Why the Diamondbacks need to trade for Jose Fernandez

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·MLB columnist
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Baseball in 2015 is full of homogeneity that breeds an ecosystem of people who look the same and think the same and sound the same. And that's what makes Dave Stewart so scary to so many. He is a player running a team at a time when 28 other general managers never logged a day of major league service, an outspoken voice when others are loath to utter a peep about their team's goings-on, a carpe-diem type among those living not for tomorrow but years down the road.

In an environment that deifies the tenet of process over outcome, Stewart shapes a process unlike any other – damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead – because he believes it will lead the Arizona Diamondbacks to their desired outcome: a World Series. It's novel and kind of charming, and a rejoinder against most of his peers.

Jose Fernandez returned from Tommy John surgery last season. (AP)
Jose Fernandez returned from Tommy John surgery last season. (AP)

And yet as the Winter Meetings wound down here Wednesday night and the Diamondbacks prepared to return home, something felt a little off – and it wasn't the consensus opinion that the Atlanta Braves pillaged them a day earlier in the deal that sent starter Shelby Miller to Arizona for Dansby Swanson, the No. 1 overall pick in June's draft, along with pitching prospect Aaron Blair and outfielder Ender Inciarte. It was that Stewart needed to embrace his philosophy even more. If you are going to make deals like the Miller trade – if you're essentially going to give up a significant haul in future assets to win today – then you might as well go buck wild, which, in this instance, means trading for Miami Marlins starter Jose Fernandez.

This is not far-fetched. On the contrary, it's eminently possible, and considering the teams spoke about a deal for Fernandez before the Miller trade, it's safe to say each club understands the desires of the other. Much as the Marlins aren't compelled to move the 23-year-old Fernandez, they understand the opportunity that presents itself with the Diamondbacks.

When Arizona signed starter Zack Greinke to a six-year, $206.5 million contract and dealt for Miller, that was Stewart's indication the team had opened itself a three-year window in which it expected to compete. Miller and young starter Patrick Corbin are free agents after the 2018 season. Star first baseman Paul Goldschmidt can become a free agent following 2019. A poor season is a wasted opportunity with a ticking clock.

This isn't to rationalize Stewart's moves; it's to say that if this is his endgame – and with such matters, ambiguity isn't exactly his forte – then halfway isn't nearly far enough. If you want to act like the world ends in 2018 or 2019, do it proper.

By offloading Swanson and Blair, Stewart essentially said he values prospects far less than the rest of the industry and dared not apologize for it. "In the short term," he said, "it makes our major league team better. It gives us an opportunity to win today."

Stewart lives in the today, the heavy rush of the moment – as well as the imperative from his bosses – outweighing what a kid might become. It's why Fernandez makes so much sense. Greinke and Fernandez immediately would become the game's best duo – one reminiscent of the Curt Schilling-and-Randy Johnson-led World Series-winning team in 2001 that Arizona still reveres. And if it costs prospects, well, Stewart ripped open that Pandora's box like it was a present Christmas morning.

Arizona GM Dave Stewart (Getty Images)
Arizona GM Dave Stewart (Getty Images)

The Diamondbacks would have enough trade value to consummate the deal, so long as they include Corbin as a linchpin. Counterintuitive though this seems, it … no, actually, there isn't terribly great rationale at all to include Corbin, other than Stewart's proclamation that "it's time to try to take it to the next level." Fernandez, like Greinke, represents that model future even if Corbin, himself a Tommy John surgery survivor, pitched well in his first season back.

Surround Corbin with a cache of young starters – Braden Shipley and Archie Bradley to begin with, along with a couple everyday players – and you've got the sort of 5- or 6-for-1 return that would force the Marlins into thinking long and hard about coming up with reasons to turn down such a coup.

Cold feet would creep up, as they often do in deals of such magnitude, but for the Marlins – a team with a young core and a barren farm system – it's a no-brainer. And if the Diamondbacks are going to embolden Stewart running his team with such little import placed on minor league players, do another Godfather-type deal and go win the National League West.

Going Greinke-Fernandez-Miller with the NL's second-highest-run-scoring lineup from 2015 and a deep-enough bullpen sounds a lot like a playoff team, and that's where Arizona wants to find itself. To get there, Stewart embraced the moral hazard shown in the Miller deal, and he gives less than a hundredth of a damn about those who judge him for it.

It's how he can give up the Diamondbacks' 2014 first-round draft choice, Touki Toussaint, for what amounted to a salary dump just months after he spent $68.5 million on Cuban outfielder Yasmany Tomas. And it's how he can convince his bosses the third-lowest-spending team in 2015 needed to sign the biggest contract in the history of the sport for a pitcher with Greinke's deal. Neither necessarily reflected best on Stewart.

The decisions remain his nevertheless, and Stewart molds the Diamondbacks in his image. He's a player and a voice, and unrepentant for being either, because he believes his outcome is on its way sooner than later. Jose Fernandez is sitting there waiting to be had. The NL West is sitting there waiting to be had. Opportunity – the thing for which Stewart is positioning himself – is sitting there waiting to be had.

The Diamondbacks may be a better team by breaking up all the individual pieces that would be in a hypothetical Fernandez deal and trading them. Packaging them for one star, though – who's under contract for the entirety of the three-year window and has been incredible when healthy – is the path of least resistance, down which Stewart has traveled more than once, and would be perhaps the surest thing if not for the Tommy John scar already on Fernandez's elbow.

Trades come with risk. Stewart gets that as well as anyone, and if he gives the Marlins a call and tries to resurrect some form of the deal they had for Fernandez, something could well come together. Living for today means living for October, and never will Dave Stewart apologize for that, not when his outcome feels closer than ever.

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