Picking Every MLB Team's Best Overall Player
Each MLB team has at least one or two players it can point to as the core pieces of the team, the guys it relies on to put up big numbers each season, whether it's an ace starter atop the staff or an impact hitter in the lineup.
For some teams, identifying the best player on their roster is easy. Few would argue that Clayton Kershaw is the best player on the Los Angeles Dodgers or that Mike Trout tops the list for the Los Angeles Angels. For other teams, however, narrowing the field is more difficult.
That being said, what follows is a look at who I consider to be the best overall player on each MLB team's roster entering the 2014 season.
It's worth noting that this is not necessarily the player who had the best season for each team in 2013, but rather the player I view as the best on each roster looking ahead to 2014.
*All stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference unless otherwise noted.
Arizona Diamondbacks: 1B Paul Goldschmidt
After a strong showing down the stretch in 2011, Paul Goldschmidt took over as the Arizona Diamondbacks' everyday first basemen in 2012. He put up solid numbers across the board with an .850 OPS, 20 home runs and 82 RBI.
He then took a huge step forward this past season, going from solid regular to legitimate superstar, as he led the NL in home runs, RBI, total bases, slugging and OPS.
There's no reason to think Goldschmidt can't put up similar numbers for years to come, and the five-year, $32 million extension he signed prior to last season looks like it will be an absolute steal.
Atlanta Braves: 1B Freddie Freeman
The Atlanta Braves have assembled a terrific core of young, homegrown talent. At the forefront of that group is first baseman Freddie Freeman, who finished fifth in NL MVP voting last season.
He took over as the team's everyday first baseman as a 21-year-old back in 2011, and after back-to-back seasons with an OPS just under .800, his offensive game took a huge step forward this past year, as his OPS climbed from .796 in 2012 to .897 in 2013.
Closer Craig Kimbrel received some serious consideration here, as he is the most dominant reliever in the game today. But in the end, Freeman got the nod.
Baltimore Orioles: CF Adam Jones
Many fans would select Chris Davis here after his monster season, but until he proves he can match or at least approach his 53-homer, 138-RBI output from 2013, the choice is center fielder Adam Jones.
Acquired from the Seattle Mariners in the Erik Bedard trade prior to the 2008 season, Jones emerged as a legitimate star in 2012 and captured his first Silver Slugger award this past season.
His plate discipline is still a weakness, as he managed just 25 walks compared to 136 strikeouts last year, but he's a terrific fielder with plus power and decent speed to boot. That all-around package of tools makes him the choice over Davis, if only for the time being.
Boston Red Sox: 2B Dustin Pedroia
Aside from an injury-plagued 2010 season, Dustin Pedroia has been one of the most consistent producers in all of baseball and one of the best second basemen in the business.
His power numbers were down a bit last season, as he failed to reach double-digit home runs for the first time since his rookie year. However, he made up for it by improving his OBP from .347 to .372 and rapping out 42 doubles.
The clutch hitting of David Ortiz in the middle of the lineup and ace-caliber pitching from Jon Lester atop the staff also got consideration here, but Pedroia edged them out in the end.
Chicago Cubs: 1B Anthony Rizzo
The biggest disappointment for the Chicago Cubs in 2013 was not their poor record, as that was expected given their continuing rebuild. Instead, it was the regression of shortstop Starlin Castro and staff ace Jeff Samardzija, two guys who were expected to be key pieces of the present and future.
First baseman Anthony Rizzo struggled at times during his first full season in the majors, but he managed to finish the season with the team lead in doubles, home runs, RBI and total bases. He struck out 127 times and hit just .233, but he also showed some good plate discipline with 76 walks.
By the end of the 2014 season, top prospect Javier Baez may very well be the best player on the Cubs roster. But for now, Rizzo earns the spot, and he still has legitimate 30-homer, 100-RBI potential long-term.
Chicago White Sox: SP Chris Sale
The Chicago White Sox have done a nice job adding young players to the mix this offseason as they look to rebuild after a rough 2013 season. They did not have much to build around to begin with, but one key piece is in place atop the rotation in Chris Sale.
