One of the surprising stories in the early going this year has been the Miami Marlins, winners of 9 of their last 13 games, and holders of a 20-18 record headed into mid-May. That’s good enough for second place in the NL East, and, before a sweep this weekend by the Padres, the Marlins were actually in first place.
A huge part of that surprise success, of course, has been 21-year-old stud righty Jose Fernandez, the crown jewel of young, stud pitchers in baseball right now. He’s got a 2.44 ERA and 2.14 FIP over 51.2 innings, in which time he’s struck out 70(!) and walked just 13. He’s just so, so very good.
And now, because the baseball gods hate pitcher arms, this year more than most, he’s headed to the disabled list with an elbow injury. He’ll get an MRI, which should clarify the nature of the injury, but folks are already speculating about something serious.
To be quite clear, this could be your run of the mill muscular issue, cleared up with a couple weeks of rest. If, however, it is more serious, and requires surgery (usually Tommy John ligament replacement), the Marlins will suddenly be without one of the main reasons they were surprise competitors in the National League.
That presents an interesting question for a young team going forward: do they quickly seek to replace Fernandez’s production in the rotation with a veteran from outside the organization, hoping to keep things rolling and surprisingly contend later and later into the year? Or do they stand pat, hoping for a miracle from now through July, and then maybe re-assess at the Trade Deadline? Or do they yield to the early-season projections, recognize that they just lost a 5/6-win pitcher, and fold up shop for another year? (Despite their early-season success, BP’s playoff odds had the Marlins at just 11.9%, as of this morning. That will likely fall a great deal if Fernandez is out for a lengthy period of time.)
It’s a really interesting series of questions for a team like the Marlins, one whom many didn’t think would be in a position to face those questions quite so soon. Given their frequently miserly nature, it’s also a question whether they could go out and add much salary at this point even if they wanted to.
I raise all of this because the Marlins are pretty deep in quality pitching prospects (some of whom could be under consideration for replacing Fernandez internally, mind you), and it’s conceivable that they could look to the Cubs to try and pick up a veteran arm. Would they want someone like Jeff Samardzija, who figures to be fairly expensive in his final year of arbitration next year? Would they instead want a shorter-term commitment like a Jason Hammel (who cannot be traded without his permission until June 15)?
Either way, you have to factor in another layer into these questions: if the Marlins looked to act quickly, would the Cubs even be willing to entertain a move at this point? I ask that not because the Cubs might be holding out hope for a surprising run. Instead, I just wonder whether the Cubs would prefer to wait until there are more suitors in the market so that they can ensure they get the best price for their players. There’s a reason very few meaningful moves are made in May, and I don’t expect whatever happens here to be an exception. The Marlins still had a lot of hurdles to overcome to reach the playoffs this year, and that was with Fernandez.
It’s just an interesting situation, given the Marlins’ particular standing as a surprise competitive team, and the Cubs’ pretty obvious standing as a seller already.