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Marlins set for rebuild, but to what degree?

MLB.com @JoeFrisaro

MIAMI -- Derek Jeter, a five-time World Series champion shortstop with the Yankees and one of the best players of his generation, is now taking on the challenge of molding the Marlins into a contender as an owner.

The Marlins' new chief executive officer, Jeter and his front-office staff enter the Hot Stove season with plenty of decisions to make. Miami has not had a winning season since 2009 and it last made the playoffs in '03, which raises the question: Is a rebuild on the horizon?

MIAMI -- Derek Jeter, a five-time World Series champion shortstop with the Yankees and one of the best players of his generation, is now taking on the challenge of molding the Marlins into a contender as an owner.

The Marlins' new chief executive officer, Jeter and his front-office staff enter the Hot Stove season with plenty of decisions to make. Miami has not had a winning season since 2009 and it last made the playoffs in '03, which raises the question: Is a rebuild on the horizon?

Chen exercises option to stay with Marlins

"Yeah, we are rebuilding a franchise," Jeter said at his introductory news conference in early October. "But I think a lot of times people associate those words with losing. You never go into a situation and the message is that we're going to lose."

In 2017, the Marlins' payroll on Opening Day was around $115 million, marking the highest in franchise history. But the team finished 77-85, 20 games behind the Nationals in the National League East, and 10 games off the pace for the second NL Wild Card spot.

The Marlins have a strong core of position players, and they ranked 11th in the Majors in runs (778). Still, they had a run differential of minus-44, which points to the biggest need -- pitching. There also is a shortage of overall organizational depth.

Jeter's task is to determine if the club has enough to contend in 2018, or if changes are necessary to build a foundation for a better future.

Ichiro, Ellis, McGowan top Marlins' FA list

Free agents: INF Mike Aviles, C A.J. Ellis, LHP Jeff Locke, RHP Dustin McGowan

Arbitration-eligible: LF Marcell Ozuna, C J.T. Realmuto, RHP Dan Straily, 1B Justin Bour, INF Derek Dietrich, INF Miguel Rojas

Biggest potential free-agent loss
None of the Marlins' core players are pending free agents, but if the organization scales back payroll to around $100 million, significant moves could be made. Giancarlo Stanton's salary is set to jump to $25 million, and he has $295 million remaining on his contract. Stanton could be dealt if the team is looking to redirect and bring in high-end prospects.

Ozuna, now a two-time All-Star, is another trade possibility. There could be others. Christian Yelich and Realmuto are players who could bring in large returns if they are put on the trade market. Of their pending free agents, McGowan was a workhorse in the bullpen, appearing in 63 games and throwing 77 2/3 innings. Ellis helped mentor Realmuto as a backup catcher and provided leadership coming off the bench. But he turns 37 next April, and the club may opt to go in another direction.

Potential free-agent targets
Starting pitching is at the top of Miami's priority list, but to acquire any will be costly. The free-agent market for starters includes Jake Arrieta, a former Cy Young Award winner who should attract plenty of attention. But he will be expensive to obtain and the Marlins need to be careful on how much they spend. With Jeter and other Yankees connections now with the Marlins, perhaps the club makes a run at some of New York's free agents, like CC Sabathia.

Internally, a year ago, Miami signed Edinson Volquez to a two-year, $22 million deal. But he likely will miss all of 2018 as he recovers from Tommy John surgery. Trades could be the more pragmatic way to fill in the rotation. If the Marlins part with Stanton and/or Ozuna and still are hoping to be competitive, outfielder J.D. Martinez will be on the market. Martinez is a South Florida native and could be the type of signing needed to help energize the market.

Wild card scenario
What's next for Stanton promises to be one of the biggest offseason stories. Stanton has said publicly he prefers not to be part of a rebuild. So if he stays, that would signal the Marlins are looking to build around their core position players and make a run at the playoffs. But if Stanton is dealt, then the team probably would be open to trading other core players, looking to accumulate young talent to build around for the future.

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

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Miami Marlins