The butterfly effect: the theory that posits a small change having larger effects long after the initial event transpires.
While we may not recognize the significance of something in the moment, with time comes reflection and consequences that we would have never originally forecasted. In sports, to win and win at the highest level, it requires a series of successful offseason and in-season transactions to assemble a group of players who are talented and complementary enough to form a cohesive team.
In keeping with our butterfly effect theme and applying its concepts to the game of baseball, we have Trevor Hoffman and his time as a Florida Marlin.
One of the most recognizable faces in San Diego Padres history, the longtime closer’s first taste of big-league baseball came as a member of the inaugural Marlins team in 1993 where he pitched to a respectable 3.28 ERA (131 ERA+, 4.95 FIP) in 35.2 innings. There, he would record his first two of what would turn into 601 career saves in a career that would propel him to Cooperstown.
But it wouldn’t be until a trade to San Diego in late June where Hoffman would go on to cement his status as one of the game’s all-time relievers, and while he never took home a World Series ring while a member of the Friars, the trade the Marlins pulled off that June 24 day would see Hoffman indirectly contribute to the Fish’s two championship runs.
Now, while Rodriguez wouldn’t be long for Florida, Sheffield would endure the first of the Marlins’ lean years whilst emerging as one of the game’s best hitters and being a centerpiece for the first World Series team in 1997. From 1993-98, Sheffield’s 153 OPS+ tied with Jim Thome for 8th among players with at least 2,000 plate appearances.
Following Sheffield, along with fellow World Series holdovers Jim Eisenreich, Bobby Bonilla, and Charles Johnson, being traded to the Dodgers on May 14, 1998, to usher in the short-lived “Mike Piazza in teal era,” Florida’s post-championship tear down continued when Piazza was again shipped off, this time to the New York Mets in a package that included pitcher Ed Yarnall and outfielder Preston Wilson.
The former Yarnall would never make it to the Majors with Florida, though he too would find himself sent packing, this time to the senior New York baseball franchise, the Yankees. Coming back to the Marlins in a deal that saw them trade away minor league pitchers Todd Noel and Mark Johnson was a young third baseman by the name of Mike Lowell. More on him in a bit.
As for Preston Wilson, he’d perform admirably in four-plus seasons in Florida (109 OPS+, 9.8 oWAR). Wilson eventually departed in an offseason trade shipping him and, for the second time, Charles Johnson and the combined $54 million remaining on their contracts to the Rockies on November 16, 2002. In return, Florida got former All-Star pitcher Mike Hampton, $6.5 million in cash, and outfielder Juan Pierre. Hampton wouldn’t be long for Florida, switching allegiances to the division rival Atlanta Braves two days later, with the Marlins agreeing to pay Atlanta $30 million through 2005.
For Pierre, fresh off back-to-back seasons of 40 stolen bases in Colorado, 2003 would prove his best year yet. He hit .305 with a .361 OBP, leading the sport in plate appearances (747) and stolen bases (65)—a mark which still stands as a club record—while playing in all of Florida’s 162 games that season.
Remember Lowell? Well, he was a part of that 2003 team as well, making his second of four All-Star teams that season en route to a career-best 32 HR, 105 RBI, and 128 OPS+ in a season where he’d collect his lone Silver Slugger.
Thanks to the help of Pierre and Lowell (and Josh Beckett), Florida would claim its second World Series title, defeating the Yankees in 6 games. Beckett authored the series-clinching shutout on 3 days’ rest.
Two years later, Jeffrey Loria carried on with his unfortunate “tradition” of selling off the organization’s biggest and brightest stars. Pierre would find himself in Chicago, collecting his fourth and final 200-hit season with the Cubs in 2006. Beckett and Lowell would wind up in Boston, winning a World Series in 2007 in a season where Beckett would win 20 games and place second in AL Cy Young voting, and Lowell would win World Series MVP honors.
The return in the trade with the Red Sox, though, would soon give the Marlins more hope towards a return to contention. Shortstop Hanley Ramírez established himself as one of the premier players in the sport. Han-Ram won NL Rookie of the Year honors in 2006, a batting title in 2009 when he hit .342 and finished second in the NL MVP race, earning two Silver Slugger awards. Pitcher Aníbal Sánchez would author a no-hitter in his 11th career start with the club in 2006, posting a 2.83 ERA in 114 1⁄3 innings pitched. Ramírez and Sánchez would spend parts of 7 seasons in Florida, with Ramírez exiting the franchise’s all-time leader in oWAR (34.6) and Sánchez posting a 111 ERA+ during his stay in Miami.
Come 2012 and with a team who had a new manager in Ozzie Guillén, and high-profile free agents in José Reyes, Heath Bell, and Mark Buehrle vastly underperforming, the rebranded Miami Marlins and owner Jeffrey Loria struck again. He packaged Ramírez and reliever Randy Choate to the Dodgers, and Sánchez and second baseman Omar Infante to the Tigers. And while the return Brian Flynn, Jacob Turner, and Rob Brantly never manifested itself as the team would’ve liked it to have, Nathan Eovaldi, whom the team acquired in exchange for Ramírez, would provide a link between Marlins’ eras past and present.
A 93 ERA+ in parts of three seasons with the team wasn’t enough to keep Eovaldi in Miami long-term, though, as he would find himself in Pinstripes come 2015 along with first baseman Garrett Jones and pitcher Domingo Germán. Coming back in the trade would be swingman David Phelps and utility man Martín Prado, who would provide Miami with respective showings in their time with the club (111 ERA+ and 4.3 oWAR).
Departing to Seattle prior to the trade deadline in 2017, Phelps would net Miami a package of prospects that included a name most Marlins fans are familiar with in Pablo López. Since debuting with the club in 2018, López has pitched a 4.04 ERA (3.80 FIP, 105 ERA+) over 330 innings, becoming a constant in a starting rotation that looks to usher in the next era of winning baseball in Miami.
Marlins fans may instinctively feel annoyed when reminded of the Trevor Hoffman trade some 29 years ago (“the Hall of Famer who got away”). Now realizing what fruits that transaction ultimately bore, that move ought to be considered a triumph.
A special “Thank You” to MLB Trade Trees for providing inspiration for this piece.