NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- A change of heart prompted the Marlins to reverse their thinking about retaining Yunel Escobar.
So on Tuesday night, after more than two days of serious discussions, Miami traded the 30-year-old shortstop to Tampa Bay for Minor League infielder Derek Dietrich.
"We met with Yunel about 10 days ago," Marlins president of baseball operations Larry Beinfest said here at the Winter Meetings. "He said he was comfortable playing third base. Recently, he came back to us saying he was not comfortable playing third base. So we were not comfortable moving forward with him as our third baseman, which kind of helped move along this trade."
Escobar is under contract to make $5 million in 2013, and his deal includes club options for '14 and '15 at $5 million per season. Beinfest added that Miami will put the $5 million toward a third baseman.
"Our intentions are to reinvest his salary into the team," Beinfest said. "We're going to go shopping for a third baseman, either free agency or via trade. That's obviously a hole we now have on the club."
Some free-agent candidates are Mark Reynolds, Ian Stewart and Jeff Keppinger.
Prospect acquired by Marlins
Derek Dietrich: Dietrich, ranked No. 14 on the Rays' Top 20 at the time of the trade, has some upside with the bat. The Georgia Tech product slugged .500 in his first full season in 2011, and while his power numbers dropped a bit in 2012, he still has pop from the left side. He hit well enough in Class A Advanced Port Charlotte to earn a promotion to Double-A Montgomery in July. Originally a shortstop, he started to move to the right side of the infield after his promotion to Double-A, largely in deference to shortstop prospect Hak-Ju Lee. But most feel Dietrich is better suited as an offensive-minded second baseman. If his plate discipline can improve, the power will continue to come and the 2010 second-rounder might not be that far away from being ready to test out big league pitching.
Dietrich split the 2012 season between Class A Charlotte and Double-A Montgomery, hitting a combined .279 with 14 homers, 71 runs scored and 75 RBIs in 132 games. A product of Georgia Tech, Dietrich was a second-round pick of the Rays in the 2010 First-Year Player Draft, and he has a career average of .278 with 39 home runs and 176 RBIs in 304 Minor League games. He finished the 2011 season as Class A Bowling Green's Most Valuable Player and Midwest League All-Star.
Dietrich will be invited to big league camp for Spring Training, and he is expected to open the season at Double-A Jacksonville.
"We do not have very good infield depth, at least at this point," Beinfest said "He's a good looking hitter. He can play second, he can play short and he can play third base. We'll see where he ends up. He will probably play second and third next year."
The Marlins acquired Escobar from the Blue Jays on Nov. 19 as part of a 12-player trade, the largest single transaction in franchise history. In the deal, Miami sent Josh Johnson, Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle, Emilio Bonifacio and John Buck to Toronto for Escobar, Adeiny Hechavarria, Henderson Alvarez, Jeff Mathis and three prospects.
A career shortstop, Escobar initially was fine with switching to third base.
"When Yunel had this change of heart and was not 100 percent committed to playing third base, it made us pause," Beinfest said.
Entering 2012, the Marlins had a situation where they converted a shortstop to third. Hanley Ramirez, a three-time All-Star at short, made the switch after Jose Reyes signed as a free agent.
At first, Ramirez expressed some concern, but he didn't make it an issue when Spring Training started. The reason the Marlins traded Ramirez to the Dodgers on July 23 for Nathan Eovaldi was because the veteran infielder wasn't hitting.
"Hanley handled the transition well," Beinfest said. "I don't think it was an attitude issue or anything. He just didn't produce as he had offensively. But in terms of him moving to third, I thought he handled it well."
Miami is planning on going with the 23-year-old Hechavarria at shortstop.
The Marlins also are exploring the market for third-base candidates. A couple of players recently non-tendered are on Miami's radar. Stewart, formerly with the Cubs, is a free-agent possibility. So is Reynolds, who will not return to Baltimore. Keppinger played with the Rays a year ago.
Reynolds is a subpar defensive third baseman, and he played mostly first base in 2012. But the Marlins are in the market for a power bat, and Reynolds belted 23 home runs in 457 at-bats last season. Stewart is a left-handed hitter who appeared in 55 games with the Cubs last season, while connecting on five home runs and 17 RBIs.
Prior to the Winter Meetings, the Marlins made their major moves. After finishing in last place with a 69-93 record last year, the team went through a massive restructuring. Already, 12 players from the 2012 Opening Day roster have been traded, and manager Ozzie Guillen has been dismissed and replaced by Mike Redmond.
Miami's payroll also has been reduced from roughly $100 million to about $40 million.
The Marlins have found themselves at the center of some distractions at the Winter Meetings. On Monday, Ricky Nolasco's agent, Matt Sosnick, made it public that the right-hander wants to be traded. Nolasco, who turns 30 on Dec. 13, has been a staple in the rotation since 2006. He has a 76-64 career record, which makes him the franchise's all-time leader in victories.
The Marlins, however, are planning on Nolasco being part of their rotation when the season starts. But the veteran is making $11.5 million in 2013, the final year of his contract. He will be a free agent after the season, and there remains the possibility he could be dealt before the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline.
Beinfest had no comment on Sosnick's request to trade Nolasco.
"I really have nothing to say," Beinfest said. "We definitely did see [the comments], read them."
Beinfest added that Nolasco is a professional, and that he expects the right-hander to be ready and focused when Spring Training begins.
"Ricky is our all-time winningest pitcher," Beinfest said. "He's been here a long time. Ricky was actually the recipient of an opportunity coming out of our reset after the '05 season."
The Marlins acquired Nolasco from the Cubs as part of the Juan Pierre deal during the 2005 Winter Meetings in Dallas. Nolasco made the most of his opportunity, beginning with his rookie season in '06.
"When we've kind of done these resets, it's kind of ironic in that Ricky took advantage of that situation when it happened after '05," Beinfest said. "Again, we see him in our rotation. He's been here a long time, won a bunch of ballgames and we expect he will win more.
"Ricky has always been a professional. He's always taken the ball and done his work."