In honor of baseball's trade deadline, here's my list of the 50 most valuable players in baseball.
Yes, I am blatantly stealing this idea from Bill Simmons and his excellent NBA Trade Value articles.
I have a few comments on my methods before I get into the main article:
1) No player with less than 500 major league at bats or 30 starts was considered.
This list was hard enough without figuring out where to put guys like Gordon Beckham, Tommy Hanson and Jason Heyward.
2) Age and contract status matter.
They both matter in the real world, so they do on this list as well. Numerous productive veterans failed to make the list because of this. The list is slanted towards young, relatively affordable players.
3) So does consistency.
This is not a ranking of the best 2009 seasons, their entire career is a factor in the rankings. Proven producers are more likely to have significant value.
4) These are solely my opinions.
I don't pretend to know the thoughts and opinions of baseball executives and scouts.
5) Please don't ask me where the closers are.
Frankly, I have a hard time seeing someone that pitches less than 100 innings a year be one of the 50 most valuable players in the league. That's my own personal view, feel free to rip it. The only one I would really consider is Joakim Soria in the latter portion of the rankings.
Alright, on with the rankings.
50) Ichiro Suzuki
On pure ability he would rank much higher on this list. However, between his advanced age (35) and $17 mil salary through 2012, a lot fewer teams would pursue him.
49) Chris Carpenter
Carpenter is having an excellent season and his contract is fairly reasonable, but he loses points for his injury history and age.
48) Ian Kinsler
One could make a case that he belongs much higher on this list. However, I'm not a big fan of his. My first issue with him is that he has yet to play 130 games in a season.
However, the bigger reason that he's this low on the list is his production outside of Arlington. He currently has an abysmal .639 OPS on the road and had a less than impressive career road OPS of .752 entering this season.
On the plus side, he just turned 27 in June and has a very affordable contract.
47) Yunel Escobar
He's a young slick-fielding shortstop with a career on base percentage of .372. Frankly I might be underrating him a bit, but then again he's not a proven impact player just yet.
46) Brad Hawpe
This one might seem surprising, but the 30 year old outfielder has put up an OPS in the .900 range for the last three years. He's not a Coors Field creation either, he's currently hitting .290 with a .371 on base percentage away from the friendliest hitter's park around.
45) Victor Martinez
I had him a little higher before he was traded to Boston. While he's not a great catcher, he is a very good hitter. If he moves to first base, you can drop him off the list.
44) Aramis Ramirez
Ramirez is a consistent threat to hit 30 homers with a .300 average and drive in 100 runs. However, his contract is an issue and he has a habit of hitting the DL at least once a season.
43) Mark Buehrle
You knew I was going to squeeze a White Sox player in somewhere. Buehrle has quietly been one of the most consistent and effective starters in the league and could make considerably more than $14 million a year on the open market.
42) Roy Halladay
Though he's one of the best pitcher's in the league, his contract status is a little scary. He's signed for a fairly reasonable $15.75 million next season, but the prospect of giving him a sizeable extension in 2011 at the age of 33 will scare some teams.
41) Kevin Youkilis
Though he's not as young as many of the players on the list, he's been a beast at the plate the last two years and is signed to a reasonable contract through 2012 with a club option for 2013.
39) Pablo Sandoval
The 22 year old infielder just barely cracked the 500 at bat limit. He's done nothing but hit since he reached the majors. However, I would imagine that he'll need at least one more year at this level to climb higher on the list. He would also improve his value if he played more games at catcher.
38) Matt Cain
It surprises me that Cain is still only 24. He hasn't always produced to his talent level, but he's done the job this year. He would soar up the list if he could maintain his 2009 performance level, however his peripherals suggest his ERA won't stay this low.
37) Ryan Zimmerman
Zimmerman made it to the majors very quickly and is one of the few bright spots for the Nationals. He's productive and affordable at the moment, but he has yet to really dominate at the plate.
36) Andre Ethier
Andre is a productive young outfielder that has yet to hit arbitration. While not spectacular, he's a solid all-around player that may still have some room to grow.
35) Curtis Granderson
He's having a poor year at the plate and had no business going to the All-Star game, but he's still brimming with talent. He's a legitmate 5-tool player that can make an impact if he makes enough contact.
34) BJ Upton
Upton is another supremely talented outfielder that is having a poor season. He has great speed and has been able to get on base in the past, but his batting average and power are sporadic.
