Top 20 Miami Marlins No. 15: Derrek Lee
The next addition to our all-time list presents a bit of a dilemma, and puts us in new territory, as the following two statements are equally true of No. 15 on our countdown of the Top 20 Miami Marlins.
Derrek Lee is the best first baseman in Miami Marlins history.
Derrek Lee had the three best seasons of his career with another team.
And there’s even some wiggle room to make it an even four, depending how you value defense. So far on the list, there’s been no real argument as to whether their best moment came in Miami. Of our previous entires, only Robb Nen had a better statistical season in another uniform. Alex Gonzalez had the defining moment of his career as a Marlin, Jose Fernandez has been nothing but a Marlin, and Ricky Nolasco has been largely useless after leaving the Marlins. Livan Hernandez will always love Miami.
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But Derrek Leon Lee- who has represented the Miami Marlins in the All-Star Game as many times as I have- is just that exceptional a talent.
Lee was part of that fabulously talented defensive foursome- along with Mike Lowell, Alex Gonzalez, and Luis Castillo– that the team trotted out from 1999 on, and crystallized with the 2002 arrival of infield coach Perry Hill into arguably the best defensive infield in baseball. He arrived in Miami in a late 1997 swap for a yet to be
revealed member of the Top 20 club, and spent the next six seasons averaging .993 in the field; like Lowell, his lone Gold Glove as a Marlin would come in his last season with the team. And much like Lowell, there were plenty of years prior where he was achingly close to reeling in the coveted defensive honor.
Losing out to Todd Helton is at least somewhat acceptable, although one has to wonder how much those Silver Slugger awards factored in. But if you’re still sore about those times J.T. Snow beat D-Lee out for the award, watch this and enjoy:
Good times. Good times indeed.
Lee’s first season with the Marlins in 1998 would see him smash 17 HRs over 141 games; those would be his career lows in those categories until 2010 and 2011 respectively, barring that sophomore slump plagued 1999 and broken wrist shortened 2006. His durability was one of his greatest strengths though, as evidenced by the fact that the 155 games he played in during the 2003 championship run marked his lowest games played total between those two aberrant years. While the fact that he averaged 29 HRs from 2002-2003 might not surprise, the 20 stolen bases he average during the same span likely does, and was good enough to lead the league at his position.
Sadly, Lee was traded away following his championship and Gold Glove winning 2003 campaign, judged as being amongst the more replaceable of the many pieces of the championship puzzle that had just seen their salaries see significant boosts. In exchange, the team picked up Hee Seop Choi and soda machine money (ok, it might have been Mike Nannini).
Choi would largely disappoint after his Opening Day homer. Lee would move on to the Cubs and Wrigley Field- a stadium somewhat smaller than Pro Player- and undergo an offensive transformation. Two years later, he would his second Gold Glove in a season that saw him somehow lose the MVP race to Albert Pujols despite winning the batting title, the Silver Slugger, and clubbing a monstrous 46 HRs compared to “only” 41 for Albert.
As a Cub, Lee would win two Gold Gloves, play in two All-Star Games, and post two Top 10 finishes in MVP balloting- along with that previously alluded to Silver Slugger honor.
But he’d be a stretch to crack the top four all-time at his position in Chicago.
As a Marlin, he’s the standard bearer. Not to mention a champion.