Something’s fishy _ Marlins become big players

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DALLAS (AP) - Jeffrey Loria watched the news conference from the second row, beaming like a proud parent as Heath Bell talked about his new love for the Miami Marlins and reuniting with Jose Reyes.

Trying to make a quick getaway, the owner was surrounded by reporters in the corridor who wanted to know who else would be migrating to South Florida: Albert Pujols, C.J. Wilson, Mark Buehrle?

Instead of trading away their stars, the Marlins have become the biggest player in the offseason market, the riches from their new ballpark a free-agent attraction.

“I want our team to be important,” Loria said Monday as the winter meetings opened. “It’s an energy city, and I think that’s one of the things that brings the players there. They see the energy.”

Bell’s $27 million, three-year contract was finalized, giving the renamed Marlins an All-Star closer. Reyes‘ $106 million, six-year deal is a satisfactory physical from conclusion.

Pujols, who already has toured the new ballpark, would join Hanley Ramirez, Mike Stanton and Logan Morrison in the batting order _ if the three-time NL MVP is willing to leave the St. Louis Cardinals, the only major league team he’s played for.

“One big hitter?” Loria said out loud, his 2003 World Series ring flashing from his hand. “Well, I don’t know about that, but there’s a possibility of another player or two we’re looking at.”

Morrison, among others, was wondering.

“Just out of surgery. Everything went well,” he wrote on Twitter after a minor knee operation, adding: “Have we signed Pujols yet??”

On the mound, Wilson or Buehrle could be added to a rotation that includes Josh Johnson (if healthy), Ricky Nolasco, Anibal Sanchez and Chris Volstad. While the Marlins are being aggressive, traditional big spenders such as the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox are moving cautiously, both with free agents and in the trade market.

“It’s hey, take my older, expensive, over-the-hill guy for your young, better-performing guy,” Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said. “Let me think about that and get back to you, buddy.”

Not that he’s acting any differently with opening day four months away.

“I’m sure my ideas are as distasteful as the ones that I’ve received,” he said.

As the four-day swap session began, the first piece of formal business was the annual meeting of the Hall of Fame Veterans Committee, which elected late Chicago Cubs third baseman Ron Santo. He’ll be inducted in Cooperstown on July 22, along with any players elected by members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America on Jan. 9.

Pujols and Prince Fielder are the big bats on the market, and it remains unclear whether Pujols is willing to leave the World Series champions, where he’s joined Stan Musial as a franchise icon.

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