Editor's note: This piece should have originally aired around November 11, but we saved it until after Jose Fernandez and the rest of the week's series played out. -MJ
While this week's experience of Jose Fernandez winning the NL Rookie of the Year and being a finalist for the NL Cy Young Award may end up being a long-term, pleasant historical memory for Marlins fans, sixteen years ago this week marked a moment in Marlins history that is preferred to be forgotten. After what was a great season for the then-Florida Marlins, a turn around into being remembered as a year that was filled with great joy followed by equally great pain, started to begin. It was also the starting point for the deterioration of the Marlins' reputation of being respected as an expansion franchise on the rise, to being an often criticized sports franchise that borders on being a laughing stock. The first trigger for this was what occurred on November 11, 1997, when the Marlins traded their star left-fielder, Moises Alou, to the Houston Astros.
First, whenever an All-Star is traded, there are always questions, but everything with this trade was far from the norm in baseball at that time, or even now. It wasn't just the fact that the Marlins traded the hitter that was their best run producer in 1997 that raised many eyebrows and kick-start the downfall of the Marlins' reputation as a franchise; it was also the fact that they did it about two weeks after the Marlins won their first World Series title, in a series in which Alou had a huge performance. And the reasons to destroy the Marlins' reputation didn't stop there. This trade was also surrounded by the fact that the trade was made to clear salary and there were also additional rumors that Alou wouldn't be the last player traded in an all-out fire sale by the newly crowned World Series champions.
As for the trade itself, it involved Moises Alou being traded for three young pitchers - Manuel Barrios, Oscar Henriquez, and Mark Johnson. None of these pitchers were prizes. In fact, Barrios was added as a throw-in for another trade six months later that was an extension of the fire sale, Henriquez was traded for a journeyman catcher about a year later, and Johnson was once again a throw-in in the trade that netted Mike Lowell a little over a year later. The three pitchers combined for 36 career total MLB appearances and less than 75 career total innings. The key interest for the Marlins in that trade was for the Astros to take on Alou's remaining contract, which still contained four years left, while being owed over $20 million - a substantial amount back then. There was very little interest in getting a quality return of players.
Along with the many non-baseball aspects that surrounded this trade, the many unfathomable rumors that had already been circulating about the Marlins going to hold a fire sale, started to go into full force during that week once this trade was completed and thus validated those rumors. It then turned the whole scenario into as much of an absurd spectacle as anything could be, that wasn't purposely designed as part of a surreal circus. To make things worse, it occurred in the early stages of our modern era when media covers everything and does so immediately. While fire sales by top-tier team had occurred in the past, none had taken place in an era when media placed everything in full view of the world, rather than being something read about or reported afterward. This was the first time that everything unfolded in plain view of the baseball world which also played a role in this tough moment in Marlins's history.
Every aspect of this trade and the surrounding rumors ended up combining with the highest level of media coverage ever experienced before, to create a perfect storm that led to sending the reputation of the Marlins on a major downward spiral. The resulting negative reputation of the Marlins franchise has remained ever since. Even though there has been reinforcement of the poor reputation, it started sixteen years ago, this past week, with the trade of Moises Alou to the Houston Astros combining with other elements at play. Whether enjoyable or not, it is a part of the history of our Marlins.