Chicago Cubs 2016 NL Central Championship Gear

jose fernandez marlinsFrom the outset of the offseason, the biggest name to be realistically attached to trade rumors is that of young Marlins ace Jose Fernandez. I found that to be particularly fun because, when healthy, there are very few players – pitchers or otherwise – who are as exciting and dominating as Fernandez, who is still just 23. If he is dealt at any point by the Marlins (I should say “when,” because eventually, at some point during his three remaining years of team control, he will be traded), it’s going to be an enormous story, a huge shift for the involved teams, and fascinating to deconstruct.

Throughout the Winter Meetings, rumors about Fernandez being on the table swirled, though the demands by the Marlins were almost comically large, especially after the Braves got so much for three years of a very good, but clearly lesser, starter in Shelby Miller. At that time, Joe Frisaro reported that the Marlins wanted top positional prospect Corey Seager, top pitching prospect Julio Urias, young outfielder Joc Pederson AND two more prospects. The Dodgers would have to be crazy to even consider that deal, or anything close to it, frankly.

But, hey, that doesn’t mean it was the end of the discussions.

According to Jon Morosi, the Dodgers remain in talks with the Marlins about Fernandez, though he cautions that no deal is close. After losing Zack Greinke to the Diamondbacks and after failing to finalize a deal with Hisashi Iwakuma, Fernandez would be a dramatic upgrade for the Dodgers’ semi-needy rotation, obviously, and could single-handedly re-insert them at the top of the NL on-paper pecking order, depending on what was given up from the big league team to acquire him.

Aside from being fascinating from a pure baseball nerd perspective, the Dodgers’ rumored trade talks could impact the Cubs in a number of ways.

First, there’s the issue of the NL West getting even more top-heavy. The better the three teams at the top of the NL West, the better chance that one or two of the Wild Cards come out of that division – or at least make it even more of a dog fight for the teams in the NL Central. Sure, the Cubs are gunning to win the division for a number of reasons, but it would be nice to have the Wild Card as a fall-back, eh?

In that same vein, a Marlins sell-off at this point makes them all the more beatable in the East, together with the Braves and Phillies, which could make it all the more likely that both the Mets and Nationals are playoff teams thanks to the imbalanced schedule. In terms of the Cubs’ ability to make the playoffs in 2016, the relative crumminess of teams like the Marlins (who, right now, look not-so-good, but not horrible) could mean a great deal.

Then you’ve got the tangential trade and free agent market effects. If the Dodgers pick up Fernandez in trade, that could take away one of the suitors for other cost-controlled pitching in trade from, for example, the Rays and Indians. The Cubs don’t need to pick up another arm, of course, but I’d be surprised if they stopped considering those types of deals any time soon.

Trading for Fernandez would also probably take the Dodgers out of the market for a free agent starter, the ripple effects of which are hard to predict. For example, it’s extremely unlikely, but not impossible, that a third-ish tier starter is left on the sidelines well into February, and is willing to take a cheap deal to be depth with the Cubs.

Further, the Giants still have needs in the outfield, and if the Dodgers pick up Fernandez, are they more likely to go big on a free agent outfielder and thus improve their team even further?

Also, if the Dodgers significantly deplete their prospect reserves for three years of Fernandez, are they setting themselves up for a shorter window of contention? Clayton Kershaw can opt out of his deal after those same three years, by the way.

I could go on. The ramifications of a Fernandez deal for the National League could be really significant. That, plus the general excitingness of the player and possible trades involved, is why I keep paying attention to the rumors, even if the Cubs aren’t directly involved with the Marlins in these talks.

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