The Marlins aren’t big spenders.
But they’re poised to open the vault to sign one of two top free-agent closers — Aroldis Chapman and Kenley Jansen — to bolster their bullpen.
Marlins president of baseball operations Michael Hill would not confirm interest in either reliever. But he indicated that strengthening the back end of the bullpen is a primary focus.
“If there’s an opportunity to build things from the back end [of the bullpen] forward, I think that’s what we’re exploring,” Hill said on the first day of baseball’s Winter Meetings. “We’re looking to add to a strength We felt that our bullpen was a strength for us last year, and if we can add another layer of depth to potentially shorten the game, that makes some sense also.”
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Sources have confirmed that, at owner Jeffrey Loria’s urging, the Marlins will make a strong push to sign one of the two big-name closers. If they’re able to pull it off, they’ll blow past the franchise mark for spending: $100 million in 2012.
Even if they come up empty, they’ll still eclipse that figure.
Counting the seven players already under contract for 2017 and six others due pay hikes through salary arbitration — or barely half their 25-man roster — the Marlins are already on the books for more than $90 million.
The historically frugal Marlins could spend as much as $115 million next season, sources said, if they the front office can satisfy Loria’s wish for a bullpen-bolstering closer to help offset a starting rotation weakened with the death of Jose Fernandez.
Already, the Marlins have shown signs of loosening their purse strings. They recently signed veteran starter Edinson Volquez to a two-year, $22 million deal.
But they’re going to have to spend a lot more than that to reel in either Chapman or Jansen, the best two closers remaining after Mark Melancon agreed to terms Monday with the Giants on a reported four-year, $62 million deal — the largest contract ever awarded to a reliever.
Chapman and Jansen will cost even more than that.
According to Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports, the Marlins are prepared to offer Jansen a five-year package worth $80 million. Besides money, the Marlins would also have to relinquish next year’s first-round draft pick -- 14th overall -- in order to complete the deal.
And Chapman told ESPN on Monday that he is seeking a six-year deal while mentioning a $100 million figure.
Jansen went 3-2 with 47 saves with a 1.83 ERA last season for the Dodgers and pitched for Marlins manager Don Mattingly when he was with Los Angeles.
Chapman wouldn’t require a draft pick.
Hill said having a strong bullpen could help offset a starting rotation that lacks a true ace. The Marlins already have what they consider to be a strong pen centered around A.J. Ramos, David Phelps and Kyle Barraclough. Adding either Chapman or Jansen would make it that much better.
“I think a deep, multi-inning bullpen, knowing that you have guys who can bridge to the back end of you bullpen, you can have a shorter leash potentially with your starting pitching,” Hill said.
One thing is certain: Loria is determined to make a splash and is working behind the scenes at the Winter Meetings to strike a deal. It’s not the first time the Marlins — and Loria — have played such a prominent role at the annual meetings.
During the 2011 offseason, as they were preparing to move into their new ballpark, the Marlins went on a wild buying spree, signing free agents Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle and Heath Bell. They even joined in the bidding for Albert Pujols.
But the inaugural 2012 season at Marlins Park was such a disaster that management quickly tore up the blueprint, trading Reyes, Buehrle, Bell, Hanley Ramirez and others in a roster chopping that angered fans.
Now, five years later, the Marlins are prepared to spend again.
▪ The Marlins could make a run for backup catcher A.J. Ellis, according to Jon Heyman of Fanrag Sports. With Jeff Mathis agreeing to a two-year deal with Arizona, the Marlins are in the market for a backup to starter J.T. Realmuto. Ellis also served under Mattingly with the Dodgers.
Hill said the team is looking for backup catching help from outside of the organization.
“We have some backup catching options that we’re looking into to, and hopefully we’ll have that addressed as well,” Hill said.
▪ Marlins outfielder Christian Yelich has been invited to play in the World Baseball Classic for Team USA and is expected to accept, sources said.