Members of Florida Marlins heading to Iraq, Kuwait

Several members of the Florida Marlins are set to visit U.S. military troops in Iraq and Kuwait from Jan. 24 to Feb. 1.

The team said Wednesday the trip is the first of its kind for a major league club since the war in Iraq began.

National League Rookie of the Year Chris Coghlan, catcher John Baker, manager Fredi Gonzalez and president of baseball operations Larry Beinfest are among those set to represent the Marlins, along with four members of the team’s “Mermaids” dance crew.

“We are extremely proud of the men and women who serve our country and we are thankful for this unique opportunity to show our appreciation,” Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria said in a statement.

“This trip is important to all of us, and we take our responsibility to support our soldiers very seriously.”

The visit will be made in association with Armed Forces Entertainment, and the Marlins plan to provide blog updates and photos on

Expansion interest for WBC?

Riccardo Fraccari, the new president of the International Baseball Federation, said he wants to discuss a plan with Major League Baseball officials in which the IBF’s World Cup would serve as a qualifying tournament for the World Baseball Classic.

The World Baseball Classic, which includes major-leaguers, and the World Cup, which doesn’t, are considered the game’s championships for national teams. The WBC has been an invitational, with the next one set for 2013.

Short hops

The Seattle Mariners signed first baseman/outfielder Brad Nelson to a minor league contract.He will be invited to spring training. Nelson hit 15 home runs in 78 games with the Tacoma Rainiers last season. … The San Francisco Giants and Aubrey Huff completed their $3 million, one-year contract after the first baseman passed a physical. … Oft-injured reliever Joel Zumaya and the Detroit Tigers avoided salary arbitration by agreeing to a $915,000, one-year contract. … Outfielder Ryan Church and the Pittsburgh Pirates have finalized a $1.5 million, one-year contract. … Carlos Beltran has had surgery on his troublesome right knee and the New York Mets’ center fielder will miss the start of the season.