The Miami Marlins took a chance with top pitching prospect Jose Fernandez by promoting Fernandez to the majors to start the 2013 season. The Fish are banking on Fernandez's promotion going well for the team, since very few other things are likely to pan out nicely this season. But along with all of the positives we listed earlier today, there are a number of clear-cut negatives that could cause this controversial move to backfire in a major way for the Marlins. Just how poorly could Fernandez's promotion affect the team?
He's Not Ready
A lot of the good outcomes we discussed earlier today regarding this promotion depend on one critical point: Jose Fernandez is ready for the major leagues. But all of those outcomes could be swept aside if that assumption is incorrect and that Fernandez is really not ready for the majors. As we have discussed previously on Fish Stripes, Fernandez has yet to pitch in Double-A, and that jump from the low minors to the prospect- and veteran-laden Double-A level is the biggest in baseball. Fernandez's track record in the low minors is fantastic, but he has yet to see competition like that of Double-A. Before even evaluating his ability to compete at a decent level, the Marlins are already pushing him to forefront and having him sink or swim at the highest level of professional baseball.
The Marlins have no proof, aside from what they have seen in spring training, that Fernandez will succeed in the majors now. No top Marlins pitching prospect went straight from the low minors to the majors without a single Double-A inning. Not even former top draft pick Josh Beckett, the best pitching prospect the Marlins ever had, threw 74 1/3 innings in Double-A before receiving a big-league trial in 2001. What the Fish are doing with Fernandez is unprecedented for the organization.
If Fernandez is not ready for major league competition, he may stumble out of the gates and his development may suffer as a result. Fernandez is known for his strong makeup and mindset on the mound, but it is difficult to predict how well a pitcher will respond to adversity for the first time. While the situation in Miami may be light on pressure, he is still getting no time to tinker and work in the stress-free minor league environment, and with fan expectations high, who knows how Fernandez will adjust? This is not to say his makeup is to be questioned, but fans are well aware of players who have been rushed before and struggled as a result and never really recovered. Fernandez may not exactly be Andrew Miller, but without seeing him pitch in Double-A, how can we be sure he is even Josh Beckett?
The question of Fernandez's readiness for the majors is compounded by the fact that the Marlins did not even initially want him in the majors. Weeks ago, the Marlins demoted Fernandez to minor league camp, presumably because they felt he was not ready to pitch in the majors. Up until the recent news of injuries to Nathan Eovaldi and Henderson Alvarez, there had been no buzz surrounding a possible re-promotion of Fernandez.
Were the Marlins really considering Fernandez for a major league job this season given the above circumstances? One would think that, had the team thought that Fernandez was ready for the majors, he would have been kept on the major league roster and allowed to pitch for the Marlins before those injuries occurred. His readiness for the big leagues, especially for an entire season, should have nothing to do with Eovaldi's and Alvarez's injuries, so why did the Fish only now bring up Fernandez and talk up his qualifications? The sudden justification for this move makes it seem far more likely that the Marlins did not feel Fernandez was ready for a full-time job and only gave it to him because they felt he was their only option.
This would have been fine, except that the Marlins have other options. Just last week, Jacob Turner was demoted to Triple-A, supposedly to work on problems with his game that arose during a poor spring training. But Turner's minor league history indicates that he is ready for major league hitters, especially given the 42 effective innings he threw as a Marlin last year. Why would the Fish put Fernandez, even with his electric stuff, ahead of Turner if the club was looking for a long-term rotation replacement for 2013? Turner is likely to need the major league challenge just as much as Fernandez does, so why is he being overlooked?
Service Time Concern
This brings us to our most important point in this argument. Fernandez will start the season on the roster, and that will begin his service time clock. The Marlins could easily delay that clock by using another pitcher like Turner in Fernandez's place for another month or so. Doing that could save the Fish up to one year of team control time in the future. In a season in which there is almost no incentive to "win now," why are the Marlins so willing to sacrifice a full year of his team control when they can easily resolve the problem by waiting a small amount of time?
The Fish have no excuse in this regard. The 2013 season is going to be a losing campaign with or without Fernandez's involvement. Even if the Marlins were convinced that he could contribute this year, waiting until May or June gives the team a significant amount of flexibility. As mentioned above, the Marlins have at least one legitimate option in Turner who can hold the fort for a month before Fernandez's arrival if necessary. The benefit of the next month of Fernandez in the majors is essentially nonexistent when compared to the loss of a year of team control.
Marlin Maniac's Ehsan Kassim echoes similar concerns about Fernandez:
While many are confident that Fernandez can hold his own in the majors, the problem is starting Fernandez’s service clock so early. This problem is magnified by the Miami front-office’s history of indifference towards keeping its players for more than three years, and winning game. All the elements are in place for losing out on a chunk of Fernandez’s career.
Given the Marlins' financial situation and classic penny-pinching ways, it is difficult to imagine them holding onto an elite starter for multiple years heading into arbitration. The Fish lucked out with Josh Johnson in that he became an elite starter only after a season and a half of injury and subsequent uncertainty. Would they be so lucky if Fernandez came out and began an ascent into stardom and stayed healthy? Could the Marlins negotiate a deal to buy out arbitration and free agent seasons to keep him affordable when the club was unable to do the same for Giancarlo Stanton? Would Fernandez even be interested in a deal if the Fish cannot build a competitive team by the time he reaches arbitration?
Those questions are more pertinent to the Miami Marlins than perhaps any other franchise in baseball. The Fish risk facing serious consequences in allowing Fernandez to get expensive one year earlier and having him hit free agency one year earlier than expected. If the 2013 season were one with a competitive future, the Marlins at least would have to weigh the benefits of having a month's worth of Fernandez. But with the Marlins out of contention immediately and the team having an easy, ready solution to this conundrum, they are committing to a risk that has low upside and almost all downside. The benefits outlined earlier are not going to put the Fish over the top, and the risks of losing Fernandez early might greatly damage the team's chances in the future. There is very little benefit in this move for the team.