Christian Yelich cites Jose Fernandez's death as turning point for Marlins franchise

PHOENIX -- Christian Yelich leaves Miami with no hard feelings and one big regret.

Yelich, whose five-year tenure with the Marlins ended last month when he was traded to the Brewers, said his biggest disappointment is that Miami failed to make the playoffs or post a .500 record during his time with the franchise. He cites the September 2016 death of pitcher Jose Fernandez in a boating accident as the unfortunate turning point for the franchise.

"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," Yelich told ESPN. "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.

"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 went on a selling binge this offseason in conjunction with Jeffrey Loria's decision to sell the franchise. The new Derek Jeter-Bruce Sherman ownership group, intent on dumping salary in an effort to reduce the payroll from $115 million to $90 million, traded away Dee Gordon, Giancarlo Stanton, Marcell Ozuna and Yelich in the span of two months during the offseason.

Yelich, 26, committed to the Marlins organization long-term in March 2015 when he agreed to a seven-year, $49.5 million contract extension, four months after Stanton signed a record-setting $325 million deal with the team. Yelich won a Gold Glove Award in 2014 and a Silver Slugger Award two years later, and logged an .800 OPS in five seasons as a Marlin.

Yelich's frustration with Miami's roster teardown became evident in mid-January when his agent, Joe Longo, described his relationship with the Marlins as "irretrievably broken." A week later, the Marlins traded him to Milwaukee for outfielder Lewis Brinson and three minor leaguers.

Jeter, the longtime face of the Yankees and a future Hall of Famer, has come under criticism for numerous decisions since taking over in Miami. But Yelich said he bears no ill will toward Jeter or the Marlins over the way his situation was handled.

"I think it's something that probably had to happen," Yelich said. "The name of the game is to win, and we just didn't get it done as a group there. Derek was my favorite player growing up. I had a lot of respect for him, and I still have a lot of respect for him.

"I don't know how long it's going to take, but I think people need to let things play out down there and give it a chance. People are going to say, 'How come you didn't give it a chance?' That stuff takes time, and I didn't know if it was going to get done in the amount of time I had left there. But I think it's going to get better there. The fan base has been through a lot the past few years, but I truly believe this ownership group will do things different."

Marlins pitcher Dan Straily caused a stir last week when he said he agrees with the Marlins' rebuild and did not lament the departures of Stanton and Yelich in trades.

"Glad they're gone," Straily told reporters in Miami. "If they don't want to be here, then good for them. They can continue their career elsewhere."

Yelich, who still keeps in touch with several former Marlins teammates, declined to fire back at Straily.

"I have a lot of really good friends on that team that I still talk to multiple times a week," he said. "I still talk to [Justin] Bour and [J.T.] Realmuto and [Martin] Prado and [Miguel] Rojas. We're still really close that way. Dan doesn't feel the same, but it is what it is. What are you going to do?"

Despite the abrupt ending to his time in Miami, Yelich said he will always have a soft spot for the city and the Marlins organization.

"I'm really thankful for the opportunity the Marlins gave me," he said. "They drafted me in 2010 and gave me a chance to play in the big leagues. I made lifelong friends there, and I've got a lot of great memories. We went through a lot as a team there. We experienced a lot of things. We went through a tragedy together, and those memories never really leave you. It's a part of my career and a part of my life. Miami will always be special to me."