MIAMI — A week ago, the Marlins opened a six-game road trip with a sense of urgency.
Manager Ozzie Guillen called it a crucial week, one that could sway whether trades could be made before the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline.
The trip opened with promise with a 9-5 win over the Cubs at Wrigley Field. From there, the team fell on hard times. Hanley Ramirez experienced inflammation in his right hand, and he was sidelined.
The state of the team also worsened as they lost the next five, and they are now a season-worst seven-games under .500. At 44-51, they are 11 1/2 games behind the Nationals in the NL East.
Each passing day creates more speculation regarding who will stay or go.
Anbibal Sanchez, a free agent after the season, is a name being mentioned prominently in trade talks. With the Braves reportedly about to acquire Ryan Dempster from the Cubs, Sanchez should generate more attention before July 31.
A recent report had the Tigers scouting Sanchez, but a source said that may not be a fit. Teams like the Red Sox, Yankees, Cardinals, Dodgers and Rangers are in the hunt for a starter. One of those teams may be more realistic than Detroit.
Coming out of the All-Star Break, the Marlins were reviewing where they’d stand after their three-game series with the Braves, which starts on Monday at Marlins Park.
The hope was they’d make up ground in the 13-game stretch after the All-Star Break. They’re so far 3-7 in the span.
Omar Infante, who signed a two-year, $8 million extension last September, is another player who has been speculated to be on the move.
If the Marlins do decide to part with Infante, they would free up the remainder of the second baseman’s salary this year plus $4 million for next year.
What would the Marlins do at second base, should Infante be dealt?
It depends what happens in center field. If the team acquires a proven center fielder, Emilio Bonifacio could switch to second base. Or the club could keep Bonifacio in center field, and give Donovan Solano a look at second for the rest of the season.
– Joe Frisaro
CHICAGO — Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen said it best on Tuesday: If the team wins, it will stay together. If it doesn’t, trade speculation will surface.
The Marlins once again find themselves at the center of reports.
USA Today is reporting the Marlins have had conversations with the Red Sox. The proposed trade would have Hanley Ramirez and Heath Bell going to Boston for Carl Crawford.
A source said they wouldn’t be surprised if such a deal was proposed.
ESPN’s Buster Olney reports the conversation took place recently, but quickly was shot down.
Where there is smoke there could be fire.
The Marlins are looking to re-energize their roster. Next year, they will be looking to have speed in the outfield, and most likely move Logan Morrison to first base.
There is a general feeling if Ramirez is shopped, it most likely would be in the offseason to explore the maximum value he could command, rather than be shopped to a limited number of clubs in a few week window.
Other Marlins being mentioned in trade talks are Anibal Sanchez, Josh Johnson and Omar Infante.
Sanchez is a free agent after the season. Johnson and Infante are under contract through 2013. The club appears to be willing to listen for all three. But the Marlins are looking for value in return. They will only make a move that makes sense. The club isn’t dumping salary.
If Infante is moved, Emilio Bonifacio can move to second base. But if that happens, the team would need to find a solution in center field. It could be Justin Ruggiano after Giancarlo Stanton returns from his right knee surgery.
– Joe Frisaro
CHICAGO — If the Marlins fall out of contention at the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline, would they become sellers?
ESPN’s Buster Olney says the team could be open to dealing everyone on their roster, including Giancarlo Stanton, Josh Johnson and Omar Infante.
Names like Hanley Ramirez, Ricky Nolasco and Gaby Sanchez also could be included.
The Marlins have a standing policy of saying they’d be open to trading anyone. They’ve stated this every year since Jeffrey Loria became the owner in 2002. Their thinking is, you don’t know if another organization would dramatically overpay.
Would the Marlins listen to offers for Stanton, who is 22-years-old and he isn’t eligible for arbitration until after the 2013 season? Yes, they’d listen. But chances are more likely Miami will sign him to a long-term deal by that date than move him.
