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All-Time Marlins Countdown: Chapter 112

Remembering a versatile World Series champion, plus a couple former MLB All-Stars who weren’t quite as productive once they joined the Marlins.

Miami Marlins v Colorado Rockies Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images

Throughout the 2020-21 offseason, Fish Stripes is bringing you daily articles as part of the All-Time Marlins Countdown.

Today and every Saturday leading up to Opening Day, I will be a “pinch-hitter” for the Fish Stripes staffers who ordinarily handle this series. The three players featured below each spent multiple seasons with the Marlins, though they enjoyed their greatest individual successes elsewhere.

87. Alex Arias

Arias’ career stats

Alex Arias joined the Marlins organization in a very creative transaction. On Nov. 17, 1992, shortly after selecting veteran White Sox starting pitcher Greg Hibbard in the MLB expansion draft, the Fish flipped him to the Cubs in exchange for Arias and fellow young infielder Gary Scott. You won’t find Scott in this countdown series—he was traded away during 1993 spring training and never appeared in major league games again. But Arias lasted another full decade in The Show.

Arias participated in the inaugural Marlins regular season game, pinch-hitting for starter Charlie Hough in the bottom of the sixth inning (he grounded into a force out). Along with Jeff Conine, Robb Nen, Pat Rapp and Gary Sheffield, he had the distinction of being on that ‘93 roster and sticking around for the 1997 World Series championship.

Florida Marlins v Chicago Cubs Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

The 1996 campaign was Arias’ best with Florida. He set new career-highs in games played and extra-base hits while adding extra value with his glove at third base.

Listed at 185 pounds, Arias lacked pop. He homered only nine times in five Marlins seasons, and one of those didn’t even clear the fence. However, he compensated for that with strong pitch recognition and contact skills. Of all players in franchise history with at least 1,000 plate appearances, only Gary Sheffield and Juan Pierre posted better strikeout-to-walk ratios.

The hot corner was Arias’ main defensive home as a Marlin, though he also started dozens of games at second base and shortstop, plus one emergency outing at first base.

The Marlins released Arias in the midst of their post-World Series fire sale. He quickly secured a major league deal with the Phillies. His new club deployed him at shortstop throughout the 1998-2000 seasons (albeit in just a part-time role). He had brief stints with the Padres, Orioles and Yankees organizations from 2001-2002, then resurfaced in 2005 with the Golden Baseball League’s Yuma Scorpions before hanging up his cleats for good.

Arias only experienced the MLB postseason in ‘97, but took advantage of his limited opportunities by slashing .667/.667/.667 (3 PA). From what I’ve been able to find, that on-base percentage appears to be a Marlins postseason record.

86. John Burkett

Burkett’s career pitching stats

Other than a 40-year-old Andrew Dawson, John Burkett was arguably the biggest name on the 1995 Marlins. Two years prior, he had been an All-Star and the MLB wins leader, finishing fourth in NL Cy Young award voting. His manager with the San Francisco Giants, Dusty Baker, described him as a “precision” pitcher with a silly disposition.

After 12 years of playing professionally with the Giants organization, Burkett was released in 1995 spring training. The Marlins acted quickly to scoop him up. He was the lone constant in their starting rotation that season, leading or tying for the team lead in nearly every counting stat.

Fish Stripes original GIF

Opposing batters had a tendency to figure Burkett out once they got multiple looks against him. Nevertheless, on Jul. 3, he gritted through a complete-game victory on 147 pitches (a total we’re unlikely to witness again).

Highest Single-Game Pitch Counts in Marlins History

Name Date Total Pitches Marlins Win?
Name Date Total Pitches Marlins Win?
Liván Hernández 6/14/98 153 Yes
Liván Hernández 6/25/98 152 Yes
Liván Hernández 8/21/98 148 No
John Burkett 7/3/95 147 Yes
Jesús Sánchez 5/8/98 147 Yes

Burkett was essentially duplicating that season’s performance deep into the summer of 1996 when the Marlins traded him to the Rangers on Aug. 8. Who’d they get in return? Right-handers Rick Helling and Ryan Dempster (the latter was coincidentally just featured in Chapter 109 of the countdown earlier this week).

That trade would come to represent the approximate midpoint of Burkett’s big league career. He remained in Texas through the end of the millennium, then pitched two seasons apiece with the Braves and Red Sox. Those teams got him four cracks at October competition—1996, 2000, 2001 and 2003—but didn’t win any pennants.

These days, Burkett is a semi-professional bowler!

85. John Buck

Buck’s career stats

John Buck was on the cusp of his MLB debut, hitting an even .300 for the 2004 Triple-A New Orleans Zephyrs. It was perfectly reasonable for him to expect a midseason call-up that would allow the Astros to lessen the catching workload of an aging Brad Ausmus.

Instead, the Astros took a much bolder approach: they sent Buck to the Royals as part of a three-team trade to acquire star outfielder Carlos Beltrán. On the bright side, that expedited Buck’s development—he was dealt on Jun. 24 and debuted the very next day. Unfortunately, the big backstop would wind up spending most of his 20s without any hope of relevance.

The Royals won roughly 40% of their games during Buck’s tenure. They cycled through three managers and only once (in 2008) finished within 20 games of the AL Central title.

The 29-year-old settled for a meager $2 million free agent contract from the Blue Jays entering the 2010 season. He gave them—wait for it—incredible bang for the Buck. He slashed .281/.314/.489 and established new personal bests in every hitting metric imaginable en route to American League All-Star honors.

Buck’s asking price was understandably much higher the following winter. Usually adverse to lengthy deals for veteran players, owner Jeffrey Loria signed off on a three-year, $18 million commitment to bring him to South Florida.

Buck made a positive first impression. His grand slam was the difference in a 2011 Opening Day triumph over the Mets, and the Marlins spent most days of April and May occupying first or second place in the NL East. He was behind the plate for all nine of Josh Johnson’s dominant starts that season.

By most measures, Buck played better defense in 2011-12 than he did in 2010, but his offensive value paled in comparison (82 wRC+ in 928 PA). Despite encouraging early stretches, the Marlins plummeted to the NL East cellar by the end of both seasons.

In November 2012, Buck was involved in another memorable trade as one of 12(!) players exchanged between the Marlins and Blue Jays. He made his way back to the Senior Circuit a month later as a Mets acquisition in the R.A. Dickey blockbuster. Buck also suited up for the Pirates, Mariners, Angels and Braves (in spring training) before wrapping up his career at age 34.