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Miami Marlins must be competitive for Jose Fernandez innings limit to matter

If the Marlins are out of the race by July, Fernandez will probably be moved.

Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Jose Fernandez will almost certainly only toss close to 180 innings in 2016. For that to be significant, the Marlins have to remain competitive.

As the club prepares for the start of Spring Training, keeping its ace healthy appears to rightfully be one of its top priorities. MLB.com's Joe Frisaro reported Tuesday the Marlins and Fernandez will be meeting to come up with a plan once squad workouts and spring contests get underway.

Fernandez, arguably one of the best young pitchers in the game at just 23, underwent Tommy John surgery in 2014. He missed a large part of the 2015 campaign as a result, but was able to toss 64 endings despite a shoulder injury that resulted in another stint on the disabled list.

Miami, Frisaro notes, has a desire to have a limit set before the season opener against the Tigers. When a number is agreed upon is not notably significant. But it will not just be the Marlins involved. Fernandez, too, will have a say, which also means his agent, Scott Boras, will likely be involved too.

Fernandez has never tossed more than 172 innings in his major league career, so the Marlins are handling the situation the proper way. There is no need to rush Fernandez back, have him throw 200 innings and then spend an extensive period of time on the disabled list in 2017.

Both the Nationals and Mets have been questioned with regard to rising stars returning from Tommy John surgery. Stephen Strasburg and Matt Harvey both bounced back, but the way each situation was handled was revealed and criticized throughout the industry.

It does not look like the Marlins will be able to sign Fernandez to an extension--they have reportedly already tried multiple times and have been unsuccessful--so they need to receive the most out of him for the next three seasons, assuming he is not traded.

Fernandez can either skip starts throughout the season or make exactly 30 during which he averages six innings per outing.

Miami has to be winning for Fernandez's innings limit to be relevant. If the Marlins are struggling come the summer, Fernandez will likely either be moved or prematurely shut down.

At this point, the limit matters. In a few months, it might not.