It wasn't a move that made waves, but it was part of building what became a championship team. On this date, December 10, 1996, the Marlins signed lefty relief pitcher Dennis Cook to a two-year contract, bolstering an already-strong bullpen.
Cook was a well-traveled veteran by the time Florida picked him up heading into the 1997 season. Making his major league debut in 1988, Cook came up as a starter but was essentially a full-time reliever by 1994. He pitched for six different teams in his initial nine seasons, including two separate stints with the Indians, developing a reputation as a solid option out of the pen in later innings against both left-handed and right-handed hitters. Cook had a combined 3.66 ERA in 126 games (64 of which were starts) through his first five seasons; in 1995 and 1996, though, Cook put up a 4.29 ERA in 106 games, and at age 34, he didn't exactly possess much upside at that point.
But Florida saw enough in him to sign Cook to a two-year contract, adding him to a relief corps that gave up the fifth-fewest runs per game among all teams in baseball in 1996. He was one of several signings that the young Marlins franchise uncharacteristically splurged on heading into 1997; other additions included Moises Alou, Cliff Floyd, Bobby Bonilla and Alex Fernandez. Cook proved in 1997 that he had more left in the tank than some may have thought, posting a 3.90 ERA and striking out 63 batters in 62.1 innings. He was even better during the playoffs, allowing no runs and just four baserunners in nine innings of work; that included two perfect innings to close out a 2-1 win in Game 1 of the NLDS against the Giants, giving the Marlins momentum right away in the playoffs and setting up their surprising run to a championship.
Part of the flurry of additions to the Marlins in the two years before 1997, Cook also became part of the flurry of departures from Florida that occurred after the championship. The reliever was traded to the Mets for two minor leaguers in December in a clear cost-cutting move, saving the Marlins $850,000 off their 1998 payroll. Cook continued to enjoy a late-career renaissance of sorts, posting ERAs of 2.38 and 3.86 in 1998 and 1999, respectively, for New York. But his numbers began to dip in 2000 at the age of 37, and Cook didn't play again after rebounding for another successful year with the Angels in 2002. Cook was fortunate to play for contenders almost every year in the latter part of his career, making the playoffs in 1996 (with the Rangers), '97, '99 and 2000. (He also was part of Anaheim's 2002 championship team, though he wasn't on the postseason roster.) For his career, Cook put together a stellar postseason resume, allowing no runs over 16.1 innings in those aforementioned four years. And though he wasn't a high-profile signing or among the bigger names on the Marlins' 1997 roster, Cook contributed in a key bullpen role for Florida's first championship team.