Sale made his big league debut roughly two months after the White Sox selected him with the No. 13 pick in the 2010 draft. After spending his first two pro seasons in the bullpen, he joined the rotation in 2012 and immediately became the team's top starter.
He's 28-22 with a 3.06 ERA, 1.103 WHIP and 9.3 K/9 over the past two seasons, and the team locked him up with a five-year, $32.5 million extension prior to the 2013 season, so he figures to be the foundation of its rebuilding efforts.
Cincinnati Reds: 1B Joey Votto
Arguably the most disciplined hitter in the game today, Joey Votto has led the National League in on-base percentage in each of the past four seasons, and he drew a career-high 135 walks this past season.
Some peg the Cincinnati Reds first baseman as patient to a fault, as he managed just 73 RBI hitting in the middle of a good lineup, but his game is getting on base and he's as good as anyone at doing that.
Right-hander Mat Latos stepped his game up and stepped into the role of staff ace with Johnny Cueto on the shelf, and he has quietly emerged as one of the best pitchers in the National League since joining the Reds. He does not quite edge out Votto for the selection here, but he did receive some serious consideration.
Cleveland Indians: 2B Jason Kipnis
The Cleveland Indians were easily the biggest surprise among the 10 postseason teams in 2013, and they reached the playoffs without at true superstar talent on their roster.
An argument can be made that their best player in 2013 was ace Ubaldo Jimenez, who returned to his Colorado Rockies form with a dominant second half after a disappointing beginning to his time in Cleveland. He hit free agency this offseason, though, and seems likely to sign elsewhere.
That makes the choice second baseman Jason Kipnis, who cooled off in the second half for a second straight year but still managed to finish 11th in AL MVP voting. He edges out catcher Carlos Santana and right-hander Justin Masterson in a close race here.
Colorado Rockies: SS Troy Tulowitzki
Injuries have plagued him the past two seasons, but when he's healthy, Troy Tulowitzki remains the best all-around shortstop in baseball and one of the most dangerous hitters at any position.
He was hitting .347/.413/.635 with 16 home runs and 51 RBI through June 13 when he fractured a rib diving for a grounder up the middle. At the time of the injury, he was second in the NL in batting average, third in home runs and fourth in RBI.
Another injury-plagued but talented hitter, Carlos Gonzalez, ranks a close second here. He'll be counted on more defensively this coming season as he slides over to play center field following the trade of Dexter Fowler.
Detroit Tigers: 1B Miguel Cabrera
There is no shortage of superstar-caliber talent on the Detroit Tigers roster, even after the team traded Prince Fielder to the Texas Rangers this offseason. Max Scherzer was the best pitcher in the AL this past season, while Justin Verlander is still capable of being a force, even coming off of a down season.
That said, the choice here has to be Miguel Cabrera, who claimed his second straight AL MVP award and third straight batting title in 2013.
His numbers would have been even better this past season had he not been hobbled by a groin injury, as he had just one home runs and seven RBI in September. He remains the best hitter on the planet for the time being and the best player on the Tigers roster.
Houston Astros: C Jason Castro
The Houston Astros suffered through a third straight 100-loss season in 2013, as the full scale rebuilding efforts continue. But there were some positive takeaways from the season.
The biggest of which was the breakout of catcher Jason Castro, who was the team's lone All-Star representative and one of the most productive catchers in all of baseball.
The No. 10 pick in the 2008 draft, Castro's development was slowed by a handful of knee injuries; he had played in a total of just 154 games heading into the 2013 season. Now, he looks like a building block for the future and a prime candidate for a team-friendly extension.
Kansas City Royals: LF Alex Gordon
After hitting just .244/.328/.405 through his first four big league seasons, Alex Gordon looked like a bust given his selection as the No. 2 pick in the 2005 draft out of the University of Nebraska.
He finally broke out in 2011, though, after moving from third base to left field full-time, and he has been one of the better outfielders since. His numbers were down this past season, but he remains the Kansas City Royals' best all-around player.
First baseman Eric Hosmer, workhorse starter James Shields and lights-out closer Greg Holland were all considered for this spot as well, and a strong case could be made for each of them.
