Padres' Top 5 second basemen: Cassavell's take

April 7th, 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 AJ Cassavell’s ranking of the top 5 second basemen in Padres history. Next week: third base.

1. Mark Loretta, 2003-05
Key fact: Loretta joins Tony Gwynn as the only qualifying Padres with a batting average above .300. He hit .314 in three seasons with San Diego.

Across 12 big league seasons elsewhere, Loretta was a solid, though unspectacular, second baseman. But everything seemed to click in San Diego, where Loretta posted a .314/.377/.438 slash line from 2003-05.

“My career had gotten sidetracked a little bit, a few kind of car wreck-type injuries,” Loretta said. “When I was a free agent after the 2002 season, San Diego was the only team that said, 'Hey, we'd like to have you and be our everyday second baseman.' ... First and foremost, it was just about the opportunity."

Loretta’s 2004 season -- the franchise’s first at Petco Park -- is the most prolific for a second baseman in club history. He was worth 6.0 Wins Above Replacement and earned an All-Star berth and a Silver Slugger Award.

“I never really had a prolonged dry spell,” Loretta said. “In 2004, for some reason, I just started off hot, and it continued all the way through. It felt like just about everything I hit fell in. It was one of those special years, really. … And opening up Petco Park was a thrill, too. It’s been really cool to see what that’s done for downtown.”

Loretta missed time early in 2005 because of injury. But when he returned, he was instrumental in the Padres' push for a division title. Among qualifying Padres hitters, Loretta ranks second all-time in average and 10th in on-base percentage. His ’03 and ’04 seasons are the two best for a second baseman by both Baseball Reference and Fangraphs' calculations of WAR in franchise history. That strong peak gives Loretta the edge at the top of this list.

2. Roberto Alomar, 1988-90
Key fact: Alomar is the only Padres second baseman with three seasons of at least 3 bWAR. He has three of the eight such seasons in franchise history.

It's not worth debating Alomar vs. Loretta as ballplayers. One was a surefire Hall of Famer, the other was essentially a league-average middle infield piece for most of his career. But we're taking into account only their tenures in San Diego, so Loretta gets the edge. Alomar arrived in 1988 and was solid for three seasons with the Padres, posting a .283/.339/.379 with his usual spectacular defense. Alomar reached his first All-Star Game in ‘90, but he would be packaged with Joe Carter to the Toronto Blue Jays that offseason in exchange for Tony Fernandez and Fred McGriff. Had Alomar remained in San Diego for even one more season, he'd almost certainly claim the top spot on this list. The switch-hitting second baseman reached a different level beginning in ‘91, and he would be named to the American League All-Star team in each of the next 11 seasons.

3. Bip Roberts, 1986-91, '94-95
Key fact: From 1989-91, Roberts batted .298/.369/.403. Only Tony Gwynn had a higher bWAR for the Padres during that stretch.

A quick note: The next couple entrants on this list could've been listed at a few different positions, but both played second base more than anywhere else while in San Diego. So for our purposes, they're second basemen.

Still, Roberts spent his best season primarily as an outfielder in 1990. He was worth 5.8 bWAR sliding between left field, shortstop and third base (and eight games at second). Roberts shifted back to second base in '91 after Alomar was traded, and he continued to thrive. From 1989-91, he was worth 11 bWAR, barely behind Gwynn's 11.1 mark. Roberts was traded to Cincinnati the following offseason, but he would re-sign with the Padres ahead of the '94 season. Across parts of seven years in San Diego, Roberts stole 148 bases and posted a .298/.361/.387 slash line -- the third-highest qualifying batting average in franchise history.

4. Alan Wiggins, 1981-85
Key fact: Wiggins set a franchise record with 66 steals in 1983. Then he broke that mark with 70 the following season. That record still stands.

As an outfielder, Wiggins was excellent in 1983, posting a .276/.360/.324 slash line and 4.1 WAR. It's his best statistical season. But Wiggins' most important contributions in San Diego came the following season, after he'd moved to second base. The switch-hitting speedster served as the Padres' leadoff man as the team marched to its first National League pennant. Wiggins reached base at a .342 clip and swiped 70 bags. He was excellent throughout the postseason, too, batting .341 in 10 playoff games.

"I don't care what anybody says," manager Dick Williams told the Los Angeles Times at the time. "Alan Wiggins was absolutely the most valuable player in the National League in 1984."

5. Quilvio Veras, 1997-99
Key fact: Veras’ .373 on-base percentage was tops on the 1998 Padres.

Veras follows Wiggins' path onto this list. Like Wiggins, he only spent three full seasons in San Diego. But he was atop the lineup on a pennant winner. Veras played a huge role on the 1998 Padres, arguably the best team in franchise history. He was worth 3.6 WAR that season with a .267/.373/.356 slash line. Veras posted a .719 OPS across his three years with the Padres before he was dealt to Atlanta after the ‘99 season.

Honorable mention
Tim Flannery
had a higher WAR than both Wiggins and Veras, but he didn't have nearly the same peak. Flannery just misses the cut, even though there's an argument to be made that he belongs on this list, given his longevity. Flannery's 2,838 plate appearances with the Padres are the most among second basemen, and he spent all 11 of his seasons in San Diego. ... Derrel Thomas anchored second base in San Diego during the 1970s. ... Juan Bonilla's 289 hits as a second baseman are seventh in franchise history. ... Jedd Gyorko holds the franchise record with 40 homers as a second baseman.