Marlins could be in market for pitching, infield help as trade deadline nears

Some Marlins targets could include (from left) San Diego Padres pitcher Ian Kennedy, Colorado Rockies pitcher Jorge De La Rosa, Arizona Diamondbacks infielder Martin Prado and Tampa Bay Rays infielder Ben Zobrist.

USA TODAY Sports

Check the standings Thursday and notice that half of MLB’s divisions are separated from first and last by just 10 1/2 games.

What does that mean for the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline? The line between buyers and sellers will be a small one if clubs believe they have a shot at the postseason.

The Miami Marlins (44-50) are fourth in the National League East, 7 1/2 back of the Washington Nationals and Atlanta Braves after dropping five of six before the All-Star break.

"We still very much believe in this club and our chances in this division," president of baseball operations Michael Hill said earlier this month. "If there’s an opportunity to upgrade and help this club, then we’ll definitely pursue it."

Two areas Hill and the front office will likely look into are starting pitching and second base.

After losing ace Jose Fernandez for the season in mid-May, the staff — outside of All-Star right-hander Henderson Alvarez — has struggled with consistency. It ranks third-to-last in the NL with a 4.12 ERA and an NL-worst 25 wins.

Thanks for the memories

Righty Jacob Turner went from the rotation to the bullpen when the organization called up rookie Andrew Heaney. The left-hander has since been optioned to Triple-A New Orleans, but Miami reinstated lefty Brad Hand from the DL rather than giving Turner his spot back. Hand has not won a start since 2011.

Miami has gone 1-7 over right-hander Nathan Eovaldi’s past eight starts. When Fernandez got injured, Eovaldi was supposed to become the de facto ace after opening as the No. 2 starter. Most troubling during his struggles has been the decline in strikeouts from 8.93 per nine innings to 4.60.

The club could use a veteran pitcher to ease the bullpen’s workload. Blame it on starters not going deep into games. Take note of six contests — in June alone — that went into extra innings (five of 13 or more).

By the All-Star break, the staff had set franchise records in innings (853.1), hits (876) and strikeouts (712).

"It’s tough when you’re replacing arguably one of the top five pitchers in the game," Hill said. "You’re never going to replace, as I said to you guys when it happened. We’re just looking for the staff to step up and everyday do their part — from Alvarez to Eovaldi to (Tom) Koehler."

Hill told reporters in New York that should the Marlins make a trade, they would seek a pitcher under club control through next season. Miami is not interested in a rental.

Candidates could include San Diego Padres righty Ian Kennedy (7-9, 3.47 ERA) and Colorado Rockies lefty Jorge De La Rosa (10-6, 4.56 ERA).

Kennedy, 29, doesn’t become a free agent until 2016, though De La Rosa, 33, does this offseason. The pair has a combined 19 seasons in the big leagues and could eat up innings. Both play for clubs facing a difficult task of catching the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants in the NL West.

"We’re always on the phone and I’m always looking for ways to upgrade our ballclub," Hill said. "I think at this point we’re just hopeful to get healthy and get our rotation and bullpen stabilized with extra-inning games and moving parts."

Second base has been a carousel of names since Rafael Furcal got injured during spring training.

Signed over the offseason to be the club’s second baseman, the Marlins have instead used Derek Dietrich, Donovan Solano, Jeff Baker and Ed Lucas. Furcal played in just nine games in June before re-injuring his hamstring.

While Furcal remains optimistic he could return in August — and the club would love to see his presence not just in the clubhouse but on the field — that may be too late to continue contending.

Tampa Bay’s Ben Zobrist could be a possibility should the Rays (44-53) decide they can’t make up ground in the American League East. They are 9 1/2 behind the Baltimore Orioles.

Zobrist, 32, has a club option in 2015. He is batting .266 with 19 doubles, three triples, six homers and 24 RBI in 83 games. Over the past five seasons, he has played in at least 151 games.

Others names that might float around include Aaron Hill and Martin Prado of the Arizona Diamondbacks, Nick Franklin of the Seattle Mariners and Danny Espinosa of the Washington Nationals.

Hill (.241/7 HR/45 RBI) and Prado (.275/4 HR/36 RBI) are both one-time All-Stars. Franklin, once a top prospect, is stuck behind All-Star Robinson Cano. Espinosa is the odd man out with both Anthony Rendon and Ryan Zimmerman in the Washington lineup.

Perhaps the Marlins will neither buy nor sell come the deadline. Maybe they will see how things play out with a healthy lineup.

Shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria returned from the DL for the final week of the first half. Outfielder Christian Yelich had a DL stint in June. Dietrich finds himself nursing a right wrist strain.

"You never see the full effect of (the injuries) until afterwards," slugger Giancarlo Stanton said during All-Star festivities. "It’s been huge for us this year."

You can follow Christina De Nicola on Twitter @CDeNicola13 or email her at cdenicola13@gmail.com.