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To get back on top, Marlins will focus on basics

MIAMI -- Rebranding was a theme for the Marlins in their inaugural season in downtown Miami.

In the past year, the franchise underwent a makeover, transforming from the Florida Marlins to the Miami Marlins. Everything was new, from the flashy retractable-roof ballpark to the revamped roster.

Yet, for all the buildup, there ended up being tremendous disappointment. The highest Opening Day payroll in club history ended up with one of the franchise's all-time worst records. So rather than stay the course, the Marlins are now in the process of restructuring.

After Hanley Ramirez was traded to the Dodgers in July, the new faces of the Marlins became Giancarlo Stanton and Jose Reyes.

Reyes, a four-time All-Star shortstop with the Mets, is a catalyst who makes an impact at a premium position. And Stanton? The pure power of the All-Star right fielder makes him one of the most feared hitters in the game.

"It's part of our restructuring," president of baseball operations Larry Beinfest said on the day Ramirez was traded. "I hate to sound so black and white, but we weren't winning."

To build a winning formula, the Marlins aim to center around pitching and defense. If the club is going to snap a string of three straight losing seasons in 2013, it will rely heavily on its starting pitching.

Barring any trades, the rotation may be pretty much set. It has a mixture of experience and youth and the potential to be very formidable. Josh Johnson, although not quite back to his All-Star form, remains the ace. Mark Buehrle came as advertised -- the left-hander once again was a workhorse and fierce competitor. And Ricky Nolasco, the franchise leader in wins, came on strong at the end of the season after a slow first half.

All three are proven. If they pitch to their potential, they are capable of carrying the club.

On the back end, there are rookie right-handers Nathan Eovaldi and Jacob Turner. Eovaldi, 22, was acquired from the Dodgers as part of the Ramirez trade. Turner, 21, was brought in from the Tigers as part of the Omar Infante/Anibal Sanchez trade.

"I don't know what they have in their mind, what they want to do," manager Ozzie Guillen said of the front office. "They may have to make a trade for somebody to fill out their lineup, or to make the offense better. But as of today, I don't see why not, that those guys are going to be in the rotation."

The organization has plenty of work to do in hopes of improving. It is unsettled in a number of positions, as well as the bullpen.

Payroll projections are expected to drop from $95 million to around $80 million. The team won't spend just to spend.

But history has shown the Marlins aren't shy about making bold moves. After being so active in the offseason a year ago, it is safe to expect plenty of activity once again as the club strives to get back into contention.

Arbitration-eligible: CF Emilio Bonifacio, INF Nick Green, C Brett Hayes, INF Donnie Murphy, RHP Ryan Webb.

Free agents: 1B Carlos Lee, OF Austin Kearns, RHP Chad Gaudin, RHP Carlos Zambrano, RHP Juan Carlos Oviedo.

Rotation: As of now, the Marlins have three veterans to anchor the top of the rotation. Johnson is signed through 2013, as is Nolasco. Buehrle will enter the second of his four-year deal.

For Johnson, the most important thing is he got through the season healthy. After missing most of 2011 with shoulder inflammation, there were questions as to whether he would hold up. He did.

Johnson will have peace of mind entering Spring Training. The question is whether he will regain velocity where he will be reaching 95-96 mph, instead of 92-93. If so, he would be on his way to once again being dominant.

Buehrle has a string of 12 straight years of winning at least 10 games and throwing at least 200 innings.

Nolasco was up and down, but he finished on a high. His strikeouts are down from a few years ago, but in his final starts, he was able to change speeds and keep hitters off stride.

For the fourth and fifth spots, Turner and Eovaldi will have an inside shot. The two showed signs of being quality starters during their rookie seasons in 2012.

Turner has plenty of composure, and he knows how to pitch. His pure stuff isn't as electric as Eovaldi, but he projects to be a productive pitcher for many years.

Eovaldi has a power arm and has reached 98 mph. If he improves his command, he could develop into a very strong starter.

Bullpen: Closing out games was problematic for the Marlins. It was expected to be a strength, yet the team ranked near the bottom of the league in blown saves.

