels it can compete with a midrange offense.
Placing a superstar offensive performer like Cabrera on the trade market pretty much shows the Marlins are willing to explore options involving just about anybody on their roster.
The lone untouchable is Hanley Ramirez, who turns 24 in a few weeks. The gifted shortstop has one more season left before arbitration, making him highly affordable along with being one of the top all-around talents in the game.
But Ramirez, who batted .332 and scored a team-record 125 runs in his second season, underwent surgery in early October to repair a labrum tear in his left shoulder.
Ramirez is expected to be at full strength when Spring Training begins in February.
While the Marlins don't publicly divulge their player payroll, it appears again to be in the neighborhood of $30 million.
Modest payrolls seem inevitable for the team until it resolves a stadium stalemate that has plagued the franchise for more than a decade. Negotiations are ongoing with South Florida officials to secure funding on a retractable-roof stadium in Miami, but a deal is not complete yet.
The Marlins' limited budget also means they will not be in the mix for marquee free agents who will be commanding multiyear deals worth millions.
Another big question the Marlins will face at the Winter Meetings is whether to deal their most high-profile starter. Dontrelle Willis, the organization's all-time leader in victories with 68, is coming off his worst big league season, going 10-15 with a 5.17 ERA in 2007.
Willis still logged 205 1/3 innings, marking his third straight season with more than 200 innings.
There is a feeling from those in the game that if Cabrera is traded, the Marlins will hold on to Willis, who made $6.45 million this past season. Like Cabrera, Willis is eligible to become a free agent after 2009, and he, too, is becoming more costly to keep.
Joe Frisaro is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.