Los Angeles Angels: CF Mike Trout
Albert Pujols ($23 million), Josh Hamilton ($17.4 million), C.J. Wilson ($16.5 million) and Jered Weaver ($16.2 million) are all making big money this coming season, but there is little question that Mike Trout is the best player on the Los Angeles Angels roster.
The 22-year-old has had as good a start to his career as anyone in the history of the game, finishing second to Miguel Cabrera in AL MVP voting in both of his first two seasons while amassing an MLB-best 20.2 rWAR.
Trout took a step forward in plate discipline from 2012 to 2013, as he improved his OBP from .399 to .432 while leading the AL with 110 walks. His game could conceivably continue to improve in the years to come, and while Cabrera may still be the best hitter in the game, Trout is the best all-around player in the game.
Los Angeles Dodgers: SP Clayton Kershaw
Entering the 2013 season, Clayton Kershaw was in the conversation for the title of best pitcher in the game alongside Felix Hernandez and Justin Verlander. When the season came to an end, there was little question the Los Angeles Dodgers left-hander was the best in the business.
Though Kershaw was just 16-9, his peripheral numbers were the best of his career. His 1.83 ERA won him a third straight ERA title, his 0.915 WHIP was the best of his career and he won his second NL Cy Young in three seasons in the process.
A full, healthy season from Hanley Ramirez at the level he performed at over 86 games last year would make him one of the best hitters in the game, and the continued development of Yasiel Puig will be fun to watch, but there's no debate as to who the best player on the Dodgers roster is.
Miami Marlins: SP Jose Fernandez
Despite having not pitched above the High-A level heading into the 2013 season, Jose Fernandez broke camp as part of the Miami Marlins rotation thanks to injuries from Henderson Alvarez and Nathan Eovaldi.
It's a good thing for the Marlins he got that chance, as Fernandez quickly emerged as the ace of their staff and one of the best pitchers in all of baseball. He was shut down early to protect his arm, but he still managed to run away with NL Rookie of the Year honors and finish third in NL Cy Young voting.
If slugger Giancarlo Stanton can stay healthy, he still has the raw tools to be one of the most prolific power hitters in the game while still putting up a good triple slash. For now, though, Fernandez is the clear choice for best player on the roster.
Milwaukee Brewers: RF Ryan Braun
Few would have argued that Ryan Braun was among the 10 best player in the MLB when the 2013 season began, but a 65-game suspension for his ties to the Biogenesis scandal will leave him with plenty to prove heading into 2014.
One can't help but wonder how long he's been juicing and whether or not his production will take a major hit, but for now, he still gets the benefit of the doubt as the most talented player on the Milwaukee Brewers roster.
He had back-to-back 30-30 seasons with an OPS over .980 prior to last season, so even a slight drop-off would make him an elite hitter. If he does falter, center fielder Carlos Gomez has really come into his own the past two seasons and looks like the next in line for this spot.
Minnesota Twins: 1B Joe Mauer
Close the book on Joe Mauer the catcher, as he'll move to first base full-time this coming season in an effort to prolong his career and help him avoid further injury. It's fair to say he'd go down as one of the best catchers of all time if he were to simply hang it up today.
In 10 seasons, Mauer has posted a line of .323/.405/.468 with three batting titles and an AL MVP award to his credit. That gives him the highest career average for a catcher with at least 1,000 games played, edging out Hall of Famer Mickey Cochrane (.320).
His power won't make him a prototypical first baseman, but he should continue to hit over .300 with a good OBP and doubles power.
The top spot on the roster is Mauer's for now, but it won't be long before uber-prospects Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano push him for the title.
New York Mets: 3B David Wright
If Matt Harvey were healthy, he would have a compelling argument for this spot. But with the right-hander expected to miss the 2014 season following Tommy John surgery, David Wright is an easy choice as the best player on the New York Mets.
Wright has been the face of the Mets franchise for years now, and after signing an eight-year, $138 million extension last offseason, he figures to remain in that role for the foreseeable future.
