Today’s edition of the countdown includes a familiar face, a current AL East manager, and a few other players who found a brief home with the Marlins.
Over the weekend, Ely Sussman pinch hit for Kevin Kraczkowski and announced he’ll be counting us down every Saturday. In addition, I’ll be helping Kevin and Ely when needed. You can think of me as the staff’s utility player. Check out today’s installment of the All-Time Marlins Countdown!
320. Rich Rodriguez
The Kansas City Royals drafted Rodriguez in the 17th round of the 1981 Draft. Rodriguez, a left-handed pitcher from California, opted to attend the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. Three years later, the New York Mets selected Rodriguez in the 9th round of the 1984 Draft.
Rodriguez got as high as AA ball with the Mets, but was traded to the San Diego Padres in 1989 for two minor league infielders. In 1990, Rodriguez made his debut for the Padres, walking one batter on five pitches.
Rodriguez posted a 4.11 ERA in 36 relief appearances for the Marlins that season, which puts him right around the average team ERA. But, let’s focus only on the events that Rodriguez had control over: strikeouts, walks, hit by pitches, and home runs. Rodriguez’s FIP with the Marlins that year was 5.97, making it safe to assume that he benefited from a bit of luck and from the Marlins defense, which was top-5 in the National League that season.
Before the 1994 season began, the Marlins released Rodriguez. He would eventually sign with 8 different teams and be traded once more over the next 10 seasons. In 2003, Rodriguez pitched in his final big league game at 40 years old.
Since retiring, Rodriguez founded Elite Nine. Made up of former Major League Baseball players who are passionate about advancing the game, Elite Nine aims to help youth ballplayers compete at the next level.
319. Adalberto Méndez
The Chicago Cubs signed Méndez, a 19-year-old from the Dominican Republic, in 2001. According to his MiLB.com player page, Méndez spent part of the 2002 season as an infielder before he was converted into a pitcher.
Méndez spent five seasons in the Cubs’ system before the Marlins selected him in the 2007 Rule 5 Draft. He spent the 2008 season in High-A, but was granted free agency at the end of the season. 32 days later, however, he re-signed with the Marlins.
Méndez made his Major League debut on Sept. 6, 2010, starting the first game of a doubleheader against the Philadelphia Phillies. He threw six shutout innings, allowing only one hit and striking out six, which was enough to get the win. He started four more games for the Marlins, allowing 14 runs in 18.2 innings.
Méndez returned to the minors in 2011 and was granted free agency at the end of the season. After his time with the Marlins, he briefly played in the Mexican Baseball League.
318. Mario Díaz
Díaz, an infielder from Puerto Rico, signed with the Seattle Mariners in 1978 just before his 17th birthday. He played in 776 minor league games across eight seasons before he made his Major League debut. In his first plate appearance, Díaz hit a pinch hit triple.
Díaz played in 91 games with the Mariners from 1987-1989, who then traded him to the New York Mets in 1990. He signed multiple contracts after being granted free agency by the Mets, finding playing time over parts of the next three seasons with the Texas Rangers.
Beginning in December, 1993, the Marlins signed Díaz as a free agent three separate times in 16 months. He appeared in 81 games over two seasons. Though the majority of his appearances came as a pinch hitter, Díaz started multiple games for the Fish at each of second base, third base, and shortstop in 1994 and 1995.
One of Díaz’s biggest moments in a Marlins uniform came on June 8, 1994. The Marlins had just tied the game with two outs in the bottom of the ninth against the Los Angeles Dodgers. Díaz came off the bench to pinch hit with the winning run on second base. On the fifth pitch of the at bat, he lined the ball into centerfield to drive in in the winning run.
Although he wasn’t the biggest name on the team, Díaz made good impressions on his teammates. During the 1995 season, catcher Steve Decker was trying to find his way back into the starting lineup after an injury. Decker told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel that he turned to Díaz for guidance after watching him make the most of his sparse playing time in 1994.
Díaz returned to the minor leagues for the 1996 season, played in the Mexican League in 1997, and in the Atlantic League (Independent) in 1998 and 1999.
317. Aaron Boone
Boone undoubtedly comes from a baseball family. His grandfather, Ray Boone, played 13 seasons with six teams; his father, Bob Boone, played 19 seasons with three teams; his brother, Bret Boone, played 14 seasons with five teams.
