WEDNESDAY BUZZ COLUMN
Marlins chatter on the eve of the offseason:
### The Marlins have not met yet to discuss their offseason plans, but they plan to make third base a priority this winter and also likely will look to add another starting position player if they do not re-sign Carlos Lee.
But here’s the challenge: Though there’s no final decision, the Marlins expect payroll to be in the $80 million range, about $15 million below 2012. That would leave only about $9 million to spend on seven or eight players, unless they trade a high-priced pitcher, which will be considered.
Five position players are likely set: Giancarlo Stanton, Jose Reyes, Logan Morrison, Emilio Bonifacio, Rob Brantly.
With the Mets expected to pick David Wright’s $16 million option, the free-agent third base options aren’t especially inspiring: Kevin Youkalis (.236, 19 homers, 60 RBI), Jeff Keppinger (.328, 9, 40) Placido Polanco (.257, 2, 19), Eric Chavez (.284, 16, 37), Mark Reynolds (.226, 23, 69), Brandon Inge (.218, 12, 54), Ty Wigginton (.234, 11, 43) and Scott Rolen (.243, 7, 38).
“We might need to find somebody under-the-radar like we did with Jorge Cantu a few years ago,” one Marlins official said.
Don’t rule out a trade for a third baseman. The Marlins believe third base prospect Zack Cox is a year or two away.
### Owner Jeffrey Loria really likes Donovan Solano (.296), who has made a strong case to be the full-time starter at second base. If Solano starts, Bonifacio likely would play center field, though third base is possible. He said he would be comfortable at any of the three.
### Lee said he would like to re-sign, but the Marlins have told him nothing. His return is not completely out of the question, but the Marlins are expected to explore other options. If Lee isn’t kept, they likely would move Morrison to first base and add an outfielder to start or platoon with Justin Ruggiano.
### Unless the Marlins trade salary to create payroll space, they cannot afford free agent outfielders Josh Hamilton, Nick Swisher, Delmon Young, Michael Bourn, Melky Cabrera, BJ Upton, Torii Hunter or potentially even Cody Ross, Angel Pagan or Shane Victorino.
Among cheaper free agents outfielders: Juan Pierre (.310), Scott Hairston (.258, 19, 54), Raul Ibanez (.235, 18, 59), Reed Johnson (.287) and Jonny Gomes (.256, 17, 46).
James Loney (.249, 5, 40) and Casey Kotchman (.231, 12, 55) are among the very few (somewhat) decent free-agent first base options if Morrison stays in left field, which seems unlikely.
### The Marlins have $64.6 million owed to eight players for 2013: Josh Johnson ($13.75), Ricky Nolasco ($11.5 million), Mark Buehrle ($11 million), Heath Bell ($9 million), Reyes ($10 million), John Buck ($6 million), Greg Dobbs ($1.6 million) and Jacob Turner ($1.75 million).
That figure grows to about $71 million when factoring in arbitration-eligible Bonifacio and Ryan Webb, plus eight players under team control, including Stanton, Morrison and Steve Cishek.
The Marlins could deal Nolasco for a run-producing position player if they believe they can fill the third through fifth rotation spots with Nathan Eovaldi, Turner and either Wade LeBlanc or a cheap free agent. Trading Johnson instead is a possibility if a team is also willing to take on the $18 million due on Bell's contract. That would free up a ton of money to improve the offense.
Position players expected to be available in the trade market this winter include, among others, Colorado center fielder Dexter Fowler and infielder/outfielder Michael Cuddyer.
UM and Notre Dame, meeting in the regular season for the first time since 1990 (they played in the 2010 Sun Bowl), likely will meet about seven times in the next 20 years, including 2016 and ‘17.
ESPN announcer and former Notre Dame coach Lou Holtz, who went 2-2 against Miami in the final four games (1987-1990), said off air Tuesday that the series renewal “is good for college football. What made it so great is so many people love Notre Dame and some hate them, and there are a lot of Miami haters in this country.
“Al Golden has done an excellent job, and I like your quarterback,” Holtz said. “Defensively, you’re a ways away from being a great team. For all the great things that Steve Walsh… and those guys did, it was their defense that made them great. No doubt Notre Dame is a better team.”
Golden said Tuesday that “former players know we want to play well for them” Saturday, but he won’t much discuss the rivalry with his players because “getting into all that this week, I don’t know how that’s going to help our team grow.” Randal Hill reportedly wanted to address the UM team about the rivalry this week, and other former Canes greats are weighing in on Twitter.
“Gonna drop kick that leprechaun right through the uprights and stamp a U on his butt! LOL!” tweeted Alonzo Highsmith, whose son starts at safety for UM. Alonzo smiled about his dad's tweets: “He has got a lot of energy."
Chicago, the site of Saturday's game, is less than 90 miles from Notre Dame's campus. So when Golden was asked what he thinks of neutral site games, he smiled and said: "Well, I prefer it to be neutral. We start there."
### Regrettably, Dolphins rookie third-round pick Michael Egnew apparently still isn't ready. Though tight end Charles Clay has had more drops (two) than receptions (one, for two yards), offensive coordinator Mike Sherman suggested Tuesday he’s not ready to use rookie Michael Egnew instead.
Egnew “is still making some rookie mistakes,” Sherman said. And what about Clay? "He “running great routes and has a lot of talent," Sherman said. "I have to find a way to get him going and I haven’t done a very good job of that yet. That’s on me.”
### Davone Bess gave an immediate “yes” Tuesday when asked by another reportert if Brian Hartline’s speed is underestimated because he is white. Hartline leads the league with 455 receiving yards. If teams underestimated his speed, “I don’t think they will anymore,” Sherman said.... See our story elsewhere on the web site, on the Dolphins signing Jabar Gaffney (one-year deal) and cutting Legedu Naanee.
### Sherman said “the time will come at the halfway point” to decide between Daniel Thomas and Lamar Miller as the primary No. 2 running back.
### Defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle said Sean Smith’s game Sunday was “perhaps the best since he’s been a Dolphin.” But he added Richard Marshall “knows he can play better, as can Nolan Carroll…. They’re hopefully going to play at the level we know they can.”
### Opponents are averaging 43 passes per game against Miami, highest in the league, and the third-most passing yards per game. Surprisingly, though, Miami is allowing the third-lowest completion percentage (54), Coyle said… Coyle told his unit: “We have to find a way to win. And we have to find a way to win now. Period. End of story.”
### Heat center Dexter Pittman, at his lowest weight in years (275) after topping 375 as a freshman at Texas, got a pep talk from Pat Riley and said he finally has “figured out the things I cannot do, and I’ve stopped trying to do them. In the past, I was thinking I had to try to dunk every time I got the ball.”