Marlins may be seeking catcher
As Day 1 wraps, spot could be filled from within or by veteran
LAS VEGAS -- What the Marlins learned at the July 31 Trade Deadline was the price for experienced catching help was steep.
Not much has changed since then on that front. But what is different now is the club's incumbent has made a case to secure the job in 2009.
The emergence of John Baker has made acquiring a veteran catcher less of a priority. Still, that doesn't automatically mean Florida won't explore alternatives. The trendy name that floats around is Ivan Rodriguez, a free agent who may fit the profile if the dollar figures are right.
Expect the speculation surrounding Pudge to linger. The veteran has familiarity with the Marlins, having been part of the 2003 World Series title team.
The Marlins explored trading for Rodriguez before the Trade Deadline. Those talks didn't go far and the Tigers dealt Rodriguez to the Yankees.
Other possible catching leads also fizzled.
"It was ugly out there," president of baseball operations Larry Beinfest said of the trade market for catchers. "Because of the demand and the need for it in the game, the price was very heavy. This guy [Baker] really helped us out."
For now, Florida is prepared to stay with the status quo. Baker, who will be 28 in January, is a strong front-runner.
"We think he can handle it," Beinfest said. "He's a big, strong guy. He's 28 years old and he's ready to do it."
After spending 6 1/2 seasons in the Minor Leagues, Baker got his MLB break in July when Matt Treanor went down with a left hip injury.
Within a few weeks, he assumed full control of the position. Even after veteran Paul Lo Duca was signed in August, Baker remained the starter.
In 61 games, the left-handed hitter batted .299. He drew 30 walks, while striking out 48 times. He showed some power with five home runs and 32 RBIs.
Because of his patience, Baker ended up hitting second late in the season.
Through the years, the Marlins have made a number of shrewd trades. Perhaps none were as crafty as the way they landed Baker on March 30, 2007, from the A's for first-base prospect Jason Stokes.
"A lot of our people have done a really good job with him," Beinfest said. "We think he's a late bloomer. Call it luck. Call it a great trade. Whatever, he really asserted himself."
Even though he hasn't played a full season in the big leagues, Baker's presence reduces the Marlins' quest for a veteran.
"Experience helps, especially with our young pitchers," Beinfest said. "But Baker handled the staff very well. We always liked his bat. We were a bit unsure of the defense."
An argument to obtain a veteran like Rodriguez is the impact he would have on a young pitching staff. Even though Pudge is no longer in his prime, he is still above average defensively.
"I think experience is great, and it would be something beneficial," Beinfest said. "But as a must-have?"
Even if the Marlins acquire a veteran, they are expected to give Baker a majority of the work. Obviously, performance in Spring Training and health will factor into playing time.
"We think Baker is a full-time guy," Beinfest said. "Whether you consider a full-time guy a five-times-a-week, six-times-a-week guy, we think Baker can handle it. Obviously, a right-handed complement would be nice, but it's not a must."
The fact that Baker bats left-handed means any catcher the Marlins consider adding would have to be a right-handed hitter.
As for backups, Beinfest said the team is prepared to go with those already on the roster. Treanor would be the leading choice. That is, if he is still with the club.
Florida has been shopping Treanor, but one team that showed interest -- Detroit -- just traded with the Rangers for Gerald Laird.
Minor League options available to the Marlins are Mike Rabelo, Brett Hayes and Brad Davis.
"We think all those guys can catch," Beinfest said. "It's an area we're always on the lookout."
Joe Frisaro is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.