There is a lot to love about Giancarlo Stanton's 2014 season with the Miami Marlins. He has a very good chance to hit 40 home runs this season. He is in the thick of the National League MVP race. He has a shot at breaking Marlins records in home runs, and will probably finish the season as the team's career home run leader. He is having one of the better seasons in Marlins history, and it has helped keep the Marlins somewhat relevant into September, which would have been unheard of before the season began.
But with those things comes a realization. The Marlins of old traded Miguel Cabrera after they were unable to settle on what they felt was an appropriate salary for a second year of arbitration. Stanton will be heading into his second arbitration season, and there appears to be no sign of an imminent contract extension. It is uncertain whether Stanton would like to be a Marlin for the long haul. The Fish insist that Stanton will be staying with Miami even without a long-term contract, but there remains a real possibility that, by the end of the season, Stanton may have played his last game as a Marlin.
If that is the case, where does he stand among the team's best players? Marlins players have the issue that they are not often long for the roster. The team's leader in plate appearances is Luis Castillo with just under 5000 plate appearances. The next best player was Hanley Ramirez at just over 4100 chances. Mike Lowell was the only other player with more than 4000 plate appearances as a Marlin. Not many players have lasted very long in a Marlins uniform, which makes it hard to establish a hierarchy of which players were the "best."
Stanton has played 626 games, which is just past the number of games Cliff Floyd played for the Fish. Stanton leads Floyd by less than 100 plate appearances. If his Marlins career ended in 2014, Stanton would probably finish with the ninth-most plate appearances with the Fish, ending up right behind the comparable Miguel Cabrera on the all-time list. This leaves Stanton as yet another player who was a centerpiece for four to five years but who never got the long-term deal that let him stick around as long as a Hanley Ramirez or Mike Lowell.
Still, the rankings of players with the most Wins Above Replacement still have Stanton among the Marlins' best already. The following is the list ranked by FanGraphs WAR, with Baseball-Reference's WAR totals included as well.
|Josh Johnson||916 2/3||21.3||25.4|
|Ricky Nolasco||1225 2/3||18.6||10.4|
No matter which way you look at it, Stanton ranks among the four best Marlins in team history even at this stage. His comparisons to Cabrera continue to be apt, as both players produced marvelously in their short time with the team. Among the eight position players listed in the top 10, only two players (Stanton and Floyd) had less than 3000 plate appearances, and Cabrera barely broke that mark. All three produced like stars.
On a per plate appearances basis, Stanton's production might be better than any Marlin in team history. If you take the average of both systems, Stanton produced 4.6 wins per 600 plate appearances. This rate is better than any Marlin in the top 10 and indeed any Marlins player in history. It just barely edges out Josh Johnson's hyper-efficient run with the team, which included three fantastic seasons and multiple other injury-riddled ones. Not only even Hanley Ramirez (4.1 wins per 600 plate appearances) can match Stanton's production on a rate basis.
It is impossible to see Stanton as anything but one of the three or four best Marlins in the history of club, but if his Marlins career ended this year, that would be the end of that. Hanley Ramirez would remain the Marlins' best player in history, at least until Jose Fernandez or Christian Yelich overtake him. But how much longer would Stanton have to stay in Miami to surpass Ramirez? Ramirez put up those numbers in six healthy seasons with the Fish. If Stanton continued to produce at the above rate, it would take Stanton just over 1100 plate appearances to catch up to Ramirez's total. Stanton has averaged 576 plate appearances a year since 2011, if we assume that he will finish with a full, healthy campaign this season. That means that his 1100 plate appearances would happen in just under two more seasons.
Stanton is already a Marlins great, but he would need almost two more years in a Marlins uniform to be the Marlins great. The Fish are hoping he sticks around long enough to warrant his name being more than just a memorable run with his first team before moving on to his "franchise." The team wants Stanton to make Miami his franchise, but he is still a ways away from taking over the title of "best Marlin" over. If and when he does, his name will become the most synonymous one attached to the Miami Marlins, and the fans would be happy about that.