WEDNESDAY BUZZ COLUMN
The Marlins open spring training on Feb. 20 with what appears to be their best team in many years, but also with several issues that must be sorted out over the next two months. Chatter on five of those issues:
### Achieving clarity on Jose Fernandez and Dan Haren.
Fernandez, coming off Tommy John surgery last May, will throw off a mound in spring training, and owner Jeffrey Loria expects him to return sometime after June 1.
“We’re still thinking June, July area” for his return to the majors, Marlins president of baseball operations Michael Hill said Monday from Jeff Conine’s annual charity golf tournament.
“Once we get him on the mound, we’ll get a little more clarity. When you’re dealing with those injuries, you’re always cautiously optimistic.
“He’s worked extremely hard. He’s done a tremendous job doing everything he needs to do to get himself back. We won’t put a timetable on it. We don’t want him to feel any pressure.”
As for Haren... Though he has asked for a trade to a West Coast team, no team has made an offer, and Haren told the Marlins he will report to spring training if he's not dealt.
The Marlins would try to accommodate Haren if they get a trade offer, but they’re not calling teams at this point, either.
Because the Marlins are keeping the $10 million given to them by the Dodgers whether they trade Haren or not, there has been considerable internal discussion about what to do if a viable trade option emerges. The Marlins planned to allocate that $10 million to pay Mat Latos if Haren had retired. So Haren’s $10 million isn’t necessarily in the budget.
There's some sentiment internally not to give him away for peanuts because the Marlins believe Haren (13-11, 4.02 ERA in 2014) is still a quality starter and will be effective pitching at Marlins Park. But they're also sensitive to his trade request. It's all moot if no team makes an offer. But if a West Coast team loses a starter to injury in spring training and makes an offer for Haren, the Marlins will face an interesting decision.
Remember, that Dodgers deal wasn't about Haren; it was about getting Dee Gordon and the $10 million to add a high-end starter (Latos).
Asked if Haren will likely be on the team, Hill said: “Our expectation is he will be in spring training and be ready to be one of five and help this club where it wants to go until October. He’s made it clear his preference is to be on a West Coast club and we respect that. But we’re trying to put a championship club together and if something doesn’t materialize for him, we’ll be excited to have him as a Marlin.”
So far, Haren’s only public comment has been this tweet last week: “Today, I watched six episodes of Family Feud and I cried watching Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. I think I’m ready for baseball to start.”
What if the Marlins deal Haren? Then right-hander David Phelps (15-14, 4.21 in three seasons with the Yankees) or lefty Brad Hand (3-8, 4.38 ERA last season) would be the likely fifth starter.
The Marlins also are keeping tabs on free agent James Shields (14-8, 3.21 for Kansas City last season), but it's highly unlikely they will sign him. They could get involved only if Haren is dealt and if the market drops significantly below the five years and $100 million-plus that Shields is seeking. Don't count on the latter.
### Signing Ichiro Suzuki or another fourth outfielder.
The Marlins have offered a one-year contract in the $2 million range to Ichiro and the Marlins remain optimistic, but not certain, that a deal will be struck.
Ichiro, a 10-time All-Star, likes the idea of playing in Miami but has been waiting to see if an opportunity arises where he could earn more playing time elsewhere. Resolution is expected soon.
Ichiro, 41, remains effective; he batted .283, .262 and .284 the past years and hit .462 (6 for 13) as a pinch-hitter last season. He played all three outfield positions for the Yankees in 2014 but just 18 games in center over the past two years.
If Ichiro signs elsewhere, the Marlins likely would trade for a fourth outfielder or sign Nate Schierholtz, 30, who hit .195 for the Cubs and Nationals last season but .251 with 21 homers and 68 RBI for the Cubs in 2013. But Ichiro remains the clear preference.
### Firming up the bench.
This will be one of the toughest decisions of the spring. Three slots should go to the veteran fourth outfielder, backup catcher Jeff Mathis and Jeff Baker (.264).
If the Marlins stick with a 12-man pitching staff, that leaves two other backup position jobs from among infielders Donovan Solano (.252 in 111 games last season), Derek Dietrich (.220 but 14 homers in 106 big-league games) and Jordany Valdespin (.214 in 54 games), first baseman Justin Bour (.284 in 74 at-bats last season) and a few non-roster invitees: infielder/outfielder Don Kelly (can play six positions; hit .245 in 95 games for the Tigers last season), infielder/outfielder Tyler Colvin (.239, 49 homers in six seasons) and infielders Reid Brignac (.222 in seven seasons) and Scott Sizemore (.240 in four seasons).
