Marlins need healthy Jose Fernandez to be legit

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Jose Fernandez
Jose Fernandez is excited about getting back on the mound for the Miami Marlins. (Robert Duyos/Sun Sentinel)

The whereabouts of Jose Fernandez, the Cuban second baseman, are still a mystery. He could be in Mexico or in jail, awaiting Raul Castro’s blessing. That’s not the case for the more famous Jose Fernandez, who has experienced all that and more. The ace pitcher for the Miami Marlins is under constant observation in South Florida during his important rehab period. As we all know, Jose Fernandez had Tommy John surgery on his valuable right elbow last May, and is already two months into a throwing program. The results are almost too good to be true.

“Feels like I never had surgery,” reports Fernandez in his usual upbeat mood. “The ball is coming out of my hand incredible.”

That’s great news for the Marlins, one of many teams that have been extremely busy this winter. After signing Giancarlo Stanton to a record-breaking $325 million package, General Manager Dan Jennings acquired Dee Gordon and Mat Latos through trades, and signed free agent slugger Michael Morse. Then in a bold move, flame-throwing Nathan Eovaldi was sent to the New York Yankees in exchange for veteran Martin Prado. The Venezuelan is well known as a leader and is considered an upgrade at third base for a departing Casey McGehee.

The Marlins are making a strong bid to improve, and I like the fact the club still retains some of its Latino identity. That’s important for a group that plays home games near Little Havana. In addition to Prado, Mike Redmond’s team will rely heavily on shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria, outfielder Marcell Ozuna and starting pitcher Henderson Alvarez. And owner Jeffrey Loria has given Jennings the go ahead to draw up long-term deals for the trio. Other possible rotation guys are Brazilian Andre Rienzo and Kendry Flores, whose services were obtained via trades with the Chicago White Sox and San Francisco Giants respectively. Also inked to a minor league deal is Colombian catcher Jhonatan Solano, who could join his younger brother in a part-time role. I guess that’s what Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria means about his organization being a “family.”

While Miami’s “jardin” is above average with Stanton, Ozuna and Rawlings Gold Glove winner Christian Yelich, the team could use a bonafide center fielder and some extra depth. That’s where pitcher Dan Haren and the San Diego Padres could be linked. Haren, dealt to the Marlins in the Gordon trade with the Los Angeles Dodgers, wants to remain in Southern California with his wife and kids, or otherwise retire. The Padres have a surplus of outfielders, and rumors are brewing that San Diego’s celebrity GM A.J. Preller might be willing to part with Will Venable or Cameron Maybin. Another possibility, at least from the Marlins point of view, would be to send Haren back to the west coast for Rymer Liriano and Alex Torres. That scenario would land the Marlins a budding prospect in Liriano as well as Torres, a badly needed southpaw reliever. And the kicker would be a lot less money on the books.

I really like the Miami Marlins as a perennial playoff contender for years to come. The key, of course, is a healthy Jose Fernandez. Loria knows this and for his part, has offered the charismatic youngster a six year, $40 million extension package. But the more pressing issue is when will Fernandez return to fill up Marlins Park? Will there be any setbacks in the recovery process? What’s his ETA in a live game? Late June or early July?

“Could be later, maybe before,” Jose teases.

Believe me, the Marlins can’t wait.

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