MIAMI -- This was by far the saddest season in Marlins history.
The shocking death of two-time All-Star pitcher Jose Fernandez at age 24 will take the franchise -- and indeed the city of Miami -- years before they can recover.
Fernandez was not only his team's best player, he was also the Marlins' most radiant star, the type of personality that drew fans to him and to the franchise.
"I'm still waiting to wake up from this nightmare," Marlins right fielder Giancarlo Stanton tweeted in the hours after Fernandez was found dead on Sept. 25 after a boating crash. "I lost my brother today, and I can't comprehend it -- the shock is overwhelming."
Going forward into 2017 without Fernandez as their ace pitcher seems incomprehensible at the moment, but Stanton is the player best equipped to lead Miami into the future.
Stanton lacks Fernandez's charisma, charm and magnetism. But Stanton is a young star with massive home run power. He won the 2016 Home Run Hitting Contest, and he figures to be front and center when the Marlins host the 2017 All-Star Game.
Miami's offense does not need major tinkering but rather better health and the promise of young players continuing to mature.
The problem is Miami's starting pitching. For argument's sake, if everyone were healthy, the Marlins have no one who could come close to matching the Big Three pitchers of the Chicago Cubs ... or the Washington Nationals ... or the New York Mets ... or just about any NL contender you can name.
That's a major problem.
And the problem grows greater upon analysis of the Marlins' farm system. There's no depth in comparison to other top farm systems, and the few players the Marlins may "hit" on appear to be at least one year away.
The Marlins are expected to sign at least two starters to help bridge the gap between now and a future when the farm system starts to contribute some viable pitching options.
But here are more issues for the Marlins: Owner Jeffrey Loria doesn't have a great reputation for spending the types of funds it takes to build a winner, and secondly, there is very little in the way of quality starters available in free agency this winter.
Some possible options for Miami include Edison Volquez (Royals); Jeremy Hellickson (Phillies); James Shields (White Sox); Scott Kazmir (Dodgers); Rich Hill (Dodgers); Doug Fister (Astros); and R.A. Dickey (Blue Jays).
"We need to improve our depth," Marlins GM Michael Hill told the media before the Fernandez tragedy. "We had a lot of good things happen in the first four-plus months."