For a guy who plays hardball for a living, Marlins pitcher Jose Fernandez was thrown a softball question on Saturday … and he didn’t swing.
Given the Marlins’ inactivity so far this offseason, Fernandez was asked if he thought his team could compete.
Here was his rather startling reply: “I can’t comment on that.”
Perhaps Fernandez didn’t comment because he could not mask his disappointment.
While National League teams such as the Cubs, Diamondbacks, Giants and Mets have added players so far this offseason, the Marlins have done virtually nothing to improve their roster.
(New manager Don Mattingly and new hitting coach Barry Bonds, great hitters in their time, don’t count when discussing roster improvement.)
Perhaps most upsetting to Fernandez — although he might not admit it publicly — were the reports swirling around the team that he was being discussed in trade talks.
Did the rumors bother him?
“Not at all,” Fernandez said as he held court at the AARP Jose Fernandez Parent & Child Baseball Pro Camp at Miami’s Hank Kline Boys & Girls Club. “I didn’t pay attention to it. I’ve got to get ready to pitch. That’s the only thing I can control.”
Maybe the business side of baseball is getting to Fernandez.
The fun-loving, highly quotable version of Fernandez who broke into the majors at age 20, winning the NL Rookie of the Year award, has been replaced — at least publicly — by a 23-year-old veteran pitcher who measures his words carefully.
Fernandez, whose agent is Scott Boras, was then asked if he wanted to stay in Miami.
“I’ve got no comment on that,” said Fernandez, who is set to become a free agent in 2019 and has reportedly rejected offers from the Marlins to sign a long-term extension. “I’m not allowed to comment on it.”
Boras’ clients have a lengthy track record of preferring to let their contracts expire so they can become free agents and entertain offers from any team that has interest.
The Marlins, who had the majors’ third-lowest payroll in 2015 at $62.3 million as per Spotrac, have said they are not shopping Fernandez. But given the likelihood that they will lose him in a couple of years, they at least are listening to offers.
Trade talks aside, Fernandez was a bit more verbose on the hirings of Bonds and Mattingly.
“It’s incredible,” Fernandez said of the Bonds hire.
“It’s an honor. I want to ask him how to get batters out. I think it will be a beautiful experience for the team.”
Fernandez has spoken to Mattingly a few times over the phone and is excited to meet him in person.
“I like it,” Fernandez said. “I think (Mattingly) is going to be great for us.”
Fernandez, who missed most of the 2014 season after having Tommy John elbow surgery, came back on July 2 and finished 6-1 with a 2.92 ERA.
In three seasons in the majors, he has pitched 171 2/3 innings in 2013, 51 2/3 innings (2014) and 64 2/3 innings.
How much he will pitch in 2016 is in question, especially given that this will be his first full season after arm surgery.
In addition, there was a significant controversy last season regarding another Boras client, Matt Harvey of the Mets, as to how many innings he should throw as he came back from the same injury.
“I would lie to you if I would tell you something exactly, and I don’t want to do that,” Fernandez said when asked about any possible innings limits. “I’m pretty sure I’m going to go every five days. (But) I’ve still got to talk to the doctor.”