Early on in 2019, fans are already raving about the young Marlins starters. Now, imagine also adding Chris Paddack to the mix. Among our group of #BabyFacedAces, Paddack may have even been the ace of the rotation.
This should have been reality if not for a tragic trade back on June 30, 2016.
The Marlins were 41-37, held a National League Wild Card spot, and fielded one of their most talented teams in recent memory. Christian Yelich, Giancarlo Stanton, Marcel Ozuna, J.T. Realmuto, and Dee Gordon were all parts of the lineup. All-Star closer AJ Ramos and setup man David Phelps led the bullpen, which was actually performing very well. Yet the front office felt more pitching depth was necessary; nobody aside from ace José Fernández could be trusted to sustain their excellence down the stretch.
Their answer was Padres closer Fernando Rodney.
At the point of the trade Rodney had 17 saves and a 0.31 ERA in 28 games. Only one earned run allowed in nearly three months of action! At 39 years young, he was inducing more ground balls than ever, and his San Diego teammates made all the routine plays behind him.
Also keep in mind that this was in the immediate aftermath of the 2015 Kansas City Royals, who had won the World Series with a pedestrian starting rotation but superb bullpen. The Marlins weren’t the only team excited about the strategy of “shortening the game” by stockpiling effective relievers.
Problem is, Rodney was notorious for his inconsistency. He regressed big time and at the worst times following the trade, as manager Don Mattingly continued utilizing him in high-leverage situations.
Fernando Rodney 2016 Splits
After his stellar start with the Padres, Rodney had a .289 batting average against and three blown saves in 11 opportunities for the Fish. He neutralized the team’s strength in a race where every game was precious. As you might imagine, the Marlins did not pick up the team option in his contract for the 2017 campaign.
Meanwhile, Paddack was a relative unknown. An eighth-round pick in the 2015 MLB Draft, the 20-year-old was in the midst of allowing one hit over 15 innings while in Low-A Greensboro. He owned a supernatural 48-to-2 strikeout-to-walk ratio for the season at the time of the decision. Numerous trades had depleted the Marlins farm system (Anthony DeSclafani for Mat Latos, Andrew Heaney for Dee Gordon, etc.), leaving few prospects who other teams were legitimately interested in. They thought they were selling high on Paddack, or perhaps it was the desperation to end a 13-year postseason drought clouding their judgement.
A few weeks after the Rodney trade, the Marlins and Padres hooked up again. The Marlins received RP Tayron Guerrero along with a disappointing Andrew Cashner and one start’s worth of Colin Rea for Jarred Cosart, Carter Capps, top prospect Josh Naylor and fire-baller Luis Castillo.
The trade was modified after the fact to send Rea and Castillo back to their original teams, but that’s another bad trade story for another day. That day may be in the near future considering that Naylor is even younger than Paddack and mere months away from joining him on the roster of a major league contender.
Now in 2019, Fernando Rodney is on his third team since the trade. The oldest active player in Major League Baseball following Ichiro’s retirement, Rodney may finally be nearing the end of the road (12.00 ERA, 2.83 WHIP in 6.0 IP with the Athletics).
Meanwhile, Chris Paddack did not allow Tommy John surgery to derail him. The tall right-hander continued to dominate the minors and skipped the Triple-A level entirely. So far, he has a 1.29 ERA for the Padres through three starts. He will give serious competition to teammate Fernando Tatis Jr. for the 2019 NL Rookie of the Year.
The 2016 Marlins did not make the playoffs. Stanton under-performed down the stretch, none of the mid-season trades panned out, and they tragically lost their ace.
It’s important to consider all things—not only present goals—when pulling the trigger on a trade. The Fish already had a postseason-caliber bullpen and didn’t have much of a farm system. Was adding a recognizable veteran at the expense of one of the few young promising arms going to make the difference?
Under new ownership, the franchise has hopped off the “treadmill of mediocrity” in favor of a full-scale rebuild. That way, next time they have a talented homegrown core at Marlins Park, there will be another wave right behind them, standing by to serve as reinforcements in case of injury or expendable trade bait that pushes the major league roster over the top.
There’s far less regret in watching former players succeed when we can accept that they needed to be sacrificed in pursuit of the ultimate goal. Paddack’s departure was completely unnecessary, and unless his career path somehow leads back to Miami, he will always be the poster child of the old regime’s incompetence.