Trade rumors can come and go with a grain of salt, but one rumored deal from five years ago involving the Los Angeles Dodgers and Jose Fernandez could have had some significant repercussions on the current team.
As we’ve regularly discussed here, Andrew Friedman has done as much as he can to build the Dodgers from within. As such, he’s been unwilling to part with some of the team’s top prospects since nearly day one on the job. Whether it be in completed trades or swaps that fizzled out to mere rumors, Freidman has managed to improve the team by adding pieces where needed and not have to sacrifice the build around his young core of players.
One such rumor that never came to fruition could have had major ramifications on the Dodgers as we know them today.
In the winter of 2015, the Los Angeles Dodgers were coming off of their third-straight division title and felt like they were on the cusp of the World Series. As such, the team was regularly being bandied about on the Hot Stove and were seemingly connected to any trade rumors involving star players. As is typical, most of those rumors revolve around pitching. And the most talked-about pitcher on the trade market that winter was Jose Fernandez of the Florida Marlins.
Fernandez was an interesting proposition for any team. The right-hander had won the National League Rookie of the Year award in 2013, putting together a campaign that saw him go 12-6 with a 2.19 ERA, a 2.73 FIP, a 9.75 K/9 and accounted for a 4.2 fWAR. Not too bad for a 20-year-old. However, he had lost most of the 2014 and 2015 seasons to Tommy John surgery. After going 6-1 with a 2.92 ERA and an 11.0 K/9 upon his return in 2015, many went into the winter wondering if the Marlins would be willing to trade their budding ace.
Of course, Miami was willing to listen to suitors. With Fernandez having three more years of affordable team control ahead of him, they obviously set the bar high on any return they would receive for the now 22-year-old righty. So when rumors started connecting Fernandez to the Dodgers, it was no surprise that the two would pair up well on paper if Los Angeles was willing to part with a bevy of talent.
The most prevalent of the rumors between the two teams revolved around the trio of Joc Pederson, Corey Seager, and Julio Urias fronting a package that would also include at least two other prospects. While Urias and Seager had yet to make their debuts with the Dodgers, both were widely regarded among the top prospects in the game (#10 and #7 respectively according to Baseball Prospectus). Meanwhile, Pederson had just finished 6th in the NL Rookie of the Year balloting, thanks to a .210/.346/.417 batting line with 26 home runs and 54 RBI.
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While not unheard of for teams to aim high when trading controllable, talented players, that deal proved a little too rich for the Dodgers and the rumors never came to fruition. Instead, Seager and Urias made their Dodgers debuts in 2016, with the former winning the Rookie of the Year award. All three are currently slated to be fixtures in the Dodgers lineup in 2020.
Meanwhile, Fernandez was never dealt by the Marlins during the 2015-2016 winter and instead returned to Miami. He would make 29 starts on the season, going 16-8 with a 2.86 ERA, a 2.30 FIP, and led the league with a 12.5 K/9 mark.
While his performance on the mound was one of just a few bright spots on a Marlins team that finished three games below .500, Fernandez would die in a tragic boating accident on September 25, 2016 off the coast of Miami Beach. He was just 24-years-old at the time of his death.
Losing such a talented pitcher so early make Fernandez’s career one of the biggest “what-if” scenarios in baseball history. Considering the rumors of a potential trade to Los Angeles and the questions about what may have come, both from pitching with a division-winner or even putting him into a different environment, creates a whole other scenario in which will never know the answer.
Without a doubt, the Dodgers, as we know them, would have a different look in 2020 if that trade went through.