33) Josh Johnson
Though he's had some injury issues, he's having a great year and is only 25.
32) Adam Jones
Jones made his first All-Star team this year at 23. He is already producing at a high level and is still several years away from hitting his prime.
31) Shin-Soo Choo
A lot of baseball fans had no idea who he was two years ago, and he's still under the radar. Choo has hit extremely well since reaching the majors last year and has plenty of service time before he hits free agency.
30) Joey Votto
Though he hasn't been able to stay on the field this year, when he has played he's been a monster. He's still only 25 and won't hit free agency until 2014.
29) Josh Beckett
A productive starter that's still in his prime and is signed for well under market value for this year. He could drop pretty far if he gets a monster extension.
28) Carl Crawford
Crawford has been one of the most exciting top of the order hitters in the league over the last few seasons. I'm temporarily overlooking the fact that he's a pending free agent. If he gets a massive raise, he'll fall pretty far.
27) Ryan Howard
Without question, Howard is one of the premeire sluggers in the league. However, if he can't get on base more, that contract the next two seasons will be a little hard to swallow.
26) Justin Morneau
Justin is a solid all-around player that is one of the premiere run producers in the league. He could be higher on the list if he were younger.
25) Justin Verlander
Productive pitchers that are still in their arbitration years are worth their weight in gold. Verlander is currently having the best year of his career.
24) Yovani Gallardo
Gallardo is finally getting over his injury issues and producing for Milwaukee. I have a hard time seeing him going anywhere given his youth and contract.
23) Jose Reyes
Frankly I think his reputation is a bit better than his production. He has amazing talent, but you'd like your leadoff man to get on base a bit more than 35 percent of the time. However, he's exciting and productive, so you can't nitpick too much.
22) Miguel Cabrera
it's scary how quickly Miguel reached the majors and started hitting. He's still only 25 and is a fantastic all-around hitter. If not for his massive contract he probably would have been in the top-10.
21) Jair Jurrjens
He has quietly put up a fantastic season. His ERA currently sits at 2.69 and he's only 23 years old.
20) Justin Upton
There's a reason that he was the number one overall pick. Upton is already posting a .920 OPS at the major league level despite being only 21 years old. He has real superstar potential.
19) Adrian Gonzalez
Adrian is one of the most underpaid in the league. How many times do you see a guy with 30 homerun power that is making under $5 million a year? His numbers would look even better if he played in a more favorable hitter's park.
18) Matt Kemp
Kemp is yet another young 5-tool outfielder that makes the list. He has great speed and gets more than his fair share of hits. If he starts hitting for power, look out.
17) Grady Sizemore
Sizemore is having a very rough season. However, he has 30-30 talents and usually gets on base at a very good clip. Look for him to rebound next season, if not sooner.
16) Dustin Pedroia
I'm surpised I put a top of the order hitter with marginal power this high too. However, his contract is ridiculously affordable and he's a solid hitter at a high demand position.
15) Cole Hamels
I realize he isn't having the best year so far. However, he was a big reason they won the World Series last year, is only 25 and signed an affordable long term contract.
14) Brian McCann
He's a 25 year old catcher that is capable of posting an OPS above .875. Enough said.
13) Prince Fielder
He has 50 homerun power and is still only 25. That's a really nice combination to have. He's still cheap for the next two years as well, though it'll be pricey to keep him after that.
12) Chase Utley
He's a great hitter that plays a middle infield position. Those guys are always in high demand. If he were a bit younger he'd have been even higher, though he's still in his prime.
11) Felix Hernandez
King Felix is finally producing at a level that matches his talents. He has amazing stuff and is still only 23. He's not relying on Safeco to inflate his numbers this year either, he has an ERA below 2.00 on the road. He still has two more arbitration years before he reaches a monstrous payday.
10) Zack Grienke
He's been the best starter in the American League all year. His salary will start to rise soon, but he's 25 and locked up through 2012.
9) Clayton Kershaw
It's hard to imagine that he's only 21 when you watch him pitch. He's having a great year for the Dodgers and isn't remotely close to hitting his prime yet. He has the potential to be the next big thing in baseball.
8) Dan Haren
I'm not sure what makes him more valuable, his production or his absurdly affordable contract in light of that production. He's been arguably the best pitcher in baseball this year and and will make only $8.25 million next year.
7) David Wright
Though he's not hitting for much power this year, