When Will Miami Marlins Trade Jose Fernandez?

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Marlins fans will never forget. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports
Marlins fans will never forget. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports /
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With all the talk of Scott Boras seeking a $30 million annual salary for pitching phenom Jose Fernandez, the writing seems to be on the wall that the Miami Marlins will soon be faced with having to trade away another popular superstar.  But when such a move would take a place is still anyone’s guess, as it is an extremely fluid situation that could ultimately be shaped as much by off-field perception of the team as its on-field performance, not to mention the performance and health of Fernandez himself.  In fact, depending how the next two seasons break down, the trade that has been talked about all offseason as a foregone conclusion might never take place at all.

Let’s start with the basics.  Jose Fernandez will not be a free agent until after the 2018 season.  Three trade deadlines, two more rounds of winter meetings, three spring trainings, 486 regular season games…in short, a lot of baseball remains between today and the deadline for a decision.  Today, the scuttlebutt is that Jose is not the

Good Ship Loria seemed funnier...but this is the actual USS Marlin.
Good Ship Loria seemed funnier…but this is the actual USS Marlin. /

happiest passenger on the Good Ship Loria.  But at one point, neither was Giancarlo Stanton.  Remember that he too was reportedly extremely critical of roster decisions, particularly the 2012 “firesale” that dealt away many prominent players.  Two seasons later, Big G was convinced that a plan existed and signed up for thirteen more years of Marlins baseball, not to mention a record $325 million deal.  At the end of the day, a hundred factors ranging from winning seasons to friendships to personal life changes to a mass infusion of cash could crop up over the next three years, washing away any early 2016 concerns or unrest with management. So we’ll stick with what’s going to sway the front office in terms of how long the Fernandez-Miami relationship continues, and not the player.

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At minimum, the Marlins have Jose under contract until July of this year.  Hopes are high that new skipper Don Mattingly, a famous hitting coach you might have heard of, newly signed lefty Wei-Yin Chen, and a change of pace bout of injury luck will fuel a playoff run in 2016.  But if that plan scuttles, the top brass might decide to do something about the woeful state of Miami’s farm system.  Much like the case of the rival Mets, the Fish farm has taken a beating in recent years due to rapid promotions of young talent.  But according to Keith Law, not only is the Marlins system the worst in their division (by a lot), but it is currently projected as the worst in the entire National League (by a lot).  If the club is truly out of it- like Stanton reinjured, further Ozuna regression out of it- come deadline time, July would be the first Fernandez trade exit ramp.  Anything close to contending or better though keeps Fernandez in Miami for 2016.

And that is where it gets tricky.  Very tricky indeed.

For if you’ll remember, and David Samson would be heartbroken if you didn’t, the Marlins were awarded the 2017 All-Star Game.  While a Giancarlo Stanton-centric Home Run Derby is the big dream, you had better believe ownership will want that game packed with as many Marlins as possible.  And more to the point, that they’ll be looking for as little controversy as possible heading into the Midsummer Classic, a noble goal for a franchise that has a history of attracting negative attention for penurious and cost-cutting measures.

Can you imagine the backlash, the negative news cycle, if July is full of nothing but Jose Fernandez trade rumors? Even if they kick off 2017 by shipping him out-of-town before camp breaks, the ripples would still be reverberating.  What if Miami trades him, and he has a good year? Jose playing in a Miami All-Star Game not representing the Marlins, possibly playing for the AL and facing off against a Marlins All-Star?  It would be all of Loria and Samson’s nightmares come true. Now, should the 2017 season be derailed quickly and decisively after the break, it could be possible to get away with pulling the trigger then. But even then they’d be open to cries and catcalls that they pulled one over on baseball, dismantling as soon they got the ASG payoff they wanted.

Aug 27, 2015; Miami, FL, USA; 2017 All-Star game sign at Marlins Park before a game between the Pittsburgh Pirates and Miami Marlins. Mandatory Credit: Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports
Aug 27, 2015; Miami, FL, USA; 2017 All-Star game sign at Marlins Park before a game between the Pittsburgh Pirates and Miami Marlins. Mandatory Credit: Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports /

Nope, 2017 is going to be the new 2012 here in Miami, with no room for a Hanley Ramirez trade-sized margin of error.  The front office will be in it to win it, building up fan fervor to boost attendance and interest.  You don’t do that without Jose Fernandez leading the rotation.  Even if his 2017 salary is triple his 2016 rate, that’d still be less than Mat Latos was paid in 2015.  A bargain to say the least.  If he’s on the roster in 2017, he’s here for all of 2017.

Which brings us to 2018.  If the 2017 team folds down the stretch, and shows it’s peaked in terms of ability, that’s the most likely point.  In fact, if he plays to expectations the next two years, he’ll have at least doubled his value to the team by proving he can stay healthy to prospective buyers.

However, 2018 also brings us back to Stanton, and his relationship with the club.  When Stanton signed that famed Forever Deal, he

Giving me some help would be great. Mandatory Credit: Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports
Giving me some help would be great. Mandatory Credit: Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports /

agreed to three years of relatively cheap labor before he started pulling down what we’ll affectionately term “A-Rod” money.  What kind of message does it send to the face of the franchise, not to mention the rest of the clubhouse, if the second best player is sold off the very first year he tops the team in salary?

If Miami isn’t contending…probably the right one.  But if they are, the club might just have to ride the Fernandez train until it leaves the station on its own terms.  There’s always that qualifying draft pick after all.  Because sending him away for purely financial reasons won’t sit well at all with the superstar they did choose to lock up, and might drive him to consider exercising that opt-out.  It’s ok if the Marlins only keep one of their two centerpieces…but they have to keep one. Botching the Fernandez situation could cost them both, and recovering from that in the eyes of the fans might well prove impossible.

Bottom line, if this team is still in the hunt this July, Jose will be pitching in Marlins Park until at least 2018.

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