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Marlins now in 'buy mode' for Winter Meetings

@JoeFrisaro
December 5, 2019

MIAMI -- The Marlins made their Hot Stove presence felt on Monday by reeling in a pair of proven everyday players -- infielder Jonathan Villar and first baseman Jesús Aguilar. Villar was acquired from the Orioles for pitching prospect Easton Lucas, and Aguilar was claimed off waivers from the Rays.

MIAMI -- The Marlins made their Hot Stove presence felt on Monday by reeling in a pair of proven everyday players -- infielder Jonathan Villar and first baseman Jesús Aguilar.

Villar was acquired from the Orioles for pitching prospect Easton Lucas, and Aguilar was claimed off waivers from the Rays.

Unlike the previous two Winter Meetings, when the Marlins were in “sell mode,” they will head to San Diego next week ready to do some buying. The organization is looking to keep adding impactful hitters and is open to doing so through trades or moderately priced free agents, preferably to one- or two-year deals.

MLB.com addresses some questions for Miami going into the Winter Meetings.

Club needs: Villar and Aguilar were the first significant additions to help generate more runs in 2020, but even with the two of them locked in, the Marlins are not done shopping for hitters. Upgrading the offense still is the highest priority, with the bullpen as a close second. Miami is in the market for a closer, or perhaps an established setup reliever with big league closing experience. At some point, the Marlins will also have to address their catching depth, as they look for someone to either back up or split time with Jorge Alfaro.

Whom might they trade? Even though right-hander José Ureña and lefty Adam Conley were each tendered on Monday, they could still be possible trade chips. Ureña does not have a defined role, because he may not fit into the plans as a starter or a reliever. Conley took a step backwards in 2019 and may not find himself on the Opening Day roster. The Marlins have several controllable starters, and if they made Caleb Smith available, they could probably get a big return for the left-hander.

Prospects to know: Ranked by MLB Pipeline as having one of the top Minor League systems, Miami has several top prospects who are not far away from reaching the Majors. Right-hander Sixto Sanchez, the Marlins' No. 1 prospect, heads the list, followed by outfielder Jesus Sanchez (No. 3), shortstop Jazz Chisholm (No. 4) and outfielder Monte Harrison (No. 5). Outfielder Jerar Encarnacion (No. 17) and right-hander Jordan Holloway (No. 18) are at least a year away from being big league ready, and the two, perhaps, could draw trade interest.

Rule 5 Draft: The Marlins landed right-hander Elieser Hernandez in the Rule 5 Draft two years ago, and they could be active once again on Dec. 12 in San Diego. Given that Miami didn’t protect left-handed pitching prospect Will Stewart, who was part of the J.T. Realmuto trade with the Phillies, the 22-year-old is eligible to be selected.

Payroll summary: With the salaries of Martín Prado and Starlin Castro off the books -- the two combined to make $26 million in 2019 -- the Marlins gained some payroll flexibility. In Castro’s case, they are still on the hook for a $1 million buyout, and they also owe the recently released Wei-Yin Chen $22 million. Counting Miguel Rojas’ $4.75 million, Miami has $27.75 million in payroll commitments. The recently acquired Villar could make close to $10 million in arbitration and Aguilar projects at about $2.5 million. So the club’s payroll is at roughly $40 million right now, and it could approach $100 million by Opening Day.

Is this a make-or-break season for Lewis Brinson? After two straight disappointing seasons, Marlins fans are wondering if Brinson is running out of chances. The answer is: yes. Brinson acknowledged as much as recently as the organization’s annual Thanksgiving turkey distribution. The Marlins still plan on giving the 25-year-old outfielder every chance to win an Opening Day spot, but he has to improve. He hit a mere .173 with no home runs and 15 RBIs in 75 games in 2019, and the time is now to prove he belongs in the Majors. Brinson does have one option remaining, though, meaning he could be sent to Triple-A Wichita at any point.

Joe Frisaro has covered the Marlins for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @JoeFrisaro and listen to his podcast.