With the Marlins all but finished for the 2015 campaign, news around the league is that Dave Dombrowski, who was recently let go by the Detroit Tigers, is fielding offers from several teams to overhaul their systems. Marlins fans, yearning for the good old days when the franchise seemed to matter, may be hoping a reunion of Dombrowski and the Marlins.
Dombrowski put in the order to build the ’97 mercenary team that ended up winning the World Series. There was an uproar at the time because the Marlins spent a lot of money, at the behest of owner Wayne Huizenga, to try and make a splash with the young franchise. Huizenga would cry poor at the end and sell off all of the team’s talent, which, on the heals of a ’94 strike, all but signaled a death knell for the franchise in south Florida.
The argument has been made that the 2003 team was the result of the Dombrowski regime’s blueprint as well. Certainly, the current Jeffrey Loria ownership was new on the scene and outside of signing free agent Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez, seemed to do little to initially put the team on track for its eventual surprising title. That said, how much of an impact did Dombrowski have? Let’s take a look at the significant transactions year by year to assess.
The fire sale started immediately after the ’97 parade was final, and the ticker tape was being swept up. Darren Daulton was granted free agency and not re-signed. Moises Alou, Robb Nen and Devon White were dealt in November yet the haul would be insignificant (Manuel Barrios, Oscar Henriquez, Mark Johnson from the Astros for Alou; Mick Pageler, Mike Villano, and Joe Fontenot from the Giants for Nen; Jesus Martinez from the Diamondbacks for Devon White). Jeff Conine was traded to the Royals, where he started his career.
In December, things would pick up. Kevin Brown was dealt to the Padres for Steve Hoff, Rafael Medina, and Derek Lee. Lee, of course, would be a significant part of the 2003 team.
In February, Al Leiter was dealt to the Mets for Rob Stratton, Jesus Sanchez, and AJ Burnett. Although Burnett would be injured for the 2003 post season, his development and presence in the rotation was vital for turning the Marlins fortunes around up to that point.
In May of 1998, the Marlins offloaded a bulk of their salary to the Dodgers (nothing’s changed) in exchange for two big contracts in a consolidation move – Mike Piazza and Todd Zeile. The Fish sent Bobby Bonilla, Jim Eisenreich, Charles Johnson, and Gary Sheffield (and Manual Barrios who would eventually return after being sent on waivers) to get this portion of the haul. Rumors flew that the Fish were not going to build with Piazza and Zeile and, sure enough, both players were eventually dealt for more prospects.
Todd Zeile would be dealt in July and not for anything significant from the Rangers.
Mike Piazza, however, was dealt 8 days later to the Mets and netted Geoff Goetz, Preston Wilson, and Ed Yarnall.
Edgar Renteria, after delivering the final blow to bring a championship home to Miami, and enduring the horrific ’98 season, was dealt to the Cardinals in December of 1998 for Armando Alamanza, Braden Looper, and Pablo Ozuna.
Ed Yarnall was a highly touted lefty pitching prospect at the time and a local kid (from St. Thomas Aquinas). There was a lot of anxiety within the Marlins fan base about dealing Yarnall away and many looked towards his talents anchoring the Marlins rotation. Yet, he was eventually used as a prime token to make a deal with the Yankees for Mike Lowell in February of 1999.
In 1999, two significant pieces would be added through the draft or as international free agency. Josh Beckett was selected #2 overall and Miguel Cabrera would be signed in July.
Matt Mantei, faced with being a free agent after the ’97 season, was retained by the Marlins and eventually traded to the Diamondbacks and netted Vladimir Nunez, Abraham Nunez, and Brad Penny.
A significant mistake was made when the Marlins selected Johan Santana in the Rule 5 draft from the Astros, only to trade him to the Twins for cash and Jared Camp. Imagine what that rotation would have looked like if the Fish just kept him around a few more years.
Adrian Gonzalez was the #1 overall pick for the Fish that year, and Josh Willingham was also drafted.
What will eventually become a pretty significant deal was struck in March when the Marlins traded Cesar Crespo and Mark Kotsay to the San Diego Padres for Omar Oritz, Eric Owens, and Matt Clement. This deal will have an effect later on this franchise that would help transform its fortunes in 2003 yet at the time, would be significantly overlooked.
Other than that, nothing much happened of significance. The draft was mostly fruitless that year.
This is where the Dombrowski era ends, and the Larry Beinfest era begins. As of 2/12/2002, Beinfest is the new GM in town, taking over for Dombrowski who would leave to go to Detroit and rebuild their franchise.
If we were to assess the post-’97 to 2002 time span, we would see the significant portion of the 2003 championship in place. Derek Lee, Luis Castillo, Alex Gonzalez, Mike Lowell, Preston Wilson, Josh Beckett, AJ Burnett, Brady Penny, Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Willingham, Miguel Cabrera, Matt Clement, and Braden Looper were all pieces that would help contribute to the banner year of 2003. Clement and Gonzalez would provide vital trade assets that would help increase the Marlins’ chances in the post season of 2003, but both would come during the Beinfest era.
The only year that was non-productive from a roster building standpoint was 2001, but even that year a move was made that would eventually be very lucrative. Dombrowski was tasked with jettisoning his biggest assets for prospects and trying to rebuild through the draft. He had to do it without much funding and although the on-field product wouldn’t fully mature for about 5 years, the hallmark of a championship was well established. Dombrowski was not able to replicate his success in Detroit, but he did build that team into a yearly contender.