MIAMI (AP) - Jose Reyes toured the Florida Marlins’ new ballpark as a potential pillar for the franchise.
The Marlins courted the All-Star shortstop Wednesday with the tour and lunch on South Beach, team president David Samson said on his weekly radio show on WAXY-AM.
“We’re interested in making our team better,” Samson said. “To be interested, you have to be interesting, and you have to meet and get to know each other.”
The Marlins are also pursuing left-hander Mark Buehrle, who took the ballpark tour Tuesday, Samson said. In addition, owner Jeffrey Loria and a contingent of team officials plan to visit the Dominican Republic on Thursday to watch a private workout by highly regarded Cuban outfielder Yoenis Cespedes.
With the new stadium scheduled to open in April, the perennially thrifty Marlins are expected to increase their payroll from $57 million this year to about $80 million in 2012, which will allow them to be active in the free-agent market.
Along with the ballpark, new manager Ozzie Guillen might make the Marlins a more attractive option for free agents. Buehrle pitched for Guillen the past eight seasons with the Chicago White Sox.
Buehrle and Reyes are two of the top free agents, and competition for them is expected to be stiff. Buehrle went 13-9 with a 3.59 ERA in 2011, his 11th consecutive season with at least 10 victories and 30 starts.
Marlins officials first met with Reyes in New York last Thursday, shortly after the free-agent signing period began. Reyes won the NL batting title this year with a .337 average and led the majors with 16 triples despite two stints on the disabled list.
“I would certainly count him among our priorities,” Samson said.
Reyes has spent his entire nine-year major league career with the New York Mets. If he joined the Marlins, they would likely move 2009 NL batting champion Hanley Ramirez to third base.
“Hanley will be a Marlin,” Samson said. “He is the most important piece of our team, no matter who we sign. He’ll be in the lineup April 4, and it’s up to Ozzie where to play him.”
The 26-year-old Cespedes played for Cuba in the 2009 World Baseball Classic and is projected to be ready for the majors. He’s expected to receive a multiyear contract worth more than $25 million.
“He can flat-out hit,” Samson said.
Samson said the Marlins have not talked yet with Cespedes’ agent. When asked whether they’ve contacted the agent for free-agent slugger Albert Pujols, Samson declined to comment.
The Marlins will unveil a new logo and uniform at the ballpark Friday, when the franchise will officially become the Miami Marlins. Samson estimated there’s only a 1 percent chance of signing Reyes in time for that event.