If Miami is going to improve, it will have to start at the closer spot. Heath Bell comes off a disappointing campaign, but will he be back? Although the right-hander is signed through 2014, he underperformed and created some waves with critical comments about Guillen.

If Bell does return, chances are he would compete for the closer spot in Spring Training. Steve Cishek certainly has shown he is able to handle the role. The Marlins have repeatedly said they would prefer Bell win the closer spot, because he is a one-inning pitcher. Cishek offers more flexibility in a setup capacity, because he can throw more than one inning at a time.

Cishek was the team's best overall reliever this season, and the most likely scenario is that he will enter Spring Training as the front-runner to close.

Others expected to be in the setup mix are Mike Dunn and Ryan Webb. A.J. Ramos and Chris Hatcher, two right-handed rookies, both of whom gained some experience.

Wade LeBlanc, who spent some time in the rotation, is expected to make the club as a long reliever.

Catcher: John Buck will be the first to admit he didn't produce at the level he expected. The veteran makes no excuses about it and is striving to build off a better second half and reestablish himself in Spring Training.

Buck, who will be entering the final year of his contract, knows his playing time is not guaranteed.

Rob Brantly, acquired from the Tigers on July 23, is a left-handed-hitting alternative. The 23-year-old received plenty of action in the final weeks, and his offensive numbers were impressive. Defensively, he has some refining to do, but that is common for many rookies. Catching presents its own set of challenges.

The Marlins have a decision on Hayes, who entered 2012 as the backup. Hayes is arbitration-eligible for the first time, and he may not factor into the club's plans. So he could become a trade possibility.

First base: Lee was picked up on July 4 in a trade with the Astros. Now, the veteran is a free agent. He has left the door open to return to Miami, but the club may look to go in another direction. Logan Morrison, a natural first baseman, may be returning to the position. The question is if Morrison will be healthy.

Morrison underwent surgery to his right knee in early September, his second procedure on the same knee in less than a year. The prognosis is that he will be ready for Spring Training.

Second base: The club could go a couple of different ways at this position. Donovan Solano was a bright spot down the stretch. The rookie assumed most of the playing time, and he showed improvement at the plate and in the field. Many view Solano as a utility player, but he may get a chance to win a starting spot or split time at the position.

Emilio Bonifacio may also be in the mix, if he doesn't return to center field.

Shortstop: One of the few spots not in doubt is shortstop, with Reyes. The veteran remains a dynamic player, capable of hitting .300 and stealing 35 bases. Reyes had an injury-free season, and he showed plenty of leadership with his effort and determination to play down the stretch in a difficult season. Like all the players, he was banged up, but he insisted on playing.

Third base: The team's top priority, or certainly one of them, is to find an everyday third baseman. Ramirez switched to third, but he was dealt to the Dodgers. Matt Dominguez, a third-base prospect, was traded to the Astros on July 4 for Lee. So the team had to go with utility players to fill the spot for most of the second half.

Zack Cox was acquired from the Cardinals for Edward Mujica on July 31, and the left-handed hitter will get a look in Spring Training. But Cox, a former first-round pick, has never played in the big leagues.

Left field: If Morrison moves to first base, the team likely will seek an everyday alternative in left. In spacious Marlins Park, finding a player with speed will be a priority. There are internal options. Justin Ruggiano and Bryan Petersen each had substantial playing time in the second half. The best bet is that the team will explore free-agent and trade options.

Center field: Bonifacio, Miami's Opening Day center fielder in '12, probably will end up there again. Or the speedster could wind up at second. Foremost, he needs to stay healthy. Bonifacio had surgery on his left thumb in May, and in August, he suffered a right knee injury that kept him out the rest of the year.

Right field: Like shortstop, there is no doubt about this position. Stanton has had back-to-back seasons of more than 30 homers, despite missing substantial time with injuries. Still, the slugger ranked among the National League leaders. He had surgery on his right knee on July 8, and missed a month. In April, Stanton was bothered by a sore left knee, and in September, he was sidelined with a left intercostal muscle strain. If Stanton can stay on the field, he could be the force to drive the Marlins back into contention.

Miami Marlins