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Searching for a Center Fielder

It's underway with talks of desires and rumors on how the teams plan to fulfill their dreams.  Which brings us to the Marlins center field situation.

The recent contracts for outfielders Gary Matthews Jr. (five years, $50 million from the Los Angeles Angels) and Juan Pierre (five years, $44 million from the Los Angeles Dodgers) have convinced the Tampa Bay Devil Rays that their two young outfielders - Carl Crawford and Rocco Baldelli - might bring dramatic help for their starting rotation.

That isn't too surprising that the D-Rays think they will able to trade for rotation help given the way the market has gone thus far.  But since that is their mentality they may holdout for a price the Marlins won't or can't give.

Baldelli won't be had without at least one piece of the Marlins' rotation going to the Gulf Coast. The Devil Rays likely would insist on two, which even for the pitching-rich Marlins might prove too steep.

"We are in no rush to trade our pitching," Marlins General Manager Larry Beinfest said. "It's a fair way to assess it: We will trade based on need, but we're not going to steal from one component to help another. We need to keep the depth in the pitching because we're not sure where you get it once you have either a performance or an injury problem."

This seems like a reasonable plan to me.  If the D-Rays won't settle for the arms in the minor leagues, there is no reason to breakup the starting rotation to get Baldelli.  Yes, I know the team needs a center fielder but it has to be at the right price.

The Marlins did explore a different tack yesterday and inquired about B.J. Upton.

Not only interested in Rocco Baldelli, the Marlins have also asked the Rays what it would take to get B.J. Upton.

It'd be interesting to know which player the Rays view as the more valuable property. Baldelli is just 25, has proven he can hit in the majors and is signed through 2011 with a very reasonable contract. Upton, though, is only 22 and still has a world of potential, likely more than Baldelli. Plus, he has three cheap years left and can't be a free agent until after 2012. The Marlins would probably use him as a center fielder if they could pry him away, and the Rays are likely to put him in center field if they trade Baldelli.

Upton may not come at the expense of Baldelli but if the D-Rays really feel that the market is primed to give them immediate help in the rotation, then Baldelli will be one they will try to move.

If the Marlins are unwilling to trade a starter then the Baldelli deal may be as good as dead.  And if the D-Rays are sticking to their desire for immediate help, the Upton deal won't happen either.

These are my guesses.  Welcome to the Winter Meetings.