Throughout the 2020-21 offseason, the All-Time Marlins Countdown is featuring each of the 630 players to take the field in a regular season game through their first 28 seasons.
I had to start by sorting the players into some sort of order. First, I set brackets which were defined by total batters faced and/or plate appearances each player accrued while with the Marlins. The current bracket, of players between 250-and-799 PA/BF, contains 151 players. We’re nearing the very top of these players, who will quite jarringly be immediately followed by the worst players with 800+ PA/BF. I’m just trying to prepare you for the next few days of this series, and don’t say I didn’t warn you.
The three relievers in today’s article turned in bWAR figures well above replacement level during their tenure with Florida/Miami.
135. Armando Benítez
Armando Benítez is a six-foot-four right-handed pitcher from Ramon Santana, Dominican Republic. Born in late-1972, he signed his first professional contract with the Baltimore Orioles in 1990, while still aged 17.
In 1994, Benítez graduated to the majors for the first time, and played his first five seasons with Baltimore. He later also played for the New York Mets, the New York Yankees, and the Seattle Mariners. Through his first 10 seasons at the big league level, he saved 197 games and struck out 11.8 batters per nine innings, totaling 764 and holding the opposition to a .188/.297/.322 slashline, a 3.03 ERA, a 3.65 FIP, and a 1.208 WHIP.
In 2001, Benítez was involved in a domestic violence controversy with his then-fianceé, Stacy O’Neill. The case was later dismissed due to lack of evidence.
In 2003, Benítez started the season with the Mets, making the National League All Star team for the first time. Before the end of the season, he had also played for the Yankees and the Mariners. Granted free agency after the end of the campaign, the Marlins signed him for one year and $3.5 million.
In 2004, Benítez was well-above average with the Marlins, putting up career-best numbers in most statistical categories. He totaled 3.4 bWAR while leading the NL with 47 saves. Benítez posted a career-best 0.818 WHIP and a 1.29 ERA, with an opposing slashline of .152/.220/.257 and a strike-rate of 67 percent. He made his second All Star team. In fact, the only thing Benítez proved not-very-good at was his handling of base stealers, allowing all nine attempts to swipe a base.
Between April 8 and June 4, Benítez saved 20 games and blew only one (on an unearned run, no less). During that time, he gave up zero earned runs, 11 walks and 13 hits in 30 innings. Benítez’ 2004 season was all the more impressive considering he struck out a career-low 8.0 batters per nine innings.
Released to free agency once more following the season, Benítez signed a three-year, $21 million deal with the San Francisco Giants, but was unable to duplicate his Marlins success. In two-and-a-half years, he saved 45 games with an un-closer-like 1.482 WHIP. On May 21, 2007, the Giants traded him back to the Marlins for Randy Messenger.
In 36 games for the Marlins, covering 33 innings, Benítez racked up a 5.73 ERA and a 1.576 WHIP. Florida did not pursue a second encore, at least not yet. Benítez spent 2008 in the Toronto Blue Jays system, and played in eight major league games for the parent club. He played 2009 in the Houston Astros minor leagues, and was resigned for a third time by the Marlins in June, 2010. After pitching in eight games for the Triple-A New Orleans Zephyrs, he was released less than a month later.
134. Lee Gardner
Lee Gardner is a six-foot right-handed pitcher from Hartland, Michigan. After going undrafted out of Central Michigan University, the Tampa Bay Devil Rays signed him through free agency in 1998, at the age of 23.
Gardner got to the majors with the Rays in 2002 appearing in 12 games. It took another three years for him to take a curtain call, and played in five more in 2005. He pitched a total of 20 2⁄3 major league innings with Tampa Bay, and racked up a 4.35 ERA.
In 2006, Gardner spent the season at the Triple-A level with the Toledo Mud Hens for the Detroit Tigers. He was 5-5 with a 2.92 ERA in 58 trips out of the bullpen. He joined the Marlins organization for the 2007 campaign.
To say that 2007 was a career year for Gardner would be an understatement. Of his 86 career major league appearances, 62 of them came in 2007. He finally spent his rookie eligibility at the tender age of 32, going 3-4 with a 1.94 ERA.
Gardner totaled 52 strikeouts against only 18 walks in 74 1⁄3 innings, holding opponents to a .253/.302/.320 slash line. He put 65 percent of his pitches in the strike zone, stranded 73 percent of his inherited runners, and closed the season with a 1.202 WHIP.
Only twice through the season did Gardner allow more than one earned run in an appearance, Although not a closer, his most positively impactful game of the season resulted in a save. On April 8, he came into a game against the Philadelphia Phillies with one out, the bases loaded, and a two-run ninth-inning lead. He then got Carlos Ruiz to pop up in foul territory before finishing off Michael Bourn looking at three pitches for a 6-4 Marlins victory.
After the 2007 season, Gardner spent another year with the Marlins, but it wasn’t a patch on his “rookie” campaign. He only appeared in seven times at the major league level in April, posting a 10.80 ERA and a 2.700 WHIP in 6 2⁄3 innings. After April 17, he didn’t appear in another professional game, and was granted free agency following the season.
133. Chad Qualls
Six-foot-four right-handed reliever Chad Qualls was originally a 52nd round pick of the Toronto Blue Jays in 1997. A native of Lomita, California, Qualls joined the University of Nevada at Reno for his collegiate ball instead of signing with the Jays.
Qualls was again drafted four years later, but he went considerably higher. The Houston Astros spent a second round selection on him, and put him in the rotation for the Single-A Michigan Battle Cats. He went 15-6 in 26 turns, with 125 strikeouts in 162 innings. In 2004, while pitching for the Astros Triple-A affiliate, the New Orleans Zephyrs, he was moved from rotational starter to reliever, and remained a reliever for the rest of his career.
Through 844 major league appearances over 14 seasons, Qualls never started a game. He posted a 52-48 record with a 3.89 ERA. Prior to joining the Marlins for the 2013 campaign, he played four seasons for Houston, three with the Arizona Diamondbacks, part of 2010 with the Tampa Bay Rays, one year with the San Diego Padres, and 2012 split between the Philadelphia Phillies, the New York Yankees, and the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Prior to 2013 Spring Training, the Marlins brought Qualls in for one year and $1.15 million. He ranked sixth on the team in the end with a 1.7 bWAR, after going 5-2 with a 2.61 ERA in 66 trips out of the pen. He logged a 1.226 WHIP and struck out 49 in 62 innings, walking only 19 batters.
Qualls put 66 percent of his pitches in the strike zone through his year with the Marlins, and stranded 20-of-23 inherited baserunners. He allowed opponents a slash of .251/.315/.344, In a dozen appearances in July, Qualls didn’t allow anyone to cross the plate. He struck out 13 while allowing seven hits and two walks, while putting an incredible 73 percent of his offerings over the plate.
After his year with the Marlins, Qualls rejoined the Astros for two more years, then played another two seasons for the Colorado Rockies. He’s been a free agent since mid-2017. Now aged 42, it’s unlikely he’ll make another major league appearance.