After a disappointing 2011 season in which he hit just .254/.345/.427, the 31-year-old has returned to elite status the past two seasons, hitting a combined .307/.391/.501.
New York Yankees: CF Jacoby Ellsbury
With Robinson Cano gone and much of the superstar core on the downswing of their careers, picking the best player on the New York Yankees roster is something of a challenge at this point.
CC Sabathia declined significantly last season, Mark Teixeira is coming off a season in which he played just 15 games and who knows what to expect out of Derek Jeter at this point.
In the end, it came down to the three hitters they added in free agency this offseason: Jacoby Ellsbury, Brian McCann and Carlos Beltran. His seven-year, $153 million deal may not look great a few years from now, but for 2014, Ellsbury looks like the best player on the roster.
Oakland Athletics: LF Yoenis Cespedes
The perfect example of what I meant when I said this list was not who had the best 2013 but who I felt is the best player entering 2014, Yoenis Cespedes get the nod over breakout star Josh Donaldson here for the Oakland A's.
Donaldson was a legitimate MVP candidate for the A's last season, finishing fourth in the voting when all was said and done. However, one can't help but expect a decent amount of regression from the 28-year-old, who came out of nowhere last year.
Cespedes took a step back after a terrific rookie season, but he finished the year strong with a .907 OPS, six home runs and 19 RBI in September. He has legitimate 30-homer, 100-RBI potential and could hit .300 while doing it as he enters his third season in the States.
Philadelphia Phillies: SP Cliff Lee
For all that was made of the six-year, $144 million extension that Cole Hamels signed during the 2012 season, fellow left-hander Cliff Lee remains the best pitchers on the Philadelphia Phillies staff and the best overall player on their roster.
After a bizarre 2012 season in which he posted a 3.16 ERA over 30 starts but had just a 6-9 record to show for it, Lee returned to elite form in 2013 to finish sixth in NL Cy Young voting.
The 35-year-old is due $50 million over the next two seasons, but as long as he keeps pitching like he did this past season, it's hard to argue that he's not worth it. If the Phillies ever decide to commit to rebuilding, he'd likely fetch a huge return on the trade market, even with that salary.
Pittsburgh Pirates: CF Andrew McCutchen
Andrew McCutchen made an immediate impact when the Pittsburgh Pirates first called him up as a 22-year-old in June of the 2009 season, and he has developed into one of the most dynamic all-around players in the game today.
A .339/.441/.561 line in the second half last year helped lead the Pirates to their first postseason berth since 1992 and earned him NL MVP honors in the process.
Still just 27 years old, McCutchen is entering the prime of his career. If he can put together two dominant halves of baseball, a .300/.400/.500 season with 30 home runs and 30 steals is well within reach. That said, don't be surprised if right-hander Gerrit Cole is in the discussion for the spot by the end of 2014.
San Diego Padres: SP Andrew Cashner
Picking the best player on the San Diego Padres roster is no easy task. It's not that they're a bad team, as they could actually be in a position to surprise a lot of people this coming season. But they lack a true star talent after a disappointing season from Chase Headley in 2013.
First baseman Yonder Alonso could be in line for a breakout season and right-hander Ian Kennedy is not too far removed from a Cy Young-caliber season in Arizona, but my pick here is Andrew Cashner.
After opening the season in the bullpen, Cashner quickly emerged as the team's best starter last year. He's got electric stuff, and it was on full display when he threw a one-hit shutout against the Pirates in his second-to-last start of the year. The 27-year-old was 3-4 with a 1.70 ERA over his final nine starts, so he has plenty of momentum heading into what could be a huge 2014 season.
San Francisco Giants: C Buster Posey
After winning NL MVP honors and the NL batting title in 2012, Buster Posey saw his numbers drop across the board in 2013. However, he was still an elite offensive catcher and the best hitter in the San Francisco Giants lineup.
Landing somewhere in the middle of his numbers the past two years would make Posey a legitimate MVP candidate once again. And in a Giants lineup that still rates as below average and is severely lacking in pop, he'll be as important as anyone to the success of the team once again.
