Last week, the readers of Fish Stripes voted on Charles Johnson as the Fish Stripes All-Time Florida Marlins Team'scatcher. This week, the voting continues with candidates for the next position, first base. The Marlins have populated first base with a few players of interest, but if you do not add some names who did not play first base full-time for the Fish in their careers, but started enough games to qualify.
I have voted as well as the writers of Fish Stripes, and these are first basemen to consider for voting.
They do not call Conine "Mr. Marlin" for nothing. The man most likely to receive the first jersey retiring in the future (and I have no idea whether or not anyone has used #18 or #19 since Conine, but it would not surprise me if there have not been any) has the biggest edge in terms of longevity with the Marlins. In two stints with the Fish, Niner did nothing but impress, batting a solid .290/.358/.455 (.354 wOBA) for his Marlins career. When he first came up with the Fish after a few cups of coffee with the Kansas City Royals, he was among the team's best players and a regular fixture in left field from the beginning of 1993 until the World Series season of 1997. When the Marlins were again making the run for the playoffs in 2003, the Fish acquired Conine late in the season and his play, while merely solid, solidified an empty spot in the lineup and again became the stuff of Marlins legends.
Conine only spent a third of his career playing first base for the Marlins, but because of the relative inconsistency of Marlins first basemen, he actually made the second most starts at first base in Marlins history. His "Mr. Marlin" reputation and longevity with the Fish make him something of a big figure among fans, and certainly the two rings from different championship teams don't hurt. However, it is easy to think Niner was overrated by a small franchise and its limite history, but he was a legitimately good player in his time. His first run with the Fish was among the best performances from outfielders or first basemen in Marlins history.
While Niner may have spent more time with the team, Lee is credited with the most starts at first base in the team's history. Lee's career began with the fire-sale Marlins of 1998 and took a few seasons to establish before it began to flourish. After two forgettable years in 1998 and 1999, Lee began sneaking up on Marlins fans as a surprisingly good player. He hit .281/.368/.507 in 2000 with 28 home runs, and that began a four-year stretch ending in 2003 during which Lee hit .276/.368/.495 with eery yearly consistency. Lee's Marlins career topped out with the 2003 team; he hit .271/.379/.508 with 31 home runs and a 4.3 fWAR campaign that led to his offseason trade.
When you look at the total lines of both Lee and Conine, you see very similar players. Even after adjusting for era and park, OPS+ puts their offensive performances at a dead even race; Lee had an OPS+ of 115, while Conine was at 114. Lee did average fewer wins per season than Conine, but he did have the better reputation as a defender at first base. Any comparison between Lee and Conine will end up with very similar results, and this question is one Fish Stripes readers will have to answer in order to determine for whom to vote.
Bet you did not expect to see his name pop up so early, did you? Yes, if you ranked first basemen strictly by Wins Above Replacement, Sanchez would rank third among Marlins first basemen all-time. He has been solid for the first two seasons of his career, and so far that is enough to put him third on this list. We discussed Sanchez in good detail last week, and his numbers have shown himself to be just as good as Lee's and Conine's so far in his career; his OPS+ of 111 and comparable 113 wRC+ (using wOBA as the metric of choice instead of OPS) are right around where Conine and Lee's numbers were. The only disadvantage for Sanchez is time, as he has spent just under a third of the time at first base that the previous two first basemen spent for the Fish.
Who? Greg Colbrunn was the team's second regular first baseman, having started 298 games at the position from 1994 to 1996. As you can see, Colbrunn's bat was not awful and indeed was quite similar in quality to that of another player we will run into next. His hitting skills were just about league average for the time that he spent with the Fish (OPS+ of 103), but since those seasons were so nondescript in terms of competitive play, it was easy to forget Colbrunn. But he definitely deserves mention among the Marlins' top first basemen.
Cantu was a former scrap-heap pickup for the Marlins who turned out to be a solid selection for the team at a time where the corner infield positions were in major flux. Cantu's 2008 and 2009 seasons were mirrors of each other in value (.346 and .343 wOBA respectively) even though they were accomplished in completely different ways. The 2008 season was particularly interesting because it culminated in a 29-homer season which helped to hide Cantu's deficiencies with the glove.
Indeed, it was the glove that always brought Cantu down. When he played first base, he was decent, but the Marlins pigeonholed him at third base, where his poor arm could barely get throws across the infield. Cantu's defense in the hot corner sucked up more than two wins from his value from 2008 to 2010, which really diminished his accomplishments in Florida. Had the Marlins stuck with him at first base, perhaps the team would have come out ahead, but because of necessity, they played a player way out of position and he struggled because of it.
Delgado had a brilliant season in Florida, and some fans may wonder what might have happened had the Marlins made good on their four-year deal with him and kept him to help anchor the team's offense through 2009. In 2005, he was excellent, hitting .301/.399/.582, good for a .402 wOBA. Delgado's 152 wRC+ was the third highest of his career, lagging only behind his 2000 and 2003 seasons. By all accounts, it was one of his strongest seasons at the plate. In fact, the only reason why it rated as "only" about a four-win season was because of his defense; two different defensive statistics had him worth more than 15 runs below average that season.
Again, Marlins fans can speculate about how Delgado would have turned out had he stuck around with the team. He posted two more healthy, productive seasons with the Mets before succumbing to injuries in his final season and finishing up his career. It would have been interesting to see him man first base instead of some of the other choices the Marlins went to before going to Gaby Sanchez in 2010.
Well, the numbers sort of speak for themselves here. Destrade was the team's first first baseman, having started 151 games in the team's inaugural season. Outside of that, there was very little that he did was worth mentioning. He started only 37 games in 1994 before giving way to a myriad of players including Colbrunn. Among Marlins first basemen in team history, Destrade ranks worst in both FanGraphs and Baseball-Reference WAR, even beating out Marlins punching bag Mike Jacobs.
There are your cases Fish Stripes readers. Now it's time to vote. Who do you have as the Marlins' best first baseman of all time?