So many things went right for the Marlins in 2016 before everything…the most important thing…went terribly, horribly wrong. The death of Jose Fernandez was a tragedy that casts a shadow not just the club’s surprising performance in 2016, but future seasons as well. And, if we’re looking beyond the awful human toll of losing Fernandez, it calls into question whether the Marlins will be able to compete without their ace at the front of their rotation.
When it was over:
It is too trite to say that the Marlins’ season ended when Jose Fernandez was killed on September 25. While the wind did seem to go out of the club’s sails after their cathartic and inspirational victory over the Mets on the 26th, the truth is that that win left the Marlins four games out of the Wild Card with five games to play.
No, the real end of the Marlins’ chances came at the end of an abysmal August, as the club lost 10 of 11 games to drop three games below .500. The primary culprit was simply a lack of offense. Giancarlo Stanton had succumbed to a groin injury on August 13 and had been out for the rest of the month. With their primary power source on the sidelines, the Marlins eventually stopped hitting. From August 27 until September 6, the Marlins hit just .224 as a team and scored just 30 runs. By the end, when Stanton made a rather miraculous return, they were six games out of the wild card chase and behind three other clubs for that last spot. They would never pull closer than four games out the rest of the way.
What went well:
Christian Yelich added power to his game and became a legitimate star. When you factor in his impeccable defense, he may be the best left fielder in baseball. Marcell Ozuna had a monster first half, before falling off down the stretch. J.T. Realmuto evolved into a plus hitter behind the plate and, by default, became one of the best catchers in the game. Derek Dietrich and Justin Bour both excelled in part-time roles. And Ichiro had a strong season at age 42, and collected his 3,000th hit.
On the pitching side, Adam Conley showed some growth, and the Marlins managed to put together a pretty fantastic bullpen. Jose Fernandez established himself as the best righty in the National League before his death.
A second opinion:
“The Miami Marlins were in playoff contention for most of the season. For a team known for its lower payroll and lack of attendance, that is an impressive sentence. Though things didn't go as planned, with the Marlins plagued by injuries both early and late, the core and Manager Don Mattingly kept them together. Giancarlo Stanton, Marcell Ozuna and Christian Yelich helped Martin Prado anchor the lineup, Jose Fernandez and Adam Conley had solid seasons and the bullpen was, for the most part, consistent. At one point this season, the Marlins held one of two National League Wild Card spots. However, the injuries and inconsistencies were too much to overcome. Obviously, everyone will (rightfully) remember the Fernandez situation at the end of the season. He was slowly becoming the face of Miami sports. But as the Marlins prepare for the offseason, they are three of four pieces--including an ace--away from challenging the Nationals for the NL East title in 2017.”
What’s in the future:
The loss of Fernandez throws so much into disarray for Miami. He was a player you could build a rotation around and the effects of his loss are devastating. The Marlins have no minor league system to speak of. There isn’t anyone poised to take on his role within the organization, and no one is available outside of it. And so, the club will have to club their way to success next year. That’s a tall order with so much of their miniscule payroll being spent on Dee Gordon and Wei-Yin Chen, and no clear upgrades for any position. Essentially, the Marlins have to hope that some better health from Stanton and some luck is enough to get them to the next level. But, even then, it’s unlikely.