By most objective estimations, Joe Morgan is the best second baseman in Major League history.
Over a 22-year career (1963-84), Morgan dominated the position with the bat and the glove. The 10-time All-Star finished his Hall of Fame career with 268 home runs, 1,133 RBI, 1,650 runs scored and 689 stolen bases. His slick fielding earned him five consecutive Gold Gloves. The heart of Cincinnati’s Big Red Machine, Morgan’s worth was validated with consecutive MVP awards in 1975 and 1976, coinciding with the Reds winning back-to-back World Series titles. That Morgan won the hardware playing for a team that included the likes of Johnny Bench, Pete Rose and Tony Perez is all the more impressive.
In 1975, Morgan led the National league in OBP (.446), OPS (.974) and walks (132) while batting .327, scoring 107 runs, driving in 94 and stealing 67 bases. He dominated the MVP voting, earning 21 of a possible 23 first-place votes and out-distancing the second-place finisher – Philadelphia’s Greg Luzinski by 167 points. For an encore in 1976, Morgan paced the league in OBP (.444), slugging (.576) and OPS (1.020) and added a .320 batting average, 113 runs scored and 111 driven in, and 60 base thefts. He earned 19 of 24 first-place votes and beat the runner-up, Reds teammate George Foster, by 90 points.
Over those two for-the-ages seasons, Morgan was compensated $355,000. Or, about what one-twentieth what Ben Zobrist will earn in 2014 playing second base for the Tampa Bay Rays. Following are the top 10 2014 salaries for second basemen.
10. Ben Zobrist, Tampa Bay Rays, $7 Million
OK, while he’s no Joe Morgan, Zobrist has some solid attributes. Besides second base, where he played 125 games in 2013, Zobrist manned all three outfield spots, shortstop and designated hitter for the Rays. While not great at any one facet, Zobrist does a yeoman’s work. His 162-game averages include a .263/.354/.789 line, 18 home runs, 81 RBI, 85 runs and 16 stolen bases. He’s played 468 out of 1,037 Major League games at second base, where he owns a .988 fielding percentage.
9. Howie Kendrick, Los Angeles Angels, $9.35 million
Kendrick’s career has had a yo-yo feel to it. He’s played in 140-plus games only three times over parts of nine seasons, sustained injuries in 2007 and 2008, was demoted to AAA in 2010, and suffered through a late-season injury in 2013 that ruined what could have been a career year for the 30-year-old. He didn’t earn an All-Star invite but probably should have considering his .310/.352/.469 line in the first half of the season.
T 6. Rickie Weeks, Milwaukee Brewers, $11 million
Weeks’ solid production – 162-games averages of 22 homers, 64 RBI and 103 runs scored – is offset by a low batting average (.247) and porous defense. Over 10 years, he’s paced National League second basemen in errors five times and is the active Major League leader in miscues at that position with 134.
T 6. Brandon Phillips, Cincinnati Reds, $11 million
Few second basemen have been as consistently good as Phillips. In the eight years since joining the Reds and becoming a regular (he spent his first four years with Cleveland), Phillips has averaged 18 home runs, 83 RBI and 86 runs scored while hitting .277. In 40 at bats over parts of three postseasons, he has hit .325 with two homers and eight RBI. Phillips has won four Gold Gloves, including last season when he committed only nine errors.
T 6. Aaron Hill, Arizona Diamondbacks, $11 million
Last year was a wash of sorts for Aaron Hill, who was limited to 87 games because of injuries. His 2012 campaign, however, was among the best by anyone at his position, as he hit .302, scored 93 runs, and belted 26 homers while driving in 85. The injury bug has hampered Hill through his nine-year career, though, having played in fewer than 100 games three times in his career.
5. Dustin Pedroia, Boston Red Sox, $12.5 million
The only player on this list with an MVP Award (2008) on his resume to go along with the Rookie of the Year honors he captured the previous year, Pedroia’s coming off a season in which he hit .301/.372/.415 with 91 runs and 84 RBI on the way to helping Boston win the World Series. And he did it with an injured thumb that required offseason surgery. In his prime – he won’t turn 31 until Aug. 17 — Pedroia can fill up the box score, and sports a 162-game average line of .302/.370/.454 with 104 runs scored, 16 home runs, 79 RBI and 19 steals.
4. Dan Uggla, Atlanta Braves, $13 million
Dan Uggla was one of the worst hitters in baseball last season, hitting well below the Mendoza Line. In 537 plate appearances, Uggla produced an unsightly line of .179/.309/.363. Uggla does provide power from the position, hitting 22 home runs, giving him 231 for his eight-year career.
3. Chase Utley, Philadelphia Phillies, $15 million
The good news for Chase Utley is that he was relatively healthy in 2013, playing 131 games, which translated into a .284/.348/.479 line with 18 home runs and 69 RBI. The bad news is the five-time All-Star played in only 301 games the three previous seasons (2010-12). At one point a premier run producer and middle-of-the-order stalwart, the 35-year-old is five seasons removed from his last 100-RBI season.
2. Ian Kinsler, Detroit Tigers, $16 million
Ian Kinsler takes his offense from the hitter-friendly confines of Rangers Ballpark in Arlington to the capaciousness of Tigers Stadium. Considering his career home/road splits, whether Kinsler continues raking the baseball is a legitimate question to ponder. In 538 in Rangers Ballpark, Kinsler posted a .304/.387/.511 line, with 434 runs scored and 293 driven in compared with .242/.312/.399 line, 314 runs and 246 RBI in 528 road games.
1. Robinson Cano, Seattle Mariners, $24 million
The premier second baseman in the Majors, and probably by a big margin, Robinson Cano is trending towards all-time-great status. Now that he’s in Seattle, he won’t have the Yankee Stadium left field porch beckoning to him during his home games, but if there is a dip in his power numbers, it likely will be filled by an increase in doubles sprayed all over spacious Safeco Field. Cano has enjoyed top six MVP finishes each of the past four years and has hit north of .300 in five consecutive years. His 162-game averages over a nine- year career – 24 home runs, 97 RBI and 94 runs – and nearly flawless defense scream future first-ballot Hall of Famer … and, perhaps, best second baseman ever.