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Relief a Priority


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12/12/2003 10:56 PM ET

Relief a priority for Marlins

By Joe Frisaro / MLB.com


NEW ORLEANS -- Bringing closure to their uncertain closer situation is a pressing priority for the Marlins at the Winter Meetings.

"We are active on the bullpen front," Marlins general manager Admin Beinfest said Friday evening.


Without naming names, Beinfest said he had discussions Friday with representatives of a couple of players, including relievers.


Asked if signing a reliever -- likely a veteran closer -- could occur over the weekend at the Winter Meetings, Beinfest said: "There is a possibility."


Former Met Armando Benitez has been discussed as a possibility. The right-hander had 21 saves in 28 opportunities with 50 strikeouts and 24 walks in 49 1/3 innings with the Mets last season before he was traded to the Yankees and eventually the Mariners. In the American League, Benitez combined to go 1-1 (2.66 ERA) in 24 games. He was 0-for-1 in his only save opportunity, and struck out 25 but walked 17.


The back end of the bullpen has become unsettled because Ugueth Urbina is moving on through free agency.


Urbina was 3-0 (1.41) in 33 games with the Marlins after being obtained from Texas in a July 11 trade.


It is unclear if Braden Looper, who had 28 saves in 34 chances, will return.


Looper is fifth-year arbitration eligible, and his price tag could be about $4 million.


Looper is one of 13 Marlins up for arbitration.


"Obviously, Braden did a very nice job in the bullpen last year for us," Beinfest said. "We're looking at a lot of different things."


Beinfest noted that he doesn't feel it is fair to the player or the organization to say whether they will return or not before Dec. 20.


Veteran Chad Fox, who stepped up in a setup role down the stretch in the Marlins' World Series run, is the most experienced reliever under contract. The 32-year-old right-hander was 2-1 (2.13) with 27 strikeouts in 25 1/3 innings pitched.


While Fox has experience closing, the Marlins anticipate he will remain in a setup role.


A free agent after the season, Fox re-signed with Florida last week for $1.3 million.


Within the organization, the Marlins have some minor leaguers who are expected to get a strong look to make the team in Spring Training. Mike Flannery, a right-hander who had 23 saves for Double-A Carolina, is highly touted. Flannery was 7-3 (2.31) who threw 58 1/3 innings for the Mudcats, winners of the Southern League.


Beinfest arrived at the meetings Friday afternoon, and had meetings with three undisclosed teams. He termed the nature of the conversations "exploratory."


"We're always looking at pitching," Beinfest said. "We're still looking at the bullpen. We're trying to solidify that and make it as strong as possible. We'll look at free agents. We'll look at trades. We'll look at any number of things. Is that a priority? Yeah. We're going to try to have as much depth as possible."


The relief corps took a hit in early September when right-hander Tim Spooneybarger underwent Tommy John ligament replacement surgery to his elbow.


Normal recovery time is 12-18 months. While there is a chance Spooneybarger could miss all of 2004, there are some encouraging signs for an earlier return.


"We are talking to some people," Beinfest said. "We're going to do whatever we can do within our resources and our allocations. Whatever happens from there happens. I don't know if that's an area we're focused on.


"We're still putting all the puzzle pieces there financially to be within our operating range."


credit MLB.com

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