Stanton is headed towards being the face of the franchise. Don’t expect the slugger to be going anywhere.
Still, Stanton also is the player who would bring in the biggest return in a trade. So at least listening wouldn’t be surprising.
That said, the Marlins are in their new ballpark, and they’re looking to sell tickets for the remainder of this season and for years to follow. Stanton clearly is someone to build around, not move at this point.
More realistic trade pieces could be Anibal Sanchez and Randy Choate. Both are headed for free agency at the end of the season. The club also could turn and move Carlos Lee, who also isn’t expected back in 2013.
One constant in a season where the Marlins have been inconsistent are rumors about the club.
The Marlins felt they were built to win this season. Obviously, they’ve under-performed. But the club has a rotation that has for the most part been steady.
A few days ago, Marlins president of baseball operations Larry Beinfest talked about the “Cardinals-Rockie Effect.”
Beinfest was referring to the 2011 Cardinals and 2007 Rockies. Both teams were well off the pace entering September, and both reached the World Series.
The second Wild Card also has created more hope.
Clearly, the Marlins have to start making up ground quickly. Foremost, they have to be over .500 as fast as possible. If they are not, look for trade speculation to increase.
– Joe Frisaro
Cuban sensation Yoenis Cespedes is on the verge of becoming a free agent, and the Marlins are expected to make a strong push for the 26-year-old outfielder.
Cespedes has established residency in the Dominican Republic, which had kept him in a holding pattern for months. Now, the outfielder is awaiting approval from Major League Baseball to be declared a free agent.
Recently, Cespedes said the Marlins, Cubs, White Sox, Orioles, Tigers and Indians had expressed the most interest.
The Marlins are on record saying they believe Cespedes’ best fit is in Miami, with its strong Cuban community.
The Marlins are prepared to make a substantial offer — between four and six years — for the power-hitting outfielder.
There is a feeling within the organization that another impact bat is needed to reach the postseason, and Cespedes is a five-tool player.
The Marlins also feel Cespedes can handle center field, but some wonder if that is his best position. Because of his size, he may profile more as a corner outfielder. But he has the speed to play all three positions.
In recent weeks, Cespedes got some game experience while playing with Aguilas Cibaenas in the Dominican Winter League. He showed glimpses of his power, but he’s also rusty.
If he signs with Miami, he certainly would get a strong look in Spring Training, but chances are he would open the season at either Triple-A New Orleans or Double-A Jacksonville.
Emilio Bonifacio would then be the frontrunner to start in center field.
What would it mean for the rest of the Miami roster if Cespedes signs? Logan Morrison is slated for left field, and Mike Stanton is an anchor in right.
The way the Marlins are looking at it is, you can’t have enough elite talent.
The team fell apart last year, in part, because of injuries and lack of depth.
When Spring Training gets underway, the Marlins right now will be monitoring several players who are returning from surgeries. Morrison had his right knee scoped in November, and Chris Coghlan (another outfield candidate) had his left knee scoped in the same month. Both should be ready for Spring Training, but they likely will be eased into action.
Hanley Ramirez is coming off left shoulder surgery. The expectation is for Ramirez to be ready for Opening Day, so his playing time will likely be reduced in Grapefruit League games.
If Ramirez has any setbacks, Bonifacio may wind up at third base in the short term.
Even shortstop will be watched closely.
Jose Reyes has had hamstring issues in the past. Should he need a breather, Bonifacio or Ramirez could see some time at shortstop.
Say everyone is healthy, and Cespedes wins the center field job for Opening Day, Bonifacio then could go back to being a super utility player.
The bottom line is the Marlins feel they would be a more rounded and deeper team with Cespedes.
– Joe Frisaro
MIAMI — Prince Fielder, the highest-profile free agent remaining on the market, is once again being linked to the Marlins.
According to Adam Kilgore of The Washington Post, Miami owner Jeffrey Loria had a discussion with Scott Boras, Fielder’s agent, Wednesday night at the owner’s meetings in Arizona.
