Are the Marlins doomed without Jose Fernandez?

Denis Poroy

Now that Jose Fernandez is headed to the DL with an ominous elbow injury, are the Marlins doomed to mediocrity like we all expected?

It was a day we all feared might come, but that doesn't make Jose Fernandez's need for elbow surgery any easier to swallow for either the Marlins or us baseball fans.

The Cuban right-hander, who at the age of 21 has become one of MLB's best pitchers, had an MRI in Los Angeles on Monday that revealed a strain in his throwing elbow. The injury is believed to be serious enough that Fernandez will undergo season-ending elbow surgery, according to a report from Juan C. Rodriguez of the Sun Sentinel that was later confirmed by ESPN.

That Fernandez is set to be the latest MLB pitcher to go under the knife is an ominous development for a Miami team that has been one of baseball's biggest surprises so far in 2014.

Sure, with their subpar expectations and lack of experience, the Marlins might not be built to last in the NL East anyhow. Yet consider that Miami holds the division's best run differential at +15 and has had one of the NL's most potent offenses behind strong hitting from veterans Giancarlo Stanton and Jarrod Saltalamacchia and youngsters Christian Yelich and Marcell Ozuna.

Fernandez, meanwhile, was the unquestioned ace of a young staff that, much like the Marlins themselves, has been exceeding expectations this season. With the Nationals struggling through a bevy of injuries and the Braves unable to break away from the rest of NL East just yet, Miami looked a decent bet to hang around well into the summer.

Now the Marlins' outlook is far less rosy, as their young rotation will have to carry the load without the staff's leader, something they will be hard-pressed to manage even if the likes of Nathan Eovaldi and Henderson Alvarez have impressed up until now.

Alvarez is a solid, dependable option, but is more of a mid-rotation starter than a pitcher who can carry his team into playoff contention. Meanwhile, the Marlins have to expect regression from Tom Koehler, whose lack of a prospect track record or prior major league success makes his 1.99 ERA unlikely to hold up. The same can be said for Eovaldi's 2.86 ERA, although he has shown the type of stuff and ability that could make him a formidable pair with Fernandez at the top of Miami's rotation in the years ahead.

The biggest problem, however, is that none of these pitchers are Fernandez, and even if they continue pitching well, the Marlins have no way of replacing their young ace's production. The club's best prospect, left-hander Andrew Heaney, is quite polished for a 22-year-old arm and should come up to provide Miami with some rotation help later this summer. Expecting Heaney, who still hasn't pitched above Double-A, or anyone else to replace Fernandez is unrealistic, of course.

As such, Fernandez's injury, especially if it is long term, leaves Miami in an uncertain place. The Marlins will surely have a harder time capitalizing on the goodwill from their surprise start, and their outlook for 2015, when Fernandez could still be rehabbing, has only grown more muddled. The trade winds are already starting to swirl around Giancarlo Stanton, and that's with the team in relative contention. No Fernandez or Stanton is a grim thought, even if Miami's young talent is starting to show results at the major league level.

Most of all, Fernandez's injury is a reminder that the Marlins' efforts to rebuild after stripping the roster bare last winter are not guaranteed to succeed. Despite being easy to criticize, they have done a good job of adding young talent to the big league roster and have more hyped prospects on the way. Whether that talent leads to major league success (even after Miami has earned two World Series titles through similar rebuilds) is far more uncertain.

The potential for injury, for stalled development and unexpected setbacks are always there. The Marlins, despite being famed for prospect development, are as vulnerable to this harsh reality as anyone else. With Fernandez now out for the unforeseeable future, that fact has only grown more apparent.

More from SBNation.com

X
Log In Sign Up

forgot?
Log In Sign Up

Please choose a new SB Nation username and password

As part of the new SB Nation launch, prior users will need to choose a permanent username, along with a new password.

Your username will be used to login to SB Nation going forward.

I already have a Vox Media account!

Verify Vox Media account

Please login to your Vox Media account. This account will be linked to your previously existing Eater account.

Please choose a new SB Nation username and password

As part of the new SB Nation launch, prior MT authors will need to choose a new username and password.

Your username will be used to login to SB Nation going forward.

Forgot password?

We'll email you a reset link.

If you signed up using a 3rd party account like Facebook or Twitter, please login with it instead.

Forgot password?

Try another email?

Almost done,

By becoming a registered user, you are also agreeing to our Terms and confirming that you have read our Privacy Policy.

Join SBNation.com

You must be a member of SBNation.com to participate.

We have our own Community Guidelines at SBNation.com. You should read them.

Join SBNation.com

You must be a member of SBNation.com to participate.

We have our own Community Guidelines at SBNation.com. You should read them.

Spinner.vc97ec6e

Authenticating

Great!

Choose an available username to complete sign up.

In order to provide our users with a better overall experience, we ask for more information from Facebook when using it to login so that we can learn more about our audience and provide you with the best possible experience. We do not store specific user data and the sharing of it is not required to login with Facebook.