Jose Fernandez represents one of the most mesmerizing players in baseball today. It does not take much of a sample of his work or much knowledge about anything sports-related to immediately recognize that there is something different about the 23-year-old hurler for the Miami Marlins. The stuff is electrifying, the mound presence is notable, and the way that Fernandez attacks hitters evokes the memories of those who are eternally enshrined in Cooperstown.
Fernandez simply feels like something different when he's on the mound. He feels like a pitcher with a limitless ceiling. One who can be as good as Clayton Kershaw and Felix Hernandez, even if the established statistical track record may not be there yet.
So when you look at the potential untapped ceiling and the endless GIFs of amazing pitches from Fernandez, it's hard to do anything but drool at the thought of Fernandez anchoring your team's rotation for the next decade. And now it seems like that might be within the realm of reason, as a report from Miami radio host Andy Slater suggests that Fernandez has asked the Miami Marlins multiple times to be traded, and the front office could be inclined to do so given the pitcher's attitude, despite Fernandez remaining under team control for another three years.
As Ken Rosenthal wrote, the Marlins trading the young ace would be crazy. But this is the Marlins, after all. This is the same team that thought naming their general manager as the interim on-field manager was a good idea. This is the same team that traded Miguel Cabrera to Detroit and, at the end of the day, got almost nothing out of it. The same team that signed the entire foundation to an MLB team in free agency and sent them all packing to Canada the year after. The Marlins have a track record for crazy.
But there are ways to justify the Marlins' willingness to deal Fernandez. Given the team's track record of not wanting to spend big money (the Giancarlo Stanton contract represents the exception, not the rule), Scott Boras' status as Fernandez's representation, and the potential cost of Fernandez in free agency, the Marlins could hope to get as much as they can in return for the pitcher before he leaves for nothing. The question now is what it will take to pry Fernandez away from Miami.
Several things need to be considered when trying to figure out the potential cost of what it would take to get Fernandez pitching on Opening Day for the Red Sox. The first is the contract, which is one of the biggest bargains in baseball; Fernandez remains under team control and is eligible for arbitration for the first time this offseason. The earliest Fernandez can test free-agency and the open market is after the 2018 season, so that's three years of team control at what will be below-market value.
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There's also the consideration that there are several options in free agency to fill in the void at the top of the rotation. Acquiring someone like David Price or Zack Greinke would only cost money (and a draft pick in Greinke's case) and keep the farm system intact should the team want to make a deal at the trade deadline. Any deal for Fernandez needs to involve the cost-benefit analysis of how much better/cheaper he is than what's on the open market versus the cost any team will give up in terms of prospects in order to acquire him. There are fallback options--or perhaps first choices, in this case--and that certainly plays a role in any decision on Fernandez.
And, of course, there's the fact that Fernandez is less than a year removed from Tommy John surgery. While a lot of pitchers have made their way back successfully after going under the knife, it's not a given that everyone comes back as their previous self, or at least in the athletic sense. I'm not here to make existential judgement on others. Stephen Strasburg is still a good pitcher, but he's certainly not the guy that everyone anticipated he would be (in that class of Kershaw, Hernandez) when he came up to the majors. Chad Billingsley never returned to form after returning from Tommy John surgery.And while Jose Fernandez already looked great in his return in 2015, he only got 64 innings to show what he could do. He's not entirely out of the woods yet.
So while it will probably take a lot to get Fernandez, it's certainly plausible that the final package could end up being less than anticipated because of the health concerns, the Marlins' reported interest in selling him, and the small chance that any potential trading partner can lock him up to a long-term contract with Boras looming over any potential situation. And there's also the fact that every team not named the Marlins will certainly inquire on the cost of trading for Fernandez.
Fortunately for the Red Sox, even after the Craig Kimbrel trade, Dave Dombrowski possesses one of the deepest farm systems in baseball. And while the Red Sox president of baseball operations said after the trade for Kimbrel that the team would pursue a top-of-the-rotation starter through free agency, this was before the reports of the Marlins' interest in trading Fernandez.
To start, the Red Sox will not and can not trade Xander Bogaerts and Mookie Betts in a deal for Fernandez. Dealing established major league talent does not help this team win moving forward, and given that both were among the best position players on the team last year and have a deep farm system, it makes zero sense. The Red Sox currently have two prospects who rank in the Top-20 in baseball in Yoan Moncada and Rafael Devers and another who, at 17 years old, does not trail that far behind in Anderson Espinoza. Andrew Benintendi has been receiving high praise from many around the game as well, and could be a player who makes an impact in 2017. And that's just the best of the bunch in the minors.
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Blake Swihart was one of the top prospects in the game during his rise, although given the uncertainty of Christian Vazquez's situation, it may be more prudent to keep their young catching duo intact. There's also Eduardo Rodriguez and Henry Owens. Rodriguez established himself as a pitcher who has the potential to make a sizable impact in the majors, while Owens is still trying to find his footing but flashed his potential on several occasions.
While a package centered on Moncada, Devers and Espinoza would certainly get a deal done, the cost of giving up three potential Top-20 prospects is too much given the alternatives available. Even the idea of trading Devers, one of Moncada/Espinoza and Benintendi feels as it would be way too much given the choices in free agency. Should the Red Sox present the trio as a "pick two" situation, that could mark the start of a foundation for the deal. A deal focused around Devers, one of Moncada/Devers and pitcher like Owens or Kopech (depending on what the Marlins want out of a pitching piece) feels like the start of what it would take to acquire a pitcher of Fernandez's caliber on the deal he's on. Though even that might be too much if the Red Sox don't feel they have a chance of extending the Boras client.
If that's not enough of a foundation for a deal, it would likely be prudent for the Red Sox to walk away from the table. Given the alternatives in Price and Greinke in free agency and the financial resources of John Henry to sign either pitcher, giving up any more for Fernandez hurts the future well-being of the Red Sox considerably more than any immediate boost the young ace of the Marlins could bring to Yawkey Way.