The Nationals, the Post reports, are “patiently and aggressively” pursuing Fielder.
As for the Marlins, the fact that Loria and Boras spoke is not that unusual considering they are both in Arizona. Because the team never says never, it’s natural for them to get a feel for what Fielder is seeking. But that doesn’t mean the club is making a strong push for the power hitting first baseman.
In fact, there are strong indications from within the organization that they are not aggressively pursuing Fielder.
Their more realistic free agent target remains Yoenis Cespedes, who is expected to gain his temporary residency in the Dominican Republic within the next few days. Once that happens, the outfielder should be granted free agent status.
– Joe Frisaro
MIAMI — Sometime in the next 10 days, Cuban sensation Yeonis Cespedes is expected to become a free agent. When that day comes, the Marlins will be in the mix for the 26-year-old outfielder.
An industry source said Jan. 15 is a tentative day that Cespedes will establish residency in the Dominican Republic, and then petition MLB for free agent status. Even that date isn’t etched in stone, because there previously was a belief he’d be cleared on Nov. 30.
A few months ago, Marlins officials, including team owner Jeffrey Loria, attended a private workout for Cespedes in the Dominican Republic. The team continues to have interest and plans on eventually negotiating with the outfielder’s agent, Adam Katz.
The Marlins believe Cespedes is a natural fit in Miami, a city with a strong Cuban influence. The club’s new ballpark is located in the Little Havana section of the Miami.
Cost also appears to be working in the Marlins’ favor.
A couple of months ago, it was believed Cespedes was seeking an eight-year deal worth more than $60 million. Several teams have backed away from that number, and a source said Cespedes’ cost appears to be coming down.
More realistic numbers are four years in the $32 million range, the source said.
A four-year deal would get the outfielder to age 30, and he then could test the market again.
– Joe Frisaro
MIAMI — Toss Matt Garza’s name into the mix of possible Miami trade targets.
Acquiring another frontline starting pitcher remains a priority, and reportedly Garza fits the mold.
Ken Rosenthal of FoxSports.com claims the Marlins have “serious interest” in Garza. No deal is close, but the interest makes sense.
To seriously compete in the NL East, the Marlins are looking for as much starting pitching depth as possible. They’ve already signed free agent Mark Buehrle, and they made a strong push for C.J. Wilson, who eventually signed with the Angels.
Miami also pushed hard for Gio Gonzalez, who ended up being traded from the A’s to the Nationals.
Garza, 28, is projected to make between $9-10 million in arbitration in 2012, and he isn’t eligible for free agency until after the 2013 season.
The Cubs reportedly are seeking a trade package similiar to the deals that sent Mat Latos from the Padres to the Reds and Gonzalez to Washington.
There is stiff competition for Garza, who also is being coveted by the Yankees and Blue Jays.
The Cubs are looking for top prospects, and the Marlins are willing to part with some of their high-end young talent for an established starter.
Outfielder Christian Yelich, part of low Class A Greensboro’s championship team, is highly coveted.
The Marlins have made it clear that Logan Morrison and Mike Stanton are off limits, but they would be willing to move other young players, if the deal made sense.
– Joe Frisaro
MIAMI — Exploring the market for a frontline starting pitcher is high on the Marlins’ shopping list.
But it’s not the club’s most immediate priority.
Right now, bringing back free agent Greg Dobbs is a main objective, and the team is hoping to finalize a deal done soon.
In 2011, Dobbs provided veteran leadership as well as some timely hits. Of late, the Marlins have been working on getting a deal done.
If they can lock up Dobbs before New Years, it would cap a highly productive month of December for the Marlins.
The Marlins made a big splash early in the month by signing free agents Heath Bell, Jose Reyes and Mark Buehrle.
Dobbs, a non-roster invitee with an invitation to Spring Training last year, enjoyed a highly productive 2011.
Initially, the 33-year-old was used as a left-handed bat off the bench, but he ended up getting regular playing time, mainly at third base.
