Christian Yelich said the September 2016 death of ace starting pitcher Jose Fernandez served as an unexpected turning point for the Miami Marlins organization, leading to the offseason overhaul that included his trade to the Milwaukee Brewers last month.
On Tuesday, Jerry Crasnick of ESPN.com passed along comments from Yelich, who said the Marlins felt they were in a position to contend for a World Series title until Fernandez died in a boating accident:
"From talking to the guys there—the guys who got traded and some of the guys who are still there—the consensus from our clubhouse is that everything changed after the tragedy with Jose. I think everybody figured our window to win was with him. You have a bona fide ace, a No. 1 starter, and you kind of have something there with that. It's nobody's fault what happened. It's a tragedy in every sense of the word. Nobody could have seen that coming."
Ray Sanchez of CNN noted last March the final report from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission determined Fernandez was intoxicated and speeding while piloting a boat that crashed into a jetty near Miami Beach, Florida, killing himself and two passengers.
The Cuba native, who was 24 at the time of his death, emerged one of the best pitchers in baseball. He posted a 2.58 ERA and 1.05 WHIP with 589 strikeouts in 471.1 innings across 76 starts for the Marlins.
He was the rotation cornerstone for a budding roster that also featured a lineup with Yelich, Giancarlo Stanton, Marcell Ozuna and Dee Gordon.
None of those players remain with the team following a massive winter shake-up.
Yelich told Crasnick they felt the players were in place to make a serious surge into the championship conversation, but it didn't happen without Fernandez, and the franchise decided it was time for a change:
"We went through that rebuild, and we were so close. We had all the pieces. If a few things break differently, you never know how things turn out. I think a lot of the guys feel that way. We were really close and had a chance to do something special with that group. We just weren't able to get it done. And when you don't get it done in this business, teams have to move on. That's what happened with us."
The Marlins mostly received prospects in return to jump-start a new rebuilding effort.