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Fish Bites: As Season Approaches, All Eyes On Marlins Bullpen

As spring training rapidly approaches, the Miami Marlins have made it clear that they want to improve the bullpen. The team's bullpen in 2012 was adequate, however Heath Bell blew several saves, which led to Steve Cishek taking over the closer role.

Steve Mitchell-US PRESSWIRE

After riding the roller coaster that was Juan Carlos Oviedo for several seasons, the Miami Marlins went out and signed free agent closer Heath Bell last offseason. Bell struggled from the start, and ended the year with an earned run average over five (5.09) and was only able to save 19 games before former manager Ozzie Guillen had seen enough and promoted Steve Cishek to the closer role. Bell was traded to Arizona just weeks after the season ended.

Miami's approach to piece together a bullpen for the 2013 season appears to be the same. As they did in the past, the Marlins have signed free agents to a minor league contract with an invitation to spring training. The strategy, for the most part, has worked for Miami.

Last season, the Marlins did not rely on free agents as much, because of the trades and signings they had made throughout the offseason. Miami received Edward Mujica (now with St. Louis) and Ryan Webb in exchange for Cameron Maybin. The Marlins also acquired lefty Mike Dunn in the Dan Uggla trade with the Atlanta Braves, and had signed lefty specialist Randy Choate (who was traded to Los Angeles) to a two-year contract.

Throughout spring training, several of Miami's younger pitching prospects are expected to get long looks. Dan Jennings, a young lefty with nominal major league experience, could be a complement to Dunn. Others, such as Alex Sanabia and Tom Koehler, are also expected to have a great opportunity to make the opening day roster as relievers.

Though all of the attention is on the offense (or lack of) because of the blockbuster trade with Toronto, the bullpen is going to play a key role in 2013, due to the fact that Miami will have a fairly young rotation that might not consistently go deep into games.

- Both Giancarlo Stanton and Steve Cishek will be participating in this year's World Baseball Classic as part of Team USA. Stanton had accepted the invitation last week, however Cishek said he was caught off guard. "I told [USA manager Joe Torre] it would be an absolute honor," Cishek said. "When he called and I saw a Beverly Hills number I kind of had a feeling. I had butterflies, big time. It was pretty cool. ... To even be considered was an honor."

- Ryan Webb, the Marlins' only arbitration-eligible player, agreed to terms on a one-year contract worth $975,000 on Friday. Webb can also earn an additional $10,000 if he appears in 67 games. Webb went 4-3 with a 4.03 ERA in 2012.

- Justin Nicolino, who the Marlins acquired in the trade with the Blue Jays, is often called a control freak because of his 5.7-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio last season. "I just compete," Nicolino said before taking part in Logan Morrison's Camp for a Cure to benefit the American Lung Association last weekend. "Every fifth day, I was giving everything I had and I was attacking hitters. I was going right after them. In this game, you can't be afraid. You have to take chances and get after it. You let this game come to you and it's going to take over."

- Austin Kearns and Nick Green were both signed to minor league contracts with invitations to spring training. Kearns made the team after an impressive spring performance, and served as a right-handed pinch hitter that also served as the DH during interleague play. Green was promoted from Triple-A last season and appeared in seven games.

- Several months after the trade with Toronto, former Miami shortstop Jose Reyes said again that owner Jeffrey Loria told him that he would not be traded. "Five days before I got traded I was with the owner of the Miami Marlins and he said he was never going to trade me," Reyes told the Associated Press.

- The Marlins are close to signing Matt Downs to a minor league contract with an invitation to spring training. In 2012 with the Houston Astros, Downs batted .202 with eight home runs and 16 RBIs. Downs would provide the Marlins with more infield depth.

- Top prospect Christian Yelich won't let the hype of being the organization's number one prospect distract him.Yelich is ranked as the No.17 overall prospect in the game and fourth-best minor league outfielder. "You hear about it," Yelich said of the hype. "You kind of start to understand what is expected from you. You kind of expect that out of yourself, too. Speaking for myself, I have high expectations. I know other people do also. It's an honor, and it's good to be viewed that way. Hopefully, everything works out."

- Tino Martinez, who was named Miami's hitting coach in November, is excited to work with a lot of the Marlins' young hitters. Martinez accepted his first full-time major league coaching job when he took the position. "The whole idea coming in beforehand, [Loria] was going to go young, get rid of everybody and go young and totally rebuild, and wanted us to help rebuild the team," said Martinez, speaking at the launch party for the 10th Annual Derek Jeter Golf Classic at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino. "And I thought, for me, as a first-year coach, it was a great situation to come into, to work with young players.

- In addition to signing Green and Kearns to minor league contracts, the Marlins also signed pitchers Michael Wuertz, Scott Maine, and Jonathan Albaladejo to minor league deals with invitations to spring training.

-Aside from trying to put together a competitive team, the Marlins' marketing department will face the challenge of attempting to sell tickets to an angry fan base. "It's got to be the toughest marketing challenge in sports, not just in Marlins history, given what the fan base has been put through,'' said Scott Becher, managing director of Z Sports & Entertainment, the sports marketing division of Zimmerman Advertising in Fort Lauderdale.

-Steve Cishek didn't waste any time preparing for the 2013 season. He and pitcher Tom Koehler both threw in the parking lot behind Roger Dean Stadium on New Year's Day."I'm pretty sure unless I screw up royally I'll have a spot on the team but I'm still going to go out with the same mindset to battle for a job," Cishek said. "Obviously closing is something I really want to do.''

Around The League

-Earl Weaver and Stan Musial both passed away on Saturday, according to several sources. "Talk about your odd couple," said George Vecsey, the longtime sports columnist for The New York Times who wrote a recent biography of Musial.

-Dodgers outfielder Matt Kemp recently said that his shoulder has been healing ahead of schedule. "I can definitely tell my labrum is stronger, my shoulder is stronger from the rehab I'm doing," Kemp said. "I'm sure when I come to Spring Training there will be some limits put on me for some things. I'm not trying to be 100 percent for the first game of Spring Training. I'm trying to be 100 percent for the first game of the season."

-The Chicago Cubs have unveiled a $300 million renovation plan for Wrigley Field. The renovations will take place over five offseasons.

-The White Sox have signed former Marlin Matt Lindstrom to a one-year contract with an option for 2014, according to CBS.

At Fish Stripes

-Who has the better prospects, the Marlins or the Phillies?

-Giancarlo Stanton, Steve Cishek, and Henderson Alvarez will all participate in this year's World Baseball Classic.

-How long have you been a Miami fan? Take a quick survey here.

-What did Giancarlo Stanton tell USA Today? Find out here.

-Owner Jeffery Loria recently told David Samson that he can no longer speak to the media or do his weekly radio show.

-The Miami Marlins are suffering after not handling the Logan Morrison situation properly.