Marlins' Top 5 relievers: Frisaro's take

June 8th, 2020

No one loves a good debate quite like baseball fans, and with that in mind, we asked each of our beat reporters to rank the top five players by position in the history of their franchise, based on their career while playing for that club. These rankings are for fun and debate purposes only. If you don’t agree with the order, participate in the Twitter poll to vote for your favorite at this position.

Here is Joe Frisaro’s ranking of the top five relievers in Marlins history.

Marlins' Top 5: C | 1B | 2B | 3B | SS | LF | CF | RF | Bench | RH SP | LH SP

1. Robb Nen, 1993-97

The son of former big league first baseman Dick Nen, Robb was a 32nd-round pick by the Rangers in the 1987 MLB Draft. In July of their inaugural 1993 season, the Marlins swung a trade with Texas that turned out to be a steal. Nen was acquired for right-hander Cris Carpenter (not to be confused with former Cardinals ace Chris Carpenter).

Then 23, Nen made one start and 14 relief appearances in ’93. From there he blossomed into a shut-down closer, and he remains the Marlins' all-time leader in saves, with 108. Nen spent parts of five seasons with the Marlins, and recorded back-to-back 35-save campaigns in 1996-97. In 1996 he had a 1.95 ERA in 83 innings, and he followed that up with a 9-3 record and 3.89 ERA in 74 innings on the 1997 World Series title team. He had four saves in the postseason, including two in the World Series.

With the Marlins, he converted 108 of 128 save chances. His career flourished after he was dealt to the Giants in 1998, as he became a three-time All-Star, and he finished his career with 314 saves.

2. Steve Cishek, 2010-15

Giancarlo Stanton, a second-round selection, wasn’t the only prize pick the Marlins had in the 2007 MLB Draft. In the fifth round, Cishek was taken from Carson-Newman University. A lanky 6-foot-6 right-hander with a sidearm delivery, Cishek developed into one of the top relievers in franchise history. Cishek’s 5.8 Fangraphs WAR is the highest of any Marlins reliever, and his 94 saves rank third. From June 8, 2013, to April 25, 2014, Cishek recorded 33 straight saves, a club mark he shares with AJ Ramos (2015-16).

"I'm an adrenaline junkie," Cishek said in an interview with in 2014. "It’s crazy trying to describe it. It would be like a dog sticking its face out of a car window going, like, 85 [mph]. You can't even close your eyes, it's like pinning your face back. It's awesome."

Cishek started the 2012 season being used in setup situations, but when Heath Bell struggled, Cishek took over as closer. He had 34 saves in 2013 and 39 saves the following season.

3. Antonio Alfonseca, 1997-01, 2005

Nicknamed “El Pulpo” (the octopus) because he has an extra digit on each hand and foot, Alfonseca was the Marlins’ closer in the early years of the franchise. In 2000 the right-hander saved 45 games, which topped the Majors.

In 2001, Alfonseca’s final season with the Marlins, he had 28 saves. With 102 saves in six years in South Florida, he is second only to Nen in club history.

A native of the Dominican Republic, Alfonseca started his professional career with the Montreal Expos, signing as a non-drafted free agent in July 1989. The Marlins selected him in the 1993 Expansion Draft. He was a rookie on the 1997 World Series championship team, appearing in 17 games.

Late in Spring Training in 2002, the Marlins traded Alfonseca and Matt Clement to the Cubs for Julian Tavarez, and prospects Dontrelle Willis, Jose Cueto and Ryan Jorgensen.

Alfonseca made a return to the Marlins in 2005, signing as a free agent, but he wasn’t much of a factor in late-inning roles. He threw 27 1/3 innings in 33 games, with a 4.94 ERA.

4. AJ Ramos, 2012-16

Ramos is a prime example that gems can be found in the later rounds of the Draft. A 21st-round selection from Texas Tech University in 2009, he developed into one of the better relievers in franchise history.

He made his MLB debut in 2012, and he took over as closer after Cishek struggled in 2015.

From Sept. 4, 2015, to July 2, 2010, Ramos had a string of 33 straight converted saves, which is tied with Cishek for a franchise record.

"You've got to continue to do the job," Ramos said after his streak ended. "It never matters what you've done. It's about what you have done and what you continue to do. That’s what I’m focusing on."

An All-Star in 2016, Ramos converted 40 of 43 save opportunities that year.

5. Armando Benitez, 2004

After pitching for the Mets, Yankees and Mariners in 2003, Benitez signed as a free agent with the Marlins in 2004. He ended up being a bargain, signing for $3.5 million after making $6.9 million in 2003. In his lone season with the Marlins, Benitez set the franchise record with 47 saves, which also led the National League. He converted 47 of 51 chances, and had a 1.29 ERA.

From April 8 to June 4, Benitez had a stretch in which he allowed just one unearned run in 30 innings. One of his best saves came at Philadelphia on July 22. Inheriting a bases-loaded, one-out situation in the eighth inning, he notched a five-out save. He was an All-Star that year before signing as a free agent with the Giants in 2005.

Honorable mention

Bryan Harvey (1993-95) posted 45 saves and was an All-Star in 1993. … Juan Carlos Oviedo had 92 saves in his three seasons with the organization (2009-11). … Mike Dunn (2011-16) is the best left-handed reliever in franchise history; he holds the club mark for games pitched (405).