After a long hiatus, the voting for the Fish Stripes All-Time Florida Marlins Team has returned! We will now begin voting for the third baseman. The Marlins have actually had a surprising amount of stability at the third base position; only four players were named on ballots, and they are all names that make sense when you consider the club's best third basemen. Of course, it's likely that of those four names, only two will stand out as true competitors for the crown. It will be interesting to see how this competition turns out.
Here are your candidates for Fish Stripes All-Time Florida Marlins third baseman.
Like Jeff Conine before him, Miguel Cabrera is another player that qualifies for two different positions on the Marlins. Unlike Conine, there is a major difference in the two player's playing skills. Until 2009, Cabrera held the exalted position of "Best Marlin Ever" by having the most Wins Above Replacement of any player on the team. His accomplishments as a Marlin are undeniable. His career .313/.388/.542 line puts him second only to Gary Sheffield among Marlins with at least 1000 PA in OPS+. His five-year stay with the Fish was the most prolific offensive stretch in the team's history, as he brought in around 170 runs above average during his time as a Marlin. He owns 138 home runs as a Marlin, which stands as third all-time on the team behind only Dan Uggla and Mike Lowell.
The only thing that stood in Cabrera's way for most of his career was defense. He was a very bad defender in the outfield, and he clearly got worse and worse at third base. It is not surprising that the Detroit Tigers moved him from third base to his more rightful position of first base after only 14 games. The Marlins never had a chance to do this even though the team only once had a legitimate, good first baseman during that time period. Cabrera cost 29 to 42 runs on defense during that time period compared to the average player at his position.
Of course, that only takes away some luster from the otherwise excellent Marlins career Cabrera put together. Topping off the statistical accomplishments are Cabrera's accomplishments during the 2003 playoffs. He got a chance to bat cleanup for the Marlins during the National League Championship and World Series run, went toe to toe with Roger Clemens and other top New York Yankees starters, and succeeded more than anyone could have imagined.
If you are a fan of longevity, it is difficult to go against Lowell. Mike Lowell is the second-most tenured Marlin in team history behind only Luis Castillo. He totaled between 47 and 65 runs above average on offense in his time as a Marlin, including two seasons (2003 and 2004) that were more than 20 runs better than average. Lowell also made a decent living with his defense, or so it's been said. While TotalZone had him at 24 runs better than average during his time as a Marlin, UZR saw him as closer to five runs worse than average, which is an interesting discrepancy. Nevertheless, he added more value with his glove than Cabrera has, which is an edge for him.
The argument for Lowell is an argument for his lengthy stay indeed. No player has started and played more games at third than Lowell, and the competition is not even close. Cabrera is a distant second with only 375 games at the position. Lowell has 939 games as a Marlins third baseman under his belt, and the fact that he was more than an effective player both on offense and defense makes him more than worthy of the title of best third baseman. The only problems with Lowell's resume are his final, ugly season in 2005 (-0.3 FanGraphs Wins Above Replacement) and his injury in 2003 that held him mostly ineffective during the playoffs and World Series.
Here's what I said about Cantu for his first base entry.
Player PA AVG OBP SLG fWAR rWAR Cantu 1738 .278 .330 .450 4.2 3.5
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.
The argument for Bonilla is one that values his contributions during the 1997 World Series. There is no doubt that he was one of the team's best hitters in 1997; his 21 runs above average ranked third behind only Moises Alou and Gary Sheffield that season. His postseason run was not as impressive as his regular season, but he was still a major contributor to that team's successes. His primary problem was very clearly his defense, as he was worth around 13 to 18 runs worse than average with his terrible third base play.
So Fish Stripers, who do you want for your Fish Stripes All-Time Florida Marlins Team?