The Marlins sent Dietrich to instructional league to learn first base and left field, which means he can now play five positions.
### Sorting out the bullpen.
This also will be challenging (barring injuries), because the Marlins have quality depth. Steve Cishek (39 of 43 in saves), Bryan Morris (8-1, 1.82), Mike Dunn (10-6, 3.16, one save), A.J. Ramos (7-0, 2.11) and Aaron Crow (6-1, 4.12, three saves for the Royals in 2014) will hold down five of the bullpen jobs.
That leaves a bunch competing for two jobs: potential front-runner Carter Capps, limited to 17 games by a shoulder injury last season, Hand (who’s out of minor league options) and Phelps if Haren is in the rotation, Andre Rienzo (6-8, 5.89 ERA for the White Sox the past two years/acquired for Dan Jennings), hard-throwing Rule 5 left-hander Andrew McKirahan (2.16 ERA in the minors), Sam Dyson (3-1, 2.14), Preston Claiborne (3-2, 3.79 in 62 games for Yankees in the past three seasons) and Nick Masset (18-14, 4.02 career ERA; did good work for Reds before injuries).
### Establishing a batting order:
Mike Redmond wants to experiment with combinations before deciding. He hasn’t determined whether to hit Christian Yelich second or third or Giancarlo Stanton third or fourth.
Martin Prado factors into that decision. “You could hit him fourth,” Redmond told Marlins radio announcer Glenn Geffner.
Michael Morse is another cleanup option against right-handers if Stanton hits third.
### Hassan Whiteside, who sustained an ankle injury tonight, said Heat executive Alonzo Mourning has assumed a mentoring role with him. Zo invited Whiteside to his home and took him to dinner at Hillstone in Coral Gables, where they bumped into Erik Spoelstra.
“Alonzo wants me to be a dominant force,” Whiteside said. “He wants me to average a double/double and break all his records.”
The Heat said Whiteside didn't to travel to Charlotte, where the Heat plays Wednesday. Luol Deng (illness) also didn't make the trip.
### The feedback from a person inside the Heat locker-room is that Shabazz Napier is more humble since returning from his NBDL stint and showing a better attitude than he displayed when he wasn’t playing much before his demotion. Spoelstra said Tuesday that his work ethic has “improved greatly.”
Napier conceded that not playing much in recent weeks, until the past week, “was tough for me” during losses.
His assist-to-turnover ratio is among the league’s worst and “a lot of my turnovers come on dumb decisions,” he said earlier today. “I will be good for a good 2 1/2 quarters and then I'll turn the ball over with dumb decisions. I've got to patch that up.”
Napier had four assists and two turnovers in 16 minutes tonight against OKC.
### The Heat, up by one at halftime against Oklahoma City, was outscored by nine in the second half and has now been outscored by a league-worst 201 points after intermission.
### UM has four oral commitments from players in Rivals.com’s final ranking of the top 250 prospects: running backs Mark Walton (69) and Jordan Scarlett (188), offensive tackle Tyree St. Louis (172) and receiver Lawrence Cager (240).
And UM is a finalist for three in the top 100: California-based linebacker John Houston (30) and defensive end Rasheem Green (33), who are teammates, and Washington D.C.-based defensive back Marcus Lewis (80); UM is his leader.
Among uncommitted players in the rest of Rivals' top 250, only one other is said to be considering UM: running back Dexter Williams (120), who previously decommitted from Miami.
Green and Houston have the same final four: UM, USC, Oregon and Arizona State. Miami has been considered an underdog for both players because of distance, but Green told Canesport that UM is “still in good shape” with him.
### NFL Network's Daniel Jeremiah said Philip Dorsett was the "star" of Senior Bowl practice today. "So explosive," Jeremiah said.
### The Dolphins told Walt Aikens he needs to be more mature and professional and not be tardy. He was de-activated for the season finale after a neighbor called police about noise at his home from a domestic incident; there was no arrest and no allegations of violence.
The Dolphins indicated to Aikens they see him more as a safety than cornerback; Miami gave him reps at both in practice.
### The Dolphins said in recent days that ticket prices will be raised for some, but not all, seats in the lower bowl next season. Beginning next season, the first row of seats will be moved 24 feet closer as part of stadium renovations.
Upper bowl seats will remain comparable in price to 2014, but the team declined to say if any of those seats will increase in price. An announcement is expected in a couple of weeks.