Marlins' Top 5 shortstops: Frisaro's take

April 21st, 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 5 shortstops in Marlins history. Next week: Left field.

1. , 2006-12
Key facts: Three-time All-Star, 2006 National League Rookie of the Year, 2009 NL batting champion, two-time Silver Slugger Award winner

Ramirez is one of the most complex yet complete players to ever wear a Marlins uniform. His performance, especially in his early seasons with the organization, speaks for itself. He was the NL Rookie of the Year Award winner in 2006, topping all rookies in hits (185), runs (119) and stolen bases (51). In a tight race, he finished ahead of Ryan Zimmerman of the Nationals and Marlins teammate Dan Uggla. Actually, six Marlins finished in the top 10.

"Nobody was talking about winning Rookie of the Year in the clubhouse," Ramirez said in a conference call after winning the award.

A strong September cemented the award for him.

In 2009, Ramirez was the NL batting champion, hitting .342, and he was second in the NL MVP voting to Albert Pujols of the Cardinals. Three times the fans voted Ramirez as the NL's starting All-Star shortstop. Still, Ramirez never quite lived up to his potential.

Ramirez had run-ins with his teammates, including Uggla, and he was benched one time by former manager Fredi González for lack of hustle. And by the time Ramirez was traded to the Dodgers in July 2012, he seemed to have worn out his welcome in Miami.

All that said, statistically, Ramirez by far had the best tenure of any Marlins shortstop. His FanGraphs WAR in 943 games with the Marlins is 30.5. The next highest is Edgar Renteria with a 5.5. As impressive as Ramirez was in his first five or six seasons, Marlins fans can’t help but wonder what might have been.

2. , 1998-2005
Key fact: Delivered walk-off home run in the 12th inning of Game 4 of the 2003 World Series

If not for Gonzalez’s heroics in Game 4, there may not have been a 2003 World Series victory for the Marlins. In the 12th inning, Gonzalez had his Carlton Fisk-like moment, watching his walk-off home run against the Yankees' Jeff Weaver stay just fair down the left-field line. That blast tied the World Series at two games apiece, and the Marlins won the next two.

Before that dramatic home run, Gonzalez was 5-for-53 in the playoffs and 1-for-13 in the World Series. Known for his outstanding defense, Gonzalez also came up big on the basepaths in the World Series. In the Marlins’ Game 6 clinching victory over the Yankees, Gonzalez made an athletic slide to avoid a tag at home plate to score the game’s first run in a 2-0 shutout win, courtesy of Josh Beckett.

“You didn't worry about what he hit,” former manager Jack McKeon said in a recent interview with “He could field with the best of them. He was another guy who minded his own business. He was an outstanding defensive player, and seemed to come up with a clutch hit, here and there.”

If you go strictly on offensive statistics, Gonzalez wouldn’t come up second on this list. In eight years with the Marlins, he hit just .245 while mostly batting eighth.

But you do a disservice to measure his value to the club by looking at his offensive production alone, because he and second baseman Luis Castillo cemented the infield defensively, especially from 2003-05. And Gonzalez could knock the ball out of the park on occasion. In ’03, he did have 18 home runs and drove in 77 runs, and he had 81 homers in his Marlins career.

3. , 1996-98
Key fact: Delivered walk-off single in the 11th inning to clinch Game 7 and the 1997 World Series

On a team of established stars, like Gary Sheffield and Bobby Bonilla, Renteria became the unlikeliest of heroes in Game 7 of the 1997 World Series. But at age 20, Renteria showed that the most tense of baseball moments wasn’t too much for him. It was Renteria’s single up the middle in the 11th inning off Charles Nagy that gave the Marlins a 3-2 walk-off win over the Indians and the organization’s first championship. Renteria had a brief three-year tenure with the Marlins, but his legacy is secure in team lore. In 1996, at 19 years, 277 days, Renteria became the youngest player in franchise history. A year later, he drove in the decisive World Series run. Renteria was second in the National League Rookie of the Year Award voting in 1996, and he was an All-Star in '98, his final year with the franchise.

4. , 2015-present
Key fact: Rojas’ Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) of 7.3 in 2019 ranked fourth among all qualified MLB shortstops. A UZR of 0 is considered average

Rojas’ FanGraphs WAR of 5.2 is already third best among all-time Marlins shortstops. Simply put, the 31-year-old is getting better and growing into the position as Miami’s everyday shortstop and current leader of the club. In '19, Rojas showed improvement at the plate, sporting a slash line of .284/.331/.379. While his home runs were down to five, he was a better overall hitter than in '18, when he belted 11 homers but hit .252 with a .297 on-base percentage.

5. , 2013-2017
Key fact: A National League Gold Glove finalist in 2015, Hechavarría had 12 Defensive Runs Saved that season

There was plenty of flare and creativity with the way Hechavarría played shortstop in his five seasons with the Marlins. In '15, he was one of three finalists for the Gold Glove Award, which went to Brandon Crawford of the Giants. That was Hechavarría’s finest season with the Marlins, as he hit .281 and had an fWAR of 2.6, his best for any season of his career. Offensively is where he didn’t stand out. He posted a .255 career batting average with the Marlins before he was traded to the Rays midway through 2017.

Honorable mention
Kurt Abbott (1994-97) was a reserve on the 1997 World Series title team, but in '95, he also saw steady playing time at shortstop and delivered 17 home runs and 60 RBIs in 120 games. … After the '97 title team was broken up, Dave Berg was a steady utility player from 1998-01. In 81 games in ’98, he hit .313, and Berg followed it up with a .286 average in ’99, although he didn’t generate much power. … Alex Arias (1993-97) was mostly a defensive specialist in his career with the Marlins, playing all over the infield. He also was a bench player on the ’97 title team. In '96, he batted .277 with a .335 on-base percentage.