The Miami Marlins are likely leaving the 2015 Winter Meetings with their prior team mostly intact. Instead of making a flurry of moves, the club has stood pat, and that means it still has ace starter Jose Fernandez. The Defector has been the subject of many, many rumors over the course of the past week, having been linked to a series of teams in potential trades. All of the packages the Marlins asked for were hefty and likely out of range for the respective teams. The Dodgers were probed for top prospects Julio Urias and Corey Seager. The Diamondbacks supposedly almost agreed to a deal involving Patrick Corbin, former 2015 first-round draft pick Dansby Swanson, and outfielder Ender Inciarte among others.
Those potential deals were insane, and the high asking price likely prevented any deal from being made. And there is an argument to say that that is a good thing for the Marlins.
Waiting for Value
The Marlins may have wanted to trade Fernandez right now, but getting him after he only pitched a short stint in the majors last year would be selling him short. After all, even after Fernandez's strong return, there were still some hitches along the way. He suffered a biceps strain that kept him out a decent chunk of time, as the team had lost several starts due to the injury. It all could have been coincidental, but it could have very easily been associated with adjustments made after Tommy John surgery to fix his elbow.
The Marlins would probably know this answer best, but the Marlins would not be the acquiring team. Acquiring teams want to have some certainty that Fernandez's right arm will not falter under the extra stress of a full season, something he has never pitched in his professional career. Any team that opts to acquire Fernandez will eventually look to extend him to a long-term deal, and they would prefer he have a relatively full campaign free of arm injuries before committing numerous prospects and a lot of money for the Boras client.
The best way for the Marlins to display that health is to hold him for a part of the season and have Fernandez show off his health and tremendous ability at the start of the year. That part of the season before the trade deadline would be more than enough time for teams to feel more confident in his long-term outlook and be willing to sell the farm system to acquire a unique talent. If the Marlins and Fernandez can get through half the season or so without tumult or injury, contending teams with deep farm systems may be ready to pay through the nose for 2.5 years of Fernandez at relatively cheap prices.
The Marlins may also be more optimistic with Fernandez than with other past relationships. The team appears, by all accounts, to be unlikely to re-sign the starter. Scott Boras is his agent. The Marlins are hesitant to sign a pitcher to a long-term, lucrative contract. There is no precedent for the Marlins to retain Fernandez for long.
Of course, there was not much precedent for the Marlins being able to retain Giancarlo Stanton last season as well. All of the signs were pointing towards Stanton eventually leaving in free agency and the Marlins being left out to dry. Then the Fish signed Stanton to the most lucrative contract in American sports history. For the right person, the Fish may be willing to break the bank to build their core, even if that bank is broken for only a short period of time.
Miami needs to find if Fernandez is the right guy, and for that, they not only need to establish his value, but also re-establish their relationship after this difficult offseason. The Marlins have to figure out if Fernandez is the type of pitcher in whom they can invest both from a talent and reliability standpoint. They want to determine if Fernandez is, like Stanton, someone who wants to stay in south Florida for the long haul. To find out, they need to repair their relationship, and that takes time.
It is easy to give up on the situation if you think that the Marlins are never going to sign Fernandez. However, if the Fish feel like there is a chance, they owe themselves an opportunity to mend the fences between the two sides and give it another honest attempt. That attempt takes parts of the 2016 season and this upcoming offseason in order to really assess the odds.
If the Marlins think they still have a shot at a long-term future with Fernandez, they should hold onto him. He could still build his trade value by proving relative health over the course of the first half, and if that is the case and the team still cannot convince him to stay, they can still offer a meaningful trade. The Marlins may be able to let him build enough value to be worth the ridiculous offers they demanded. At the same time, they could do just enough to convince him to stay, even against the odds of the looming Scott Boras situation. These are the best arguments for holding onto Fernandez until it is absolutely necessary.