Marlins optimistic about free-agent additions

The Marlins addressed their infield needs by signing (clockwise from upper left) catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia, infielder Rafael Furcal, third baseman Casey McGehee and first baseman Garrett Jones.

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Much like holiday shoppers, the Miami Marlins made a list and checked it several times.

Not too long after the organization’s second 100-loss season, president of baseball operations Michael Hill, other members of the front office and coaching staff formulated a plan to improve the ballclub.

It looked a lot like this:

UPGRADE

Even before the winter meetings in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., the Marlins took care of two needs with the free-agent signings of catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia and second baseman Rafael Furcal. Miami signed first baseman Garrett Jones less than a week later.

While the pitching staff set a franchise-low in ERA (3.71), the offense finished at the bottom of almost all team categories.

Offseason moves

Saltalamacchia will be a steady presence behind and at the plate. Furcal answers the question of who hits leadoff. His speed can also wreck havoc on the basepaths. Jones has a proven track record of 15-20 home runs per season.

All three have experience in the postseason and provide consistent production. Each has at least six years in the majors. They also happen to have ties to members of the Miami organization.

Jones and infield coach Perry Hill worked together in Pittsburgh in 2009, while bench coach Rob Leary was a special assistant with the Red Sox from 2010-11 when Saltalamacchia was there. Furcal has played 13 seasons in the National League, including six years with National League East rival Atlanta.

"It’s a bonus to the process," Hill said. "Our goal was to always upgrade and add as much talent and ability to this club as we possibly could. It was an added bonus the fact that we knew Salty from his Red Sox days and an added bonus that Perry had worked with Garrett Jones in Pittsburgh. Our primary focus was adding consistent offensive producers to this lineup, and we’re happy with what we’ve been able to accomplish at this point."

Perry Hill said Mike Hill, general manager Dan Jennings and manager Mike Redmond each spoke to him about Jones when the team began looking at free-agent targets.

"Not because my opinion was going to put them over the hump, but they wanted my input and what I thought and had seen," Hill said. "I’ve been around forever, and I’ve seen these guys play."

In mid-December, the Marlins added Casey McGehee as their third baseman. The 31-year-old spent the past year in Japan, where he hit .292 with 28 home runs, 30 doubles and 93 RBI in 144 regular-season games.

Prior to that stint, McGehee spent parts of five seasons in the majors, including a string from 2009-11 when he compiled 52 homers and 237 RBI for the Brewers.


"To think about where we started the offseason to where we are now I think we’ve made tremendous strides in improving our offense and improving our ability to win more games in 2014," Hill said.

With each item on the list marked off, it would appear as though Miami is done with its offseason moves.

According to Hill, not necessarily.

"You never say never in this game, but where we’re at right now — unless it’s a major upgrade to this roster and to this team — I don’t see any significant changes going on with any of our inventory," Hill said.

"We will continue to monitor the market and the ability for us to upgrade. Bullpen is fairly young. You look at our bullpen and there’s an opportunity to add maybe a veteran presence to the ‘pen. We’ll continue to monitor the market and see if there’s ways to add."

SPRING TRAINING OPPORTUNITIES

On Thursday, the Marlins announced the signing of six players to minor league free-agent contracts with invitations to spring training: right-handers Jesus Sanchez and Kevin Slowey, left-hander Josh Spence, infielder Juan Diaz and outfielders Matt Angle and Joe Benson.

Slowey made the Opening Day roster last season after winning a spot in the same situation. He pitched in 20 games (14 starts), posting a 3-6 record and 4.11 ERA before right forearm tightness put him on the 60-day disabled list.

Sixteen other players — many top prospects within the organization — were extended spring invitations: right-handers Anthony DeSclafani, Bryan Evans, Colby Suggs, Rett Varner and Nick Wittgren, left-handers Adam Conley, Andrew Heaney, James Leverton, Greg Nappo and Justin Nicolino, catchers Austin Barnes and Kyle Skipworth and infielders Danny Black, Mark Canha, Colin Moran and Austin Nola.

Moran was Miami’s top selection in the 2013 draft and is considered the future third baseman. Heaney, their top pick from 2012, should make his major league debut at some point in 2014.

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