Drafted initially by the California Angels in the 43rd round of the 1991 Draft, Boone chose to attend the University of Southern California. Three years later, the Cincinnati Reds selected him in the 3rd round of the 1994 Draft.
Boone made his Major League debut in 1997 and would play the first six and a half seasons of his career with the Reds. In 2002, Boone played in all 162 games. In 2003, after being named an All Star, Boone was traded to the New York Yankees at the trade deadline.
The Yankees, of course, would face off against the Florida Marlins in the 2003 World Series. Boone’s performance was dismal. In 21 at bats, he recorded three hits and six strikeouts. He also committed three errors at third base. If that wasn’t bad enough, Baseball Reference lists one particular at bat from Boone as a top 10 play in the 2003 World Series.
The Yankees are up 2-games-to-1 in the 2003 World Series. After trailing the Fish for all of Game 4, the Yankees tie the game with a ninth inning, pinch hit, two-out, two-run triple. The Marlins don’t score in the bottom half of the inning, so the game goes to extras.
The game is still tied in the 11th inning, but the Yankees manage to load the bases with only one out. Enter: Boone. After fouling off multiple pitches, Boone strikes out swinging. The Marlins induce a popup to end the inning, keeping themselves in the series. After a quick bottom half of the 11th, they’re able to hold the Yankees scoreless once more. As I’m sure you remember, Álex González would help the Marlins win Game 4 with his 12th inning, walk-off home run.
There are two numbers I’d like to highlight here. Of all 470 at bats in the 2003 World Series, Boone’s 11th inning, bases loaded strikeout carried the eighth highest cWPA (Championship Win Probability Added) and the third-highest cLI (Championship Leverage Index). Simply put, this was one of the most pivotal at bats in the 2003 World Series. The Marlins won the battle against Boone, and would ultimately win the battle against the Yankees.
The reason why Boone is even featured on the All-Time Marlins Countdown, however, comes a few years later. One of his final stops of his playing career was with the Marlins in 2007. He plays in 69 games, mostly starting at first base for the Fish. (That strikeout catapults Boone to the top of my list, but I trust Kevin’s rankings for this All-Time Marlins Countdown.)
Boone now manages the Yankees, where he holds a .615 winning percentage over 3 seasons.
316. Jesús Aguilar
Aguilar made his debut with the Cleveland Indians in 2014 after being signed out of Venezuela six and a half years prior. He played in only 35 games over three seasons for the Indians and was claimed off waivers by the Milwaukee Brewers in 2017 where he hit the ground running. Aguilar made the NL All-Star Team in 2018 and would end the season with 35 home runs. He even wound up on a few NL MVP ballots that year, but teammate Christian Yelich would end up winning the league’s Most Valuable Player award. Aguilar struggled the following season, was traded to the Tampa Bay Rays at the deadline, and was placed on waivers following the season.
At the end of 2019, the Miami Marlins claimed Aguilar off waivers and hoped his bat would upgrade the offense and his leadership would aid the rebuilding club. Because of the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, Major League Baseball implemented a few new rules, including the addition of the designated hitter in the National League. This gave manager Don Mattingly a few lineup options. Aguilar ended the season with 31 appearances at first base and 20 in the designated hitter role.
It didn’t take long for Aguilar to make his presence with the Marlins known. Aguilar swatted his first hit, a 409-foot home run, on Opening Day against the Philadelphia Phillies. Just days later, Aguilar was able to avoid the COVID-19 outbreak within the Marlins clubhouse and would go on to play in 51 of the team’s 60 regular season games.
In those 51 games, Aguilar led the team with 52 hits and was one of five qualified batters with an OPS better than league average.
When the Marlins made their first postseason appearance in 17 years, Aguilar came up with the team’s first hit in the fourth inning against Chicago Cubs pitcher Kyle Hendricks. Although the Marlins didn’t score that inning, they would knock Hendricks out of the game with a seventh-inning, three-run home run by Corey Dickerson. Two batters later, Aguilar took Jeremy Jeffress deep for an opposite-field home run. Agular’s home run gave the Marlins a 5-to-1 lead and propelled them to a postseason win.
After the 2020 season, the Marlins signed Aguilar to a one-year deal worth $4.35 million. Aguilar also has an opportunity to earn a performance bonus of $50,000 for each of 400, 450, and 500 plate appearances in 2021.