At the 2016 trade deadline, the Marlins shipped a package of prospects centered around one of the team’s top prospects, Josh Naylor, to the Padres for Andrew Cashner. This trade, coupled with the Fernando Rodney trade made a few weeks prior (for one of the Marlins top pitching prospects, Chris Paddack), suggested that the Marlins believed that they were a few small pieces away from competing for a playoff spot. Ultimately, the Marlins fell short of the Wild Card with their rentals. Cashner and Rodney were nothing shy of miserable in a Marlins uniform, signed elsewhere in free agency.
Every fan wants their team to believe that they can compete and add pieces but the way the Marlins have in recent years gone about attempting to improve their team has led to a frustrating, lengthy stint in baseball’s lower to middle tier. The Marlins approach has seemingly always been to put together a low budget team and, if they overachieve, add pieces at the deadline. The issue with this approach is it leads to desperation.
Last season the Marlins found themselves in the thick of the playoff race come July with starting pitching being their biggest need. The Marlins search for starting pitching in July was well documented, but so were their obstacles. Many teams look to add pitching at the trade deadline, driving the price of solid arms up, but last year’s impressively terrible trade market for starting pitching paired with the Marlins depleted farm system led to a scramble by the front office. The Marlins would settle for Andrew Cashner in a trade that was nothing short of a disaster. The Andrew Cashner types of trades are what holds a franchise back from taking the next step. A franchise that had once prided itself on its ability to develop and acquire young talent now seems okay with trading away that talent for rental players like Cashner and Fernando Rodney, further depleting their farm system with nothing to show for it.
Put simply, the Marlins are stuck in a middle ground and they need to make a decision as to which direction they would like to go in; they have too much talent on their roster to not at least be competitive, but are missing too many pieces to make the next step and reach the playoffs, especially following the death of José Fernàndez.
So does the Marlins front office scrap the team and trade their valuable pieces in order to rebuild their 29th ranked farm system, something they seem incredibly uninterested in doing, or do they decide to spend money and add a big time free agent? Most fans would prefer the latter, but the reality is, sitting in the middle is worse than rebuilding and trading decent prospects for guys like Dan Straily won't take your team to the next level. Neither will signing guys like Edinson Volquez and Jeff Locke.
As long as Jeffrey Loria owns the Marlins the idea of the Fish reeling in top free agents doesn't seem promising, leaving rebuilding as quite possibly the only viable option. For Marlins fans, it wouldn't be the end of the world should the front office try to take a page out of Theo Epstein’s playbook. The Cubs decided to start over in 2012, committed the following seasons to rebuilding and trading their major league talent for guys like Anthony Rizzo, Addison Russell and Jake Arrieta. Five years later, the Cubs are World Champions. Yes, the Cubs did draft really well and they did spend some free agent money on Jon Lester and Jason Hammel, but the Cubs were in a similar position as the Marlins before Epstein came in, sitting between 70-80 wins and doing little to change it.
It’s time for the Marlins to make moves of significance, because the middle ground just isn't going to cut it anymore.