He batted .275 with eight home runs and 49 RBIs in 411 at-bats.
As a pinch-hitter, Dobbs made a big impact, posting a .370 (10-for-27) batting average with a home run and eight RBIs.
If Dobbs comes back, he will fill the important role of left-handed bat off the bench.
The Marlins are not expected to sign any more big ticket free agents.
Miami is looking at trade possibilities for a starting pitcher, primarily a front of the rotation-caliber starter. The team isn’t seeking competition for the back end of the rotation.
A major trade is more likely to find a starter than signing a free agent.
From an organizational standpoint, the Marlins have hired Bobby Ramos as their Latin American player development coordinator.
Ramos, formerly the Rays bullpen coach, is taking on a new position in the organization.
– Joe Frisaro
MIAMI — With Mike Stanton and Logan Morrison regarded as “off limits,” the Marlins are finding it difficult to trade for frontline starting pitching.
Miami pursued Gio Gonzalez for more than a month, but Oakland’s asking price always included either Stanton or Morrison.
Becauses the Marlins are not willing to part with either, they are finding it difficult to lure in a legitimate All-Star pitcher.
If the Marlins had more high-end prospects, perhaps they would have been able to swing a deal for Gonzalez. They don’t, and the A’s on Thursday dealt their All-Star left-hander to the Nationals.
Miami’s search for a frontline starter continues.
For Gonzalez, the Marlins were willing to part with any number of their top Minor Leaguers. They just weren’t willing to do it at the expense of their every day lineup.
So what’s next?
Javier Vazquez, who had a remarkable second half, maintains he is retiring. The Marlins aren’t expecting him back, and they’re looking in other directions.
Left-hander Joe Saunders has been mentioned, but don’t count on it.
The Marlins already signed Mark Buehrle, who is not overpowering. They aren’t looking to have two soft-tossing southpaws, especially for the $7 million that Saunders commands.
Keep in mind, Miami seeks a top of the rotation pitcher, not just an innings eater.
James Shields is in the mix, but not at the price of Stanton or Morrison.
Wandy Rodriguez and Roy Oswalt may be more realistic options.
As of now, the Marlins’ rotation is Josh Johnson, Buehrle, Anibal Sanchez, Ricky Nolasco and Chris Volstad. Lefty Wade LeBlanc was obtained by the Padres to add experienced depth.
Clearly, the Marlins would like to add another established arm, but they won’t force the issue. If need be, they may continue their search into Spring Training, ideally finding someone before Opening Day.
– Joe Frisaro
MIAMI — It’s no secret the Marlins are in the market for a frontline starting pitcher. It’s also not a mystery that the club has sincere interest in Oakland’s Gio Gonzalez. The issue is the asking price for the All-Star left-hander.
The Nationals are aggressively after Gonzalez.
Quite simply, the Marlins don’t have the depth of players in their organization to match what the Nationals have to offer.
So the Marlins are asking themselves, is it worth moving a regular or two, along with top prospects, for Gonzalez. The team is not willing to part with a rising star like Mike Stanton for a starting pitcher.
A league source said the A’s asking price is extremely high, perhaps more than even what Washington is willing to part with.
The source added that a sleeper team to watch out for on Gonzalez is Toronto. Now that the Blue Jays came up short in their pursuit of Yu Darvish, whose rights went to the Rangers, they may be turning their attention to Gonzalez.
Like the Nationals, the Blue Jays have a number of highly-regarded prospects to pull off a big trade.
The source noted that Toronto would have a formidable one-two punch if it could team up Gonzalez with Ricky Romero.
Even if the Marlins are unable to obtain Gonzalez, they will remain active trying to land an established starting pitcher.
Miami also is expected to make a heavy push for outfielder Yoenis Cespedes once he becomes available. Cespedes is close to gaining temporary residency in the Dominican Republic. When that happens, he will file for free agency.
– Joe Frisaro