No franchise has so shamefully exposed the heartless, profit-seeking nature of modern baseball more than the Florida Marlins. While many thought that syndicate baseball had been left behind somewhere in the early 20th century, the Marlins have proven that theory wrong. Now the Marlins are in the truly Machiavellian process of blackmailing the state of Florida for more money, threatening to pull up stakes and leave if they don't get it. Rumors that the team has been taken over by Major League owner Rachel Phelps are thus far unsubstantiated.
But the Marlins began, as the Rockies did, with a general sense of optimism. Major league baseball had never come to Florida, although many teams had threatened to for a number of years. The nominal destination for discontented teams was the Tampa-St. Petersburg area, a market that had come within inches of getting both the Giants and White Sox and had gotten serious nibbles from other franchises.
It was thus a bit of a shock when the MLB's first Florida franchise was located in Miami. Not only was the Miami weather much more unpredictable, but the Tampa-St. Pete citizens had been given vague promises of a baseball team for years. What tilted the balance toward Miami was Wayne Huizenga. Huizenga was the owner of the Blockbuster Video company and a part-owner of the NFL Dolphins. What Huizenga had that others did not was money. Huizenga bought a half-share of the Dolphins' Joe Robbie Stadium and began an intense P.R. campaign to bring baseball to south Florida. It didn't hurt that Huizenga offered to pay his $95 million league entry fee in cash. The final blow to the Tampa Bay area fans was the choice to call the new team the Florida Marlins, implying that the team represented the entire Florida market.
There was a bit of a murmur surrounding Huizenga's selection of team executives. Carl Barger was named team president and drew criticism when he continued to hold down his job as president of the Pirates. Even worse was the hiring of Dave Dombrowski as General Manager. To take over the position, Dombrowski left the General Manager's job in Montreal and, in the process, poached almost all of the Montreal front office, bringing them to Florida with him. The raids on Montreal executives didn't stop until NL President Bill White intervened.
Compared to their expansion-mates in Colorado, the Marlins had a very poor showing in the expansion draft. Their first pick (2nd overall) was Nigel Wilson, an outfielder in the Toronto system who turned out to be a major-league bust. Their 2nd pick was a Mets pitching prospect named Jose Martinez. Martinez never pitched a game for Florida, but he was a part of the trade that brought Gary Sheffield to Florida in July of 1993.
Their 3rd pick, Bret Barberie, was a Montreal second baseman who never lived up to the hype. They finally scored a winner with their 4th pick, taking reliever Trevor Hoffman from Cincinnati. But unfortunately, Hoffman only pitched 28 games as a Marlin before going to San Diego as part of the Sheffield deal.
With their 5th pick, they finally took a player who would be at least semi-useful to the team for a good length of time. It was starting pitcher Pat Rapp, taken from the Giants. Rapp spent 4+ years in Florida, usually pitching well and offering strength to what was rarely a respectable starting rotation.
The early draft picks the Marlins made look pretty disastrous in retrospect. They got speedy outfielder Chuck Carr, but quickly found out that speed was the only thing worthwhile about him. It looked like a steal when they nabbed Angels closer Bryan Harvey, but unfortunately Harvey only had one good season left before injuries prematurely ended his career.
It's actually in the middle rounds of the draft that the Marlins got their go-to players. The Marlins and Rockies took 21 other players before Florida finally selected Jeff Conine, an oversight that's tough to fathom even without hindsight, as Conine would become a stable producer for the team for years. The Marlins' 13th pick was a young Yankee hitter named Carl Everett. But after a couple disappointing years in Florida, the Marlins traded him to the Mets for Quilvio Veras.
Other name players taken in the draft include: reliable relief arm David Weathers (Toronto), useful starters Cris Carpenter (St. Louis) and Jack Armstrong (Cleveland). The Marlins took the veteran Danny Jackson (Pittsburgh) very late in the draft, then turned right around and traded him to the Phillies for two no-names. (Jackson would serve an important role as a starter on the 1993 NL Champion Philadelphia team.)
