On February 6, 1998, the Marlins fire sale after the 1997 championship continued. On that date, the Marlins traded World Series Game 7 starter, Al Leiter, to the New York Mets in exchange for prospects RHP A.J. Burnett, LHP Jesus Sanchez, and OF Rob Stratton. The trade also involved the Marlins giving utility 2B, Ralph Milliard.
At the time of the trade, the Mets were starting to take advantage of their big market status over small market teams such as the Marlins. Leiter was a piece that they looked to as a front-line starting pitcher. They had no problem trading three quality prospects for Leiter.
On the Marlins end, they were cleaning house to build an economically friendly roster that they were preparing to sell. The low price and being able to add three respected prospects made the Marlins very comfortable with the trade.
This was a trade that ended up helping both teams at different times. The Mets benefitted right away, while the Marlins benefitted later on, but with marginal contributions.
With Al Leiter, the Mets got immediate returns. In 1998, he had a dominant season and finished sixth in Cy Young Award voting. Leiter would have many quality years with the Mets leading them to contention and the playoffs. He eventually helped lead the pitching staff to the 2000 World Series, the fourth trip to the World Series in Leiter's career. However, after winning his three previous trips with the Blue Jays (1992 and 1993) and Marlins (1997), Leiter and the Mets loss to the mighty Yankees, who ended up winning their third straight championship.
As for Leiter's career, he would return to the Marlins again in 2005. At age 39, Leiter struggled and would be sent to the Yankees for future considerations rather than the Marlins giving him his outright release. Leiter would retire after that season. He ended up with a quality MLB career that included four trips to the World Series with three different teams, while winning three in total. He was an All Star and candidate for the Cy Young Award. He also pitched the first no-hitter in Marlins history.
Leiter currently is a color commentator for the YES Network and is also a studio analyst for MLB Network.
With Ralph Milliard, the Mets were hoping to get a young, serviceable utility player. Instead, Milliard would only have one at-bat and plate-appearance in 10 games for the Mets. He would never play in MLB again after his brief time with the Mets. He would go on to be a Minor League journeyman infielder through a few organizations. He also played in the Dutch Major Leagues. Milliard's career in MLB ended totaling 114 plate-appearances, 93 at-bats, 0 homeruns, 3 RBI, 12 runs, 3 stolen bases, .172 batting average, and .503 OPS.
Milliard is currently coaching.
With A.J. Burnett, the Marlins were getting one of the best young arms among MLB prospects. The Marlins would bring him along slowly as they envisioned Burnett combining with two other young arms that were added a year later in Josh Beckett (1999 draft) and Brad Penny (trade with Diamondbacks). Once ready to go, and healthy, it didn't take Burnett long to show his talents. He eventually became the Marlins ace as they were improving each season after the fire sale that resulted in the horrible 1998 season. He also threw the Marlins third no-hitter in team history - an odd performance that saw Burnett walk nine.
Burnett was expected to continue as the ace of the young staff heading into 2003, but he injured his arm after four starts and needed Tommy John Surgery. While he did receive a ring for the 2003 championship, he was relegated to rooting his teammates on from the Injured Reserve List. He would finally come back in 2004. He was back in form to resume his career. As he entered 2005, he was primed to help lead the Marlins staff with Josh Beckett and Dontrelle Willis, along with the returning Leiter, on what was expected to be a great season for the team and the Marlins. However, the season did not work out as promisingly as hoped for the Marlins or Burnett. After a good start, Burnett started to struggle as the Marlins disappointed. Eventually, in-house problems started to stir with Burnett and others. As a result of some critical comments about the team, Burnett was removed from the team prior to the end of the season. He was replaced in what was expected to be his final start by a new young arm, Josh Johnson. Being a contract year, it ended up being Burnett's last season with the Marlins as they didn't even offer him a contract out of courtesy.
The thoughts of the results of Burnett's time with the Marlins can be mixed in opinion. He was a solid pitcher, but he was also injured and had the moments where he was a little too outspoken with emotions when considering 2005 and also in 2003 when he blamed his then-manager, Jeff Torborg, for Burnett's injury due to overuse.
Overall, Burnett has had a quality career, as he has won in double figures a total of 11 times. He's pitched over 200 innings fives times. He's struck out 200 batters three times and approached that total a few more times. Burnett has also won a second World Series ring in 2009 with the Yankees, but, unlike 2003, Burnett was able to pitch in that championship run. He currently is a free agent weighing his options.
With Jesus Sanchez, the Marlins received an MLB-ready starting pitcher. Sanchez was the first of the newly acquired prospects to play in MLB for the Marlins. He immediately filled a role for the Marlins as he was a starter in 1998, throwing 173 innings that season as a rookie. After some struggles as a starter in 1999, he would end up in the bullpen, but still appear in many games out of the bullpen and for an occasional start. He was back in the role of a starter in 2000, as he would make 32 starts and throw 182 innings.
At the time, Sanchez seemed like a promising back-end starter, but would start having arm problems and pitching struggles. He would go on to only pitch sparingly for a total of seven seasons at the MLB level. He ended his career in 2004, at age 29, but he attempted a comeback in an independent league from 2010 through 2012 before retiring for what seems to be the final time.
With Rob Stratton, the Marlins were getting a former first round pick from the 1996 June Draft that they hoped to would sort out his struggles and start living up to his potential. It never happened and Stratton ended up spending 11 years as a journeyman minor league outfielder with several organizations. In his minor league career, while Stratton showed power potential as he hit over 20 homeruns eight times, he struggled in other aspects of his hitting as he batted .243 with a .320 OBP in his career and surpassed the 200 strikeout mark twice and struck out 36% of the time that he stepped up to the plate mostly against AAA pitching. Stratton's last season was in 2006.
He has since gotten involved with coaching.
While there can be many thoughts about the fire sale after the 1997 season, on this day, we can remember as it continued with the Marlins trading Al Leiter, sixteen years ago in Marlins history.