Left-hander Madison Bumgarner is not far behind Posey for this spot, having gone 13-9 with a 2.77 ERA in what was his best season to date in 2013. If Matt Cain can return to form he's in the running here as well. But for now, Posey remains the best player in San Francisco.
Seattle Mariners: SP Felix Hernandez
A massive 10-year, $240 million deal may have made Robinson Cano one of the highest-paid players in the history of the game, but he's not the best player on the Seattle Mariners roster. That title still belongs to right-hander Felix Hernandez.
Hernandez was actually out-pitched by teammate Hisashi Iwakuma last season, but he still had a terrific season. He remains one of the best starters in the game and a bona fide staff ace in every sense of the term.
Hernandez has reached 190 innings in each of his eight full seasons in the majors, and his 35.8 rWAR over that span is good for the fifth-highest total among pitchers. A return to his Cy Young form would again put him in the conversation for best pitcher in the game, but even if he pitches like he did last year, he's squarely in the top 10.
St. Louis Cardinals: C Yadier Molina
A case can be made here for Adam Wainwright, who is one of the few legitimate staff aces in the game today. He's also coming off arguably the best season of his career, and it's hard to make an argument against him.
The same can be said for Yadier Molina, though, as he has emerged as the best all-around catcher in the game over the past few seasons. He is as important to the success of his team as anyone in the game today.
Always an elite defensive backstop, Molina has taken his offensive game to another level the past three seasons. He was in contention for the NL batting title for much of last year, and were it not for a knee injury that cost him time in August, he may very well have walked away with NL MVP honors.
Tampa Bay Rays: 3B Evan Longoria
It was abundantly clear just how much Evan Longoria means to the Tampa Bay Rays in 2012 when he missed significant time with a hamstring injury. All told, the team was 47-27 when he was in the lineup, compared to just 43-45 when he was sidelined.
Longoria managed to stay healthy in 2013, playing in 160 games and ranking seventh in the AL with 306 total bases on his way to a sixth-place finish in AL MVP voting.
He's come up with the clutch hit time and again, and with terrific defense at the hot corner to boot, he's as good an all-around third baseman as there is in the game today.
Texas Rangers: SP Yu Darvish
After a solid first season in the MLB in which he went 16-9 with a 3.90 ERA and 221 strikeouts in 191.1 innings, Yu Darvish took a big step forward for the Texas Rangers this past year and emerged as the clear ace of the staff.
Not only did he lower his ERA by over a run to 2.83, but his 277 strikeouts were the highest single-season total since Randy Johnson struck out 290 in 2004. He led the AL with 11.9 K/9 and just 6.2 H/9, as his stuff was simply overpowering all season.
Third baseman Adrian Beltre also deserves mention here, as he has hit .312/.356/.542 while averaging 33 home runs and 100 RBI over his three seasons with the Rangers. With Shin-Soo Choo and Prince Fielder joining him in the lineup, he could be in for an MVP season in 2014.
Toronto Blue Jays: RF Jose Bautista
Since his back-to-back monster seasons in 2010 and 2011, Jose Bautista has had some trouble staying on the field for the Toronto Blue Jays, playing 92 games in 2012 and 118 games in 2013.
He's still been a force when he's been on the field, though, and while he's hit just .251 combined the past two seasons, he continues to display some of the best plate discipline in the game and has a .358 OBP over that span as a result.
Fellow slugger Edwin Encarnacion has been far more productive the past two seasons with a .923 OPS to go along with 78 home runs and 214 RBI, and he very well could have been the selection here. When Bautista his healthy, though, he's still the better overall player in my opinion.
Washington Nationals: LF Bryce Harper
Bryce Harper broke into the league as a 19-year-old in 2012, giving the Washington Nationals lineup a much-needed spark on his way to NL Rookie of the Year honors.
He looked to be on his way to an MVP-caliber season this past year, hitting .287/.386/.587 with 12 home runs through May 26. A knee injury cost him over a month from there, though, and various other injuries throughout the season cut into his overall numbers.
As long as he can stay on the field, Harper should continue to make his way toward superstar status in 2014. If he continues to deal with injuries, however, ace Stephen Strasburg would be the clear choice here, as he could be in for a huge season as well.