A much more useful trade the Marlins completed was with the Oakland A's, getting Walt Weiss in exchange for Eric Helfand and Scott Baker (?). Weiss would prove one of the more reliable Marlins in their early years, whereas the other two players only managed 54 career games in the majors.
Not really satisfied with their take in the amateur draft (especially compared with the success of the Rockies), the Marlins decided to budget some money for free agents. The most famous of these was 44-year-old Charlie Hough, who was still able to serve as a league-average innings-eater for two years in Florida before retiring. The same day, the Marlins signed corner infielder Dave Magadan. Although he only played 140 games in Florida, Magadan hit while during his stint there and proved one of the few potent bats the team could muster. The Fish also managed to take star catcher Benito Santiago as a free agent. But Santiago's two seasons in Florida were disappointing, and he left the team after the 1994 season.
Some signings were less fruitful. The Fish signed Geronimo Berroa to a 1-year deal, with Berroa hitting a dreadful 118/167/147 in 14 games. He went to the A's as a free agent in 1994 whereupon he blossomed into a quality hitter. The club also managed to nab Orestes Destrade, a slugger who had spent the last 4 seasons in Japan. While Destrade hit fairly well with the Marlins (255/324/406 in '93), it wasn't quite good enough, and he returned to Japan in 1994.
Sporting this admittedly bare roster, it was thus no surprise when the Marlins finished their inaugural season 64-98. The only consolation was that they (with a $19 million payroll) had finished in 6th place in the NL East, 5 games ahead of the New York Mets (with a $39 million payroll).
Time marched on, with the Marlins improving their record slightly each subsequent year. Under manager Rene Lachemann, the 1994 squad went 51-64, but improved their winning percentage from .395 in their 1993 debut season to a more respectable .443. In 1995, the team went 67-76, again raising their winning percentage, to 469. The 1996 team jumped all the way up to 80-82, a 3rd-place finish in the NL East. It was a sign of things to come, because the 1997 Florida Marlins went 92-70 and nabbed the NL Wild Card, finishing just 2 games ahead of the Mets and Dodgers.
How did the Florida Marlins, who started from such humble beginnings, make it to the postseason in just their 5th year of existence? The answer is simple: they spent a lot of money on free agents and made trades for big-time players.
Only three members of the 1997 starting lineup were home-grown Marlins. Only two pitchers in the starting rotations came out of the Florida farm system, and just two of the six core bullpen players. This was a bit unusual at the time, but isn't really that uncommon in the age of free agency. The difference here is that while the home-grown players on the roster were mostly secondary role-players, the key contributors were almost all free agents, and expensive ones at that.
It was simply a case of having the means and the motive to buy a World Series. There were some errors on the way; not all the players the Marlins signed up turned into gold. 3B Terry Pendleton proved to be well past his prime during his short stay in Florida, as did aging outfielder Andre Dawson. The club gave good money to John Burkett in 1995, only to find out that his 22-7 record in 1993 was indeed a fluke. All these moves came before the 1995 season, and could be seen as the failed first attempt to assemble a free-agent winner.
But the real spree began way back in June of 1993, their inaugural season, when the Marlins sent two (basically) useless players and relief prospect Trevor Hoffman to the Padres in exchange for expensive problem child Gary Sheffield and reliever Rich Rodriguez. Sheffield was a man among boys on the 1993 squad, with only Conine, Magadan and Walt Weiss holding their own in the lineup. But help was on its way.
Less than a month after the Sheffield deal, the Marlins sent starter Cris Carpenter (who would never develop into much) to the Rangers in exchange for two relievers; one was Kurt Miller, and was essentially forgettable. The other was Robb Nen. Nen, unlike the other '97 Marlins, wasn't really a high-priced free agent, but a prospect the Marlins had nabbed in time to see him develop into a star closer. With Bryan Harvey's career basically over in 1994, Nen took over as Marlins closer and never lost the job. He stayed through the team through 1997 and was perhaps the league's best closer over that period.
In spite of their other 1995 free agent misadventures, the club did manage to get good value when they signed center fielder Devon White in November. But they really plunked down big money on two free agent pitchers: Al Leiter and Kevin Brown.
