Let's be real. To replace the characteristics that made Jose Fernandez great (both on and off the field) is virtually impossible.
It is extremely rare to find a player who embodies the best possible combination of athletic and personable traits that made him as special as he was while he was here. This article is not about how the Marlins should search far and wide until they find someone that they believe will fill the void that now exists in José's absence. That void will never be filled.
It is, however, about facing the harsh reality that the Marlins rotation was never good enough to truly compete with their surrounding competition. Of the starting pitchers they have heading into 2017, none of them finished in the top 25 for fWAR (wins above replacement) in the National League, let alone the entire MLB. Within that top 25, the Mets had Noah Syndergaard (6.5) and Bartolo Colon (2.9), who finished first and eighteenth, respectively. The Nationals' had Max Scherzer (5.6), Tanner Roark (3.2), and Gio Gonzalez (2.9) also placing within that top 25. The Braves had Julio Teheran (3.2), while the lowly Phillies even had Jeremy Hellickson (3.2) and Jerad Eickhoff (2.9). Who was the closest Miami pitcher in comparison to their NL East cohorts? Tom Koehler, who placed 28th in WAR at 1.1. And if we look at ERA for starting pitchers, it's a very similar situation. Even if you expand it to looking at the top 30 N.L pitchers in ERA, the only 2017 Marlins starter within that dataset is also Tom Koehler, who posted a 4.33 mark. Obviously, if Adam Conley had enough innings in 2016 to qualify for the official rankings of these stats, he would surpass Koehler in both ERA and fWAR. However, this would not be by very much at all. Conley pitched to the tune of a 3.85 ERA with just a 1.4 fWAR to match.
Are Conley and Koehler amongst the absolute worst pitchers in baseball? Absolutely not. But they are a far cry from being among the best. The point is that if those two pitchers are the best that the Marlins have to offer for 2017 (in reference to their starting rotation), then they're in trouble.
So, who's out there?
While the 2017 free agent market for starting pitcher may lack the allure of big-name players, there is certainly some high-quality talent available. For instance, the Dodgers' Rich Hill will become a free agent at the conclusion of the 2016 postseason. Even if Hill (36) is not exactly a spring chicken, it seems as though he's gotten better with age. In the past three seasons, the highest ERA Hill has posted is 3.38. Between the Athletics and Dodgers, Hill had a 2.12 ERA and a 12-5 record in 2016. For those who remember, Hill was the pitcher who was pulled by Los Angeles manager Dave Roberts after seven innings during a bid for a perfect game. This game, occurring on September 10th, was ironically against the Marlins. As far as how much it would cost to acquire hill SB Nation's own Beyond the Box Score has compared Hill's potential value to a few deals of recent memory. Tim Hudson, who was 37 at the time of his 2014 deal with the Giants, was signed for $23M over two years. Another acquisition of similar circumstances would be John Lackey's deal with the Cubs after the 2015 season. Lackey, 37, signed for $32M over two years. Signing Hill may not be the cheapest option, but it's also not a crazy expensive idea to throw out there. With the way he's pitched as of late, signing Hill would be more than worth it.
This may seem like an unretrievable option, but if you think about it, acquiring Bartolo Colon would be easier than it seems. Yes, Colon did say that he would like to return to the Mets in 2017. But keep in mind, this is a guy who has played for eight different teams throughout his career. Additionally, even with how good he's been in 2016, there's no guarantee that the Mets will do everything in their power to resign the legendary veteran. In 2017, they will Matt Harvey, Zack Wheeler, Jacob DeGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Steven Matz, plus newcomers Robert Gsellman and Seth Lugo. With how well Gsellman and Lugo have stepped up to fill in for their injured stars, it's highly likely that at least one of them will be seriously considered as competition for a spot in the rotation. If that holds true, Colon is somewhat expendable for them. Aside from Harvey, who went through arbitration last winter, the rest of their young pitchers are still on their rookie deals. This is the Wilpons we're talking about, who are notoriously cheap. If Gsellman, Lugo, or both are to be considered as potential parts of next year's rotation, why do they need to pay Colon? For those worried about Colon's age, please take into account what he did in 2016 at the age of 43. The man went 15-8 with a 3.43 ERA. Thanks to a 2010 stem cell transplant, Colon's arm has taken on a new life. He may not throw as hard as he used to, but he's still very effective. A two-year contract (or even just one year) would be justifiable.
Other notable free agent starting pitcher in a scarce market include the Phillies' Jeremy Hellickson and Ivan Nova from Pittsburgh. While Nova was somewhat mediocre during the first half of 2016, he flourished after being traded to the Pirates where he was 5-2 with a 3.06 ERA. Hellickson, as we know, had a fWAR of 3.2 in 2016, which makes him worth a look in this winter's free agent market.
Make a trade
According to Barry Jackson from the Miami Herald, Miami could potentially consider trading either Adeiny Hechavarria, Derek Dietrich or Marcell Ozuna. The Fish had already considered trading Ozuna for better starting pitching during the offseason. Although it's hardly ideal to trade away young talent, the Marlins may be forced to do so. No one is asking them to give up Yelich, Stanton, or Gordon. But as far as Hechavarria, Dietrich and Ozuna go, I think it's worth it to find out who they can get in return.