Here we come to yet another edition of the Fish Stripes All-Time Florida Marlins Team voting. This time, we arrive at the voting for the shortstop position. The Marlins have had surprisingly few shortstops over the course of their career; not counting five PA by the incomparable Eddie Zosky in 1995, only five men have ever manned the position for the Marlins. Of course, this season will mark the sixth player, as free agent addition Jose Reyes is set to start on Opening Day for the Fish in 2012.
But we are not here to celebrate the future (though I hope there is a fair share of future celebrating to be had this season) but to honor the past. I will list three shortstops of Marlins history, and I will ask you readers to vote for the All-Time Florida Marlins member among them. There is a good chance that this is a landslide choice, as there are few worthy candidates beyond the very best one, but we will see how the voting turns out.
Here are your nominees for the team's shortstop:
It is amazing how angry Ramirez makes Marlins fans when he has been perhaps the best Marlin in team history. He leads the team in total FanGraphs and Baseball-Reference Wins Above Replacement by a hefty margin. Ramirez leads second-place Marlin and All-Time team second baseman Luis Castillo by around nine wins in both WAR metrics despite having 1000 fewer PA than him. Ramirez is also the fourth-longest tenured Marlin, behind only Castillo, Jeff Conine, and Mike Lowell. Among Marlins with at least 1000 PA with the team, Ramirez's OPS+ ranks fourth behind sluggers Gary Sheffield, Miguel Cabrera, and Cliff Floyd. Of course, he also did this while playing the most difficult position in the infield, providing even more value to the team by just being a shortstop.
Of course, it is difficult to argue against Ramirez's offensive achievements. It is the lack of achievements defensively at shortstop that have held him back a bit. Depending on what defensive stat you ask, Ramirez has cost anywhere between 28 and 46 runs defensively in his career; that sort of negative contribution robbed him of around three to five wins for his career. It's important to note that, despite this clearly negative contribution on defense, he was still significantly better than any other Marlin; that is how strong his offense at his position made him.
The final bit of anti-Ramirez slant has to be from the supposed attitude he has displayed over the years as a Marlin. He has been linked with many altercations between himself and managers, teammates, and management over a variety of different issues. It is hard to forget such memorable foibles as him jogging after a booted ball in play or him and Dan Uggla chewing each other out over an early injury exit. Like it or not, if there is a guy who gets negative points for being a poor clubhouse player, it is Ramirez. Whether that should affect his otherwise brilliant career is a different story altogether.
After Ramirez, the choices for shortstop are slim. Renteria was the Marlins' third official "starting shortstop," having started the majority of the games at the position from 1996 to 1998. His game was very reminiscent of Luis Castillo's in that it was predicated on speed, but he lacked Castillo's classic patient approach. Nevertheless, a career .316 wOBA was nothing to scoff at for a shortstop; if you add his positional value to his offensive numbers, he was better than the league average shortstop in two of his three seasons with the Fish. He was also classically known as a good handler with the glove, though the numbers did not necessarily bare that out.
Perhaps Renteria's greatest accomplishment as a Marlin was being the starting shortstop for the team when the Fish won their first World Series in 1997. While Renteria faltered in the first two series against the San Francisco Giants and Atlanta Braves, he did his best work in the World Series; he hit .290/.353/.355 and delivered this all-time Marlins moment.
Renteria may not have spent a lot of time as a Marlin, but his time with the Fish was memorable. He was one of the few World Series survivors who played for the team in 1998, and had the Marlins perhaps not had a prospect on their way in 1999, they would have allowed Renteria a season or two more before being traded away, as he was entering just his first season of arbitration.
Gonzalez was that prospect that eventually allowed the Marlins to trade Renteria, and for the first half of his rookie season, it looked as though the Fish may have something to look forward to in those dark days post-fire sale. Through the first 84 games of the 1999 season, Gonzalez hit an impressive .291/.324/.462 with nine homers, 19 doubles, and six triples. He was the best hitter on that putrid 1999 team, and it was no surprise that he made the All-Star Game as the club's lone representative. Through the end of the season, however, he struggled at the plate and with the managerial staff. Not only did he just .255/.284/.382 (conspicuously close to his career numbers with the Marlins), but he was also stripped of his playing time in August due to an incident where he failed to run out a ground out properly.
The end of that 1999 season was only a harbinger of things to come for Gonzalez. From 2000 to 2002, he was among the worst hitters in baseball, batting just .228/.275/.348 and looking broken at the plate. His defense had apparently not become golden yet according to the numbers, though he carried a good reputation. It was looking very bleak for the previously longest-tenured shortstop in Marlins history.
The 2003 season changed everything. After hitting only 18 home runs in three previous seasons, Gonzalez belted 18 in 2003 while hitting .256/.313/.443. That season ended with the second-highest OBP of his career as a Marlin and with the second-highest home run total with the Fish in his career. Overall, 2003 was the best season he had ever put up at the plate, as he notched a 91 wRC+. He also finally began to find his rhythm on the field, at least by UZR's standards. All in all, that season was the best of his career and culminated in a 2003 World Series win that provided him his crowning career moment: a 12th-inning walk-off home run that sent the Marlins to a Game 4 victory in south Florida.
In the end, Gonzalez was merely the longest-tenured shortstop in terms of games started for the Fish. Indeed, with a Marlins career wRC+ of just 74, it is arguable that his longevity was the only thing that made him worthwhile on this list. Still, as a Marlins fan, it is difficult to think of anything but that walk-off homer when the name "Alex Gonzalez" comes to mind.
So Fish Stripers, who should be the Fish Stripes All-Time Florida Marlins Team shortstop?