Leiter had come up through the Yankee system, but had never really been given a shot to succeed or fail either way. After being traded to Toronto, Leiter excelled as a starter, culminating in an excellent 1995 that saw him post a 3.64 ERA with 153 K in 183 IP. It was his free agent walk year, and the Marlins signed him up.
An even better move was the December inking of Kevin Brown to a big-money deal. Brown had succeeded as a starter in Texas for years, but as he played on forgettable teams, he wasn't much of a star. Then the Rangers traded him to Baltimore for his free agent walk year in 1995, whereupon Brown posted a 3.60 ERA in 172.1 innings of work. The Marlins got him under contract just in time to enjoy his coming-out party.
And 1996 was a coming-out party for the Florida Marlins. It started off quietly in January, when the team signed a Cuban defector named Livan Hernandez as an amateur free agent. The team got off to a slow start (costing Lachemann his job), but replacement John Boles kept the team strong the rest of the year, and while an 80-82, 3rd-place finish isn't much, it represented great news for the Marlins in their quest to build a winner.
There were many star performances on the 1996 team that seemed to indicate better years to come. Right fielder Sheffield had a monster year (314/465/624) that would have merited strong MVP consideration were it not for his surly attitude and prickly relationship with the media (he finished 6th). The club also got strong hitting from stalwart Conine (293/360/484) and young shortstop Edgar Renteria (309/358/399). But several hitters performed well below their usual standards, including CF Devon White and C Charles Johnson. This was good news for a possible rebound for the lineup in 1997.
Kevin Brown was the best pitcher in the National League in 1996. John Smoltz may have won the Cy Young (as the Braves went on to win the pennant), but Brown was just plain better. Here's a comparison:
1996 Cy Young Race:
Kevin Brown: (17-11, 1.89 ERA, 33 BB : 159 K, 233 IP, 8 HR allowed, 214 ERA+)
John Smoltz: (24-8, 2.94 ERA, 55 BB : 276 K, 253.2 IP, 19 HR allowed, 149 ERA+)
Of course, anyone who goes 24-8 is going to win the Cy Young, regardless of the underlying reality. And while Smoltz's huge edge in strikeouts is a legitimate argument in his favor, I simply don't believe it makes up the gulf of difference in ERA. Brown was simply the best pitcher in the NL at preventing runs, which is a pitcher's primary job.
Brown was supported by a strong season from Al Leiter (2.93 ERA, 200 K in 215.1 IP), but the rest of the rotation was a chaotic mess. John Burkett, not the San Francisco savior the team thought he was, posted a decent 4.32 ERA, but only threw 154 innings. The only other starter to top 100 innings was Pat Rapp, whose durability was countered by a 5.10 ERA. At least four other pitchers made at least 4 starts, as the team tried to find some way to support the Brown/Leiter tandem in the rotation. Solving that problem in time for 1997 would be a top priority.
While Nen was brilliant as closer (35 SV with a 1.95 ERA), the rest of the bullpen was rubbish, with the next-best ERA Jay Powell's 4.54 in 71.1 IP. Just as with the bullpen, the Marlins cycled through a number of arms in 1996, looking for a solution. This would be Priority #2 going into 1997.
Dombrowski and the Marlins were energetic re-builders in the 1996-97 offseason. Their first move was to replace ancient third baseman Terry Pendleton with free agent Bobby Bonilla. Then they strengthened the outfield depth by signing John Cangelosi and Jim Eisenreich.
The team finished off its December to Remember with two big-name signings. The first was starting pitcher Alex Fernandez. Fernandez had come up with the Chicago White Sox and was a big part of the dynamic rotation that drove the Pale Hose to the 1993 AL West title. Fernandez was coming off a strong 1996, where he posted a 3.45 ERA (136 ERA+) in 258 IP to go with an impressive 72:200 BB:K ratio.
The other big signing was outfielder Moises Alou. Alou had gained stardom as part of the strong Montreal outfields of the early 90's. But Alou's hitting numbers had dipped in 1995 and 1996, and thus it was a bit of a risk for the Marlins to sign the 30-year-old to such a big-money deal. But if the Marlins had a mantra going into 1997, it was "Money is no object (at least, not yet . . .)"
Under new manager Jim Leyland, the 1997 squad finished 92-70, earning a postseason berth as the NL Wild Card. What was responsible for the team's turnaround? It was, of course, mostly the free agents. 3B Bonilla had a fine year (297/378/468), LF Alou returned to his former glory (292/373/493), and Jim Eisenreich hit fairly well off the bench (280/345/372). The team also made a canny mid-season trade in acquiring veteran catcher Darren Daulton from the Phillies. Daulton hit 262/371/429 down the stretch and helped provide an extra boost to the offense.
On the pitching side of the equation, the team was able to offset slight slumps by Brown and Leiter by putting together a deep, solid rotation. Free agent Fernandez pitched very well (3.59 ERA, 113 ERA+), Pat Rapp bounced back to post a much more respectable 4.47 ERA, and the team got a strong contribution down the stretch from homegrown talent Tony Saunders.
But the biggest story was Cuban emigre Livan Hernandez. Pitching in Miami amongst many other Cuban exiles, the 22-year-old Hernandez became a big star when he joined the stretch drive with a 3.18 ERA in 17 starts, striking out 72 in 96.1 IP.
It must also be noted that the bullpen, behind a less-impressive Robb Nen (3.89 ERA), was much more stable. Workhorse Jay Powell lowered his ERA to 3.28 while still managing 79.2 IP. Unsung free agent Dennis Cook provided a reliable lefty arm, and farm system products such as Felix Heredia and Robby Stanifer contributed as well.
What you had in the 1997 Marlins was a good team that had struggled its way into the postseason. No one really expected them to go far in the postseason, and so it was a great surprise when the Marlins swept the Giants 3-0 in the NLDS. But the Giants had an even worse W-L record (90-72) than the Fish, and with Marlin pitching holding Barry Bonds to a 250/231/417 hitting line, it wasn't such a surprise after all. But surely the Marlins would get theirs in the NLCS against the Braves, fielding what Bill James has called the best starting rotation of all time.
But observers might have taken a hint from the fact that the Marlins won 8 of 12 games against the Braves in the regular season. The Braves posted a 2.60 ERA and outscored the Marlins 21-20, but the Fish hammered both Tom Glavine and John Smoltz and managed to take the NLCS in six, winning the pennant.
The 1997 World Series against Cleveland was . . . well, it was COLD. One of the realities of a third round of playoffs meant that the postseason would last all the way to the end of October. And late October in Cleveland can be devastating (wind chills reached as low as 15 degrees).
The two teams split the first two games at Florida, and then the Marlins won a slugfest for the ages in Game 3. The game was tied 7-7 going into the 9th, and the Marlins exploded for 7 runs to take a 14-7 lead. Despite the fact that Cleveland came back for 4 in the bottom of the inning, the Marlins were able to hold onto a 14-11 victory.
The Indians tied the Series with a Game 4 victory, and then Florida took a 3-2 lead with a Game 5 win, which came despite another late-inning rally by Cleveland that cut the final score from 8-4 to 8-7 before the Marlins sealed the deal. Cleveland won Game 6 behind a fine start from Chad Ogea, and the stage was set for Game 7.
Game 7 was one for the ages. The Indians led 2-1 going into the bottom of the 9th, but closer Jose Mesa blew the save, the and game went into extra innings. It was in the 11th, with Game 3 starter Charles Nagy on the hill, that Edgar Renteria hit an RBI single that won the game and the Series for Florida. South Florida went into a frenzy, but it was a frenzy that was ruthlessly cut short.
The specifics of the Fire Sale of the 1997 Marlins have been dealt with in many sources (as well as my own blog), so I won't go into the full rant. I'll reserve the vitriol and first present a balance sheet of the ins and outs of the 1997 bloodbath, which started a bare two weeks after Game 7 of the World Series:
LOST: Mike Piazza, Gary Sheffield, Kevin Brown, Moises Alou, Bobby Bonilla, Al Leiter, Robb Nen, Edgar Renteria, Todd Zeile, Craig Counsell, Jeff Conine, Livan Hernandez, Devon White, Charles Johnson, Matt Mantei, Felix Heredia, Jim Eisenreich, Jay Powell, Dennis Cook, Manuel Barrios, and others
GAINED: Derrek Lee, A.J. Burnett, Brad Penny, Preston Wilson, Braden Looper, Justin Speier, Jesus Sanchez, Ramon Castro, Vladimir Nunez, Abraham Nunez, Nate Bump, Pablo Ozuna, Oscar Henriquez, Kevin Orie, Armando Almanza, Ed Yarnall, Joe Fontenot, Jesus Martinez, Blaine Mull, and other warm bodies
So there you have it, all done in just a year and a half. Not only did the Marlins trade away their entire 1997 Championship team (at least everyone making anything more than the league minimum), but they got almost nothing in return. You'd think that a team trading away two or three potential Hall-of-Famers and a dozen All-Stars would get a gold mine in return. But they just got four good prospects (Lee, Burnett, Penny, Wilson) and a couple of useful guys like Looper, Castro, and Speier. Few events in all of baseball have been so obviously inspired by money matters, and fewer still have damaged the sport's well-cultivated image of community. Bud Selig likes to pretend that there is a sense of community between a baseball team and its city, because that kind of thing makes people happy and makes you look like a good corporate citizen. But it's a lie. The simple truth is that the Marlins spent a sh*tload of money on a lot players in order to win over the course of one year. Then having won, they traded all the players away and let other teams deal with the long-term consequences of the contracts the Marlins signed.
Is it possible that the Marlins simply had to trade away those players to deal with the fiscal realities of baseball? Huizenga claimed the club lost money during its championship year, and he had no choice but to sell. But if history is any guide, every baseball owner who claims poverty is lying. The '97 Marlins drew 2.3 million fans to the newly-dubbed Pro Player Stadium. This was, admittedly, only good enough for 6th among 14 NL teams. But for an expansion franchise in a new major league market in only its 5th year of existence to draw 2.3 million is an unqualified success. Suspicions later rose that Huizenga hid the team's profits by transferring them to stadium profits (he also co-owned the stadium), a move right out of the Enron playbook. So can we really believe that Huizenga was an innocent victim of the perils of capitalism?
I give Wayne Huizenga and his cronies respect as people who know good business. And no good businessman would recklessly spend that much money and then actually be surprised, a year later, at how much money he had spent. Only a fool would have such a complete lack of foresight as to sign all of those contracts without considering the consequences, and I doubt very much that the Marlins were run by fools. On the contrary, I think they were run by cunning, Machivellian businessmen.
My opinions do skew to the cynical, but I think Huizenga approached his team like this: we can spend a lot of money for just one year, reap the consequences of a winning team, and then sell off the team for parts before the costs become prohibitive. It's similar to the big-time Wall Street trader who talks up a company's stock until the price rises to its peak, then sells out before it crashes back to reality. Unfortunately, stocks don't capture the hearts and minds of millions of people. Baseball teams do.
The eviscerated 1998 Marlins went 54-108, the worst-ever drop for a defending World Champion. Leyland, disgusted with his surroundings, left, being replaced by front-office man John Boles. The skinflint Marlins returned with a 64-98 finish in 1999. Attendance was down by a million, to 1.3 million in '99 (15th of 16 NL teams). The only good players really worth seeing on the team were: second baseman Luis Castillo, a top-of-the-order speedster, slap hitter, and perennial .300 threat; Mike Lowell, the steady-fielding third baseman with a very good bat; Preston Wilson, the center fielder who had power, strikeouts, and a .280 average; Alex Fernandez (3.38 ERA), the veteran of the '97 team trying to come back from very serious injuries; and closer Antonio Alfonseca, the pear-shaped and mercurial hurler (21 SV).
