The Miami Marlins took a step forward in 2016, and it appeared as though the franchise was heading in the right direction. Then, tragedy struck in the final week of the season, leaving their future in question.
At the trade deadline, the Miami Marlins were solidly in the playoff hunt. Only four games out of first in the National League East, the Marlins made moves to fortify their pitching staff, acquiring Andrew Cashner, Fernando Rodney and Colin Rea.
That move did not work out. Both Cashner and Rodney struggled in Miami, while Rea was sent back to San Diego after being injured after one start. The Marlins fell back in the pack, and while they remained on the periphery of the Wild Card until the final two weeks of the season, they were unable to mount a serious threat for postseason contention.
However, those struggles took a back seat in the final week of the season. Jose Fernandez, their star pitcher and a player with deep roots in Miami, tragically lost his life in a boating accident. The tributes are still pouring in for the late pitcher, whose loss has left a giant hole in the Marlins pitching staff.
Heading into the final week of the season, the Marlins appeared to be in a good spot heading into next year. Now, they have more questions than answers. Their best laid plans have fallen by the wayside. Will this be the high water mark for the Marlins this decade, or will they rally and find themselves back in contention in 2017?
Before we can answer that question, let us take a look back at the 2016 campaign for the Miami Marlins.
In 2015, Marcell Ozuna was playing in AAA and on the trade block, a player who had gone from a potential star to someone who was firmly in the Marlins doghouse. While the price tag was still rather high, if another team wanted Ozuna, he was eminently available.
Fortunately for Miami, he remained in town. Ozuna responded with a solid campaign, producing a .266/.321/.452 batting line, tying his career high with 23 homers. Even more importantly, Ozuna improved his batting eye, drawing a career best 43 walks while striking out in only 20.6% of his at bats. A further breakout seems likely.
Another breakout happened in an uexpected way. After the Miami Marlins lost Dee Gordon due to a PED suspension, Derek Dietrich was forced into the lineup every day. He responded by proving that he can be a regular in the lineup, hitting at a .279/.374/.425 clip. Although he will not hit for much power, his 20 doubles and uncanny ability to get on base due to being hit by a pitch could make him an attractive trade chip.
There were positives on the pitching side as well. A.J. Ramos followed up on his stellar 2015 campaign with a solid year last season. While he struggled with his command at times, Ramos posted 40 saves, made his first All Star Game, and posted a 2.81 ERA while striking out 73 batters in 64 innings. His 2.90 FIP was the lowest of his career thus far, showing that he is continuing to trend in the right direction.
Perhaps the most impressive performance on the pitching side came from rookie Kyle Barraclough. Even though his command may have been off at times, his incredible strikeout rate and ability to generate ground balls could lead to his being a force in the bullpen in the coming years. Paired with Ramos, Barraclough could give Miami quite the tandem for the final two innings for some time.
And now, let us take a look at what went wrong in this past season.
The Miami Marlins surprising season took a turn for the worse after their ill fated trade with the San Diego Padres. While Colin Rea pitched well in his only appearance with the club, he lasted only 3.1 innings before his season ended with a partially torn UCL. He was then sent back to San Diego, with Luis Castillo returning to the fold.
As it turned out, the Marlins should have tried to have the entire trade reversed. Andrew Cashner, who was supposed to solidify the rotation, struggled in Miami. He posted a 1-4 record with a 5.98 ERA and a 1.747 WHiP in his 12 appearances. Fernando Rodney, meanwhile, was even worse. He had a 5.89 ERA with a 1.8000 WHiP, walking over six batters per nine innings and serving up home run after home run as he lost all sense of the strike zone.
While those best laid plans imploded, that was not even close to the biggest loss in Miami. Jose Fernandez, their star pitcher and a player whose love of life and warm personality made an impact upon everyone he met, died tragically in a boating accident. A beloved figure in Miami, and throughout the game, Fernandez was the type of player that cannot be replaced.
Reminders of the fallen star will be around the team, as his number 16 was retired and the Marlins are committed to preserving his memory. Yet, his talent will not be easy to replace on the mound. The Marlins find themselves without an ace, and without the resources to go out and land that front of the rotation starter. Unless, of course, Loria wants to open the vaults.
This will lead to quite the interesting offseason in Miami.
First, the Marlins need to figure out if the improvements made by Marcell Ozuna, J.T. Realmuto, and Derek Dietrich are sustainable. Then, they need to figure out what went wrong with Giancarlo Stanton this season. The lineup could be quite potent, but it is a matter of having all the pieces firing together.
Then, the Marlins need to figure out a way to shore up their rotation. While they knew that Cashner was a rental, there are two holes to fill at the front of their pitching staff. Add in the struggles at the back end of the rotation, and Wei-Yin Chen may be the only pitcher from this year to begin the season in the Marlins rotation in 2017.
For a team that was on the edge of the playoffs for most of the year, the Marlins will have quite a few holes to fill. That does not even factor in the loss of Fernandez, who was, in many ways, the heart and soul of the franchise. His leadership will be missed just as much as his ability to front the rotation, and will also be difficult to replace.
The Miami Marlins appeared to be on the upswing after a mostly positive 2016 campaign. Now, they may find themselves heading back to the bottom as they attempt to overcome losses both on and off the field.