Phase V: Regrowth Through Youth and Pitching
With their moves, the new Marlins of 1998 had only a $15 million total salary payroll. This was a staggering change from the $52 million of the year prior – leaving only 29% of the cost remaining. Livan Hernandez and Preston Wilson would make up some of the very few good pieces this team had left. All in all, the Marlins would become the first (and only in history to this point) team to lose 100 games in a defense of a World Series Championship.
1999 would be a year of change for the Marlins, though not necessarily in a positive moving direction. Wayne Huizenga finally sold the team; to Boca Raton native, John Henry. They also struck big in the draft, selecting future World Series MVP, Josh Beckett, with the first overall pick.
Of course, the bad always evens out with the good for the Marlins. They were smart enough to select a future ace in the Rule 5 Draft, but traded him to the Twins for Jared Camp. That ace? Johan Santana. They would also trade World Series hero, Livan Hernandez to the Giants. This ensured another bad season for the Marlins, as they would finish with baseball’s worst record.
In 2000, the pieces started to come together for their future. They would hire a new GM, Dave Dombrowski. They would also have several youth products become stars, including Luis Castillo, Preston Wilson, and Derrek Lee. Six-fingered closer, Antonio Alfonseca, would break the Marlins record for saves in a season, with 45. They would finish only 3 games under .500. That growth would also continue on the personnel side with A.J. Burnett, Brad Penny, and Matt Clement starting to make up a decent, but young with potential, rotation for the Fish.
The Florida Marlins were starting to set up for another winning run, but they were still a few people shy of getting there.
Loria had been trying to get into Major League Baseball for quite some time. He bought the AAA Texas Rangers affiliate, Oklahoma City 89ers, in 1989 as a way of moving towards his goal. In 1994, he made a losing bid to buy the Orioles, losing out to Peter Angelos. Finally, in 1999, the bleeding Montreal Expos came looking for money and sold a 24 percent stake in the team for just $12 million. Soon enough, Loria was able to grow his share to a majority of 94% and as his first move as owner, demand that Montreal help him build a new ballpark to replace Olympic Stadium (the Miami foreshadowing is almost too much). When Montreal chose keeping the doors to hospitals open over replacing Le Stade Olympique (Montreal wouldn’t even finish paying off the Big O until 2006), Loria realized he needed to bail.
In an orchestrated move, Bud Selig, along with Loria and Marlins owner Henry, conducted a 3-way switching of team ownerships, in 2002: Loria would buy the Marlins from Henry, allowing Henry to move up and buy the Boston Red Sox. The result of this was Loria selling the Expos to Major League Baseball.
Loria took all of the Expos well-regarded staff with him to Florida and left the Expos hollow. This led to the end of baseball in Montreal and a move to Washington to become the Nationals.
This move would help the Marlins, though. The scouts brought to Florida were some of the best in baseball and would help them build an eventual winner.
Phase VII: A Rebuilding Complete
On the field, the Marlins were shaping into a winning team. They would make several big moves to help get the talent to where they had to be. A first trade sent Clement and Alfonseca to the Cubs for a package that included soon-to-be Phenom, Dontrelle Willis. Another trade sent longtime outfielder, Cliff Floyd, to the Expos for Carl Pavano. A 3rd trade sent away Ryan Dempster to get outfielder, Juan Encarnacion. Josh Beckett would soon join the rotation to make a solid 1-4 of Beckett, Burnett, Pavano, and Penny.
In the 2003 offseason, they would make another move to add leadoff man, Juan Pierre, as well as a big signing of 10-time Gold Glove winner, catcher Ivan Rodriguez. Adding Pudge gave the Marlins the veteran leadership that was key to such a young team.
But on the other end of leadership, the Marlins realized they needed to make a change at manager. They replaced Jeff Torborg with 72- year old, Jack McKeon. Even then, the Marlins still could not turn around a disappointing season.
What did help, was going back for some more youth. Willis would come up to the majors and astound with an 11-2 record through his first 17 starts. Also making his debut would be future Triple Crown winner, Miguel Cabrera, who would hit 12 home runs and 62 RBIs in a limited season. Both would be huge components in the playoffs.
The Marlins would finish with 91 wins, their 2nd winning season, and also their second playoff birth, winning the NL Wild Card.
The playoffs would be an interesting experience for the young Marlins. They would knock off the Giants with the first ever series-ending play at the plate, with Rodriguez holding on for the final out.
In their defeat of the Cubs came one of the most infamous games in Major League history, with fan Steve Bartman, changing the course of Cubs history and allowing the Marlins to comeback and win the series in seven.
In the World Series, the Marlins would draw the 26-time champion, New York Yankees. While out-classed in experience, Florida was able to draw from the potential of their rotation and new bats. The Yankees, recovering from their Game Seven comeback against the Red Sox would run out of gas and would not be able to touch World Series MVP Josh Beckett in his two starts. The Marlins would win the 100th anniversary of the World Series in six games.
But like in 1997, underlying issues would help to deconstruct another championship team.
Part Three Coming Soon