In 2000, the Marlins returned to respectability, posting a 79-82 record. It was mainly the decent crew mentioned above, but also the arrival of first base prospect Derrek Lee (281/368/507), the eternally injured Cliff Floyd (300/378/529) and a young hurler out of the farm system named Ryan Dempster, who posted a 3.66 ERA with 209 K in 226.1 IP. The Marlins did have other pitching prospects breaking into the majors, such as Brad Penny and A.J. Burnett, but they didn't fare quite as well.
Any momentum from 2000 failed to translate to 2001, as the Marlins drifted back to a 76-86 finish. The year saw Boles out as manager, replaced by Tony Perez, who also failed to energize a club that apparently saw little reason in bothering at all.
It was after the 2001 season that baseball pulled off its greatest syndication scam in over a century. John Henry, having purchased the franchise from Huizenga in the midst of the post-'97 bloodbath, was looking to get out. Baseball also wanted to extricate art dealer/owner Jeffrey Loria from his spot as owner of the Expos. And so, tossing the free market and the passions of the fanbase to the four winds, Selig arranged a big-time switcheroo: Henry sold the Marlins to Loria and took over the Red Sox, with Loria selling the Expos to Major League Baseball. Not only did Loria take over as owner, but he (like Dombrowski before him) took most of the Montreal front office with him (manager Jeff Torborg, GM Larry Beinfest, president David Samson). See my entry on the Expos for more detail, but in short, the idea that one baseball team could be efficiently run by its 29 competitors was laughable, and it made a mockery of all the legitimacy and integrity that Selig supposedly stands for.
The 2002 Marlins were more of the same, finishing in 4th place with a 79-83 record. But along with the same solid lineup, there were signs that the young pitching prospects (Burnett, Penny, Dempster, and Josh Beckett) were finally starting to come along. But the problem that would plague the team for years was keeping all of them healthy at the same time.
The 2003 Marlins combined a strong amount of talent and an obscene amount of luck to win the World Series. It has been argued that the 2003 Marlins are the worst team to win the World Series. I don't know if I'd go that far, but they're certainly close.
They had a fine lineup. The infield of Lee-Castillo-Gonzalez-Lowell was intact, productive, and defensively sound. The outfield was shaky, with Todd Hollandsworth and Juan Encarnacion getting far too much playing time, but that problem was helped by the mid-season acquisition of Jeff Conine and the late-season callup of prospect Miguel Cabrera. The Marlins also managed a trade with the Rockies that sent off the expensive Preston Wilson and Charles Johnson in exchange for the cheaper (though less productive) Juan Pierre. Replacing Johnson behind the plate was 1-year free agent Ivan Rodriguez (297/369/474) who gave the club a much-needed source of extra offense.
But what really drove the pitching staff was a starting rotation of great strength and depth. The stars were Beckett, who was limited to just 142 IP but still managed 152 K and a 3.04 ERA, and a rookie named Dontrelle Willis. Willis captivated baseball with his big smile and quirky delivery. He also managed a 3.30 ERA in 160.2 IP. The club got surprisingly good production from trade acquisitions Mark Redman and Carl Pavano and got solid work from homegrown prospect Penny.
The late-season acquisition of closer Ugueth Urbina helped spur the Marlins to the Wild Card, finishing 4 games ahead of the Astros. In the first round, they took on the 100-win Giants and, after a Game 1 shutout at the hands of Jason Schmidt, won the next three games to advance to the NLCS. There they faced the Cubs in what was a star-crossed series for the Chicagoans and a great stroke of luck for Floridians.
The Marlins won a close Game 1 in extra innings, but then the Cubs blew out Brad Penny in Game 2 12-3 to even the Series 1-1. The Cubs won the next two games, taking a (seemingly) commanding 3-1 lead in the Series. The Marlins managed a Game 5 win thanks to a Josh Beckett shutout, but the Cubs still had a 3-2 lead with the series heading back to Wrigley.
In Game 5, the Cubs had a 3-0 lead going into the 8th inning and were 6 outs from the World Series. But a fan reached out and caught a foul ball that LF Moises Alou *might* have otherwise caught, and the Marlins exploded for an 8-run inning. Post-game second-guessers vilified the fan for catching the ball. But unless I'm mistaken, Steve Bartman wasn't the son of a bitch standing on the mound allowing 8 runs to score. Those particular S.O.B.s were Mark Prior, Kyle Farnsworth, and Mike Remlinger.
In Game 7, the Marlins scored 3 runs in the first, but then Kerry Wood homered to give the Cubs a 5-3 lead. They went on to squander it, losing the game 9-6. The Marlins had won their second pennant in just their 11th year of existence.
The Marlins were heavy underdogs going into the World Series against the Yankees. But it was another one of those bizarre series where one team gets outscored and still ends up winning. The Yankees scored 21 runs to the Marlins' 17 and posted a 2.13 ERA, whereas the Marlins team mark was 3.21. But the Marlins won because they scored their runs at the right time. That's partially good situational hitting but mostly luck, and I stand by my theory that the 2003 Marlins were extraordinarily lucky in winning the World Series.
Just to give you some data (apart from my own opinions) to support that: the Marlins' W-L record in 2003 was a mere 91-71. Their Pythagorean W-L record (a better indicator of talent) was 87-75, the worst for any World Champion since the 2000 Yankees. The Marlins finished 8th (of 16) in the NL in runs/game and 7th (of 16) in runs allowed/game, both obviously average marks. I will admit that these measures are for the whole season, and that Marlins in October had players like Urbina and Cabrera, whom they didn't have all year. But I'm standing by what I said.
To follow up their World Championship, the 2004 Marlins went 83-79, finishing 3rd. It was sort of a milestone, anyway; the Marlins had only finished above .500 twice before, and in both those years they won the World Series.
The 2005 team saw management spend a little money to try and goose the team up the standings. Having traded for catcher Paul Lo Duca in mid-2004, the Fish followed it up by signing pitcher Al Leiter and first baseman Carlos Delgado as free agents. The result wasn't quite a success. Delgado was brilliant (301/399/582), one of the ten best players in the NL. But Leiter was not, posting a 6.64 ERA before drawing his release. The team finished once again at 83-79.
Management faced a bit of a crossroads going into 2006. They were dealing with more free agent money commitments and were dealing with growing arbitration salaries for the likes of Josh Beckett, as well as the impending free agency of A.J. Burnett. So what did management do? You all know the words, sing along . . .
Fire Sale, Part 2:
Refusing to call the moves a "fire sale," but rather a "market correction," the team traded away 3/4 of its starting infield, its starting catcher, one of its outfielders, one starting pitcher, and a setup man. They also lost the other infielder, another outfielder, a starting pitcher, and their closer to free agency. They made no moves to replace them from the free agent market.
Here's how the ledger stood for this one:
Paul Lo Duca & Carlos Delgado to the Mets; Josh Beckett, Mike Lowell & Guillermo Mota to the Red Sox; Luis Castillo to the Twins; and Juan Pierre to the Cubs.
In return, the club actually got a much better haul of prospects than in the 1997-99 fire sale, leaving some hope that the team will be competitive sometime in he next, say, 2 or 3 years. Until then, though, the Marlins are being demoted to minor league status.
The reasons for this fire sale were pretty direct. The team, tired of sharing Pro Player Stadium with the Dolphins, wanted a state-funded baseball-only stadium to be built. The state of Florida, however, was more interested at the time in putting money toward Hurricane Katrina relief rather than a new toy/ATM for Jeffrey Loria. The MLB, accustomed to having its way in stadium negotiations, decided to use the team to blackmail the state of Florida. I can picture it thus:
(Interior of a delicatessan. Early morning. The deli owner -- hereafter referred to as FLORIDA -- is sweeping the floor in preparation for a day's business. Enter JEFFREY LORIA and wise-cracking sidekick BUD SELIG.)
LORIA: Mornin' there, Florida.
FLORIDA: Why, Jeffrey Loria! What are you doing here?
LORIA: I was just checkin' on business. Seein' how things was doin'.
FLORIDA: Well, it's been tough lately. We've had a horrible hurricane season, but the state has come together, and I think we'll be able to get through this thing.
