Baseball's free agency period opened earlier this week, but the hot stove is already sizzling down in South Beach. The Miami Marlins have already met or been linked with multiple players -- Mark Buehrle, Yoennis Cespedes, and Jose Reyes -- and they are giving every impression of being major players on the free agent market. Today, the rumor mill has linked the Marlins to three more big name free agents: Carlos Beltran, Prince Fielder, and Heath Bell.
Unlike the earlier rumors, though, these ones seem much less substantial. The Marlins have definitely met with Buehrle and Reyes, and they are sending a contingent to meet with Cespedes in the Dominican Republic, but these rumors merely suggest that the Marlins are "interested" in these players. Tim Brown from Yahoo! casually linked the Marlins to Beltran in his morning column, and Scott Miller from CBS Sports couched his comments about Fielder and Bell in uncertainty:
Neither Beltran or Fielder are perfect fits for the Marlins. The Marlins need a centerfielder, not a corner outfielder, and Beltran doesn't have the range to play that position anymore. They also have a glut of talent at first base in their organization, with Gaby Sanchez holding down first and Logan Morrison relegated to left field. Prince Fielder is by far a better player than either of them and the Marlins could certainly move Sanchez elsewhere if need be -- to another position or team -- but it's not a natural fit. The Marlins would likely be better off spending their money to fill positions of need.
Heath Bell is an attractive option, though, as the Marlins lack a shut down closer in the back of their bullpen. Leo Nunez closed for them in 2011, racking up 36 saves, but he also had a 4.06 ERA and 3.96 FIP. Their bullpen as a whole was one of the best in baseball in 2011 -- seventh best ERA, eighth best FIP -- so adding a top line reliever to the mix would give them a shutdown bullpen. Having that strong a bullpen would go a long way toward supporting the comparatively weak Marlins rotation.
But of course, proven closers are expensive. Ryan Madson is expected to sign for a deal roughly around 4 years, $44 million, and Heath Bell should command a similar average salary (although probably as long a contract). Exactly how much money do the Marlins have to spend, and are they willing to tie up $10 million a year in a reliever? These are questions without an answer...for now.