SELIG: (with a frumpy scowl) Don't talk about hurricanes, it annoys da Boss.
LORIA: Shaddup, Bud. (slaps him)
SELIG: Sorry, Boss.
LORIA: That's a nice baseball team ya got there, Florida.
FLORIDA: You think so? I used to like them, but then that old owner sold them all off after we won the World Series in '97. Since then, it's just hard to get really invested in them.
LORIA: But you wouldn't want to see them go, would yer?
FLORIDA: Why, no. I still like to go to a game once in a while -- I love that Dontrelle Willis -- and they're great for business.
LORIA: Because accidents happen, you know.
SELIG: Yeah, they do. Accidents happen. They happen.
FLORIDA: Accidents? What do you mean accidents?
LORIA: Supposin' you were to wake up tomorrow morning and that team weren't there no more?
FLORIDA: What do you mean? Why wouldn't it be there?
LORIA: Oh, I could think of a lot of places it could go. San Antonio, Portland . . .
SELIG: Washington, D.C.
LORIA: We already made that visit, Bud. (slaps him)
SELIG: Sorry, Boss.
FLORIDA: But I do like the team.
LORIA: Well, if business don't get better for them, we may have to see them go.
FLORIDA: What do you mean about business getting better?
SELIG: (Speaking as if from a script -- even moreso than usual) The Florida Marlins cannot compete in their current ballpark. Without a publicly financed baseball-only stadium --
FLORIDA: Can't compete in that park? What are you talking about? The Marlins are the only team to win more than one World Series over the past 10 years except for the Yankees! That team was born in 1993 and it's won two more World Championships in 14 years than the Cubs have won in 98!
SELIG: (Pause. Repeats previous line robotically) The Florida Marlins cannot compete in their current ballpark --
LORIA: But ya see, Florida, it's not a problem. I can make sure that team will be there tomorrow and for years to come. All I need is something from you.
FLORIDA: What's that?
SELIG: Specifically, some $400 million in taxpayer money to put towards building a baseball-only stadium, not to mention the usual tax breaks on property taxes, etc.
FLORIDA: You want $400 million from me?
LORIA: Hey, you're pretty smart! Didn't I tell yer he was smart, Bud?
FLORIDA: But you don't understand. We just got hit by the worst hurricane season in recent memory. There's people who don't have food, or - or a place to live.
SELIG: (Moving his fingers) That's me playing the world's smallest violin. (Pause) I can't get enough of that joke.
FLORIDA: Besides, there have been reports by respected economists that taxpayer-funded stadiums don't really put that much money back into the community. There's no way the community will recoup that $400 million. All the profits made by the team go into a vacuum straight to you and your stockholders and don't get reinvested in the community. Why, Andrew Zimbalist says --
LORIA: Do you mean Andrew "The Liar" Zimbalist?
FLORIDA: I've never heard him called that.
LORIA: You did just now.
FLORIDA: And anyways, Forbes magazine says that around 24 of 30 ballclubs are actually making profits. The MLB in 2005 once again broke the record for seasonal attendance. You guys are making more money now than you ever have.
LORIA: Do you believe everything you read?
FLORIDA: Well, if it's a choice between believing Forbes magazine and Bud Selig, I think --
(Loria's phone rings)
LORIA: Shaddup for a minute. (Answers phone) Hello, Barry, what's goin' on? . . . uh huh . . . uh huh . . you don't gotta worry about a thing. (hangs up) I'll have to talk to you later Florida. I gotta go have a talk with two reporters in San Francisco.
FLORIDA: You mean the guys who wrote the Barry Bonds book?
SELIG: . . . book of LIES, you mean! Ha! . . . well, yeah, most of it's true.
LORIA: (Exiting) I'll see you later. Think about what I said. Be smart. You don't wanna end up like Luca Brazi.
FLORIDA: What happened to Luca Brazi?
SELIG: He's sleeping with the Marlins.
It's closer to the truth than you may imagine.
Total Ballclubs by Donald Dewey & Nicholas Acocella
Total Baseball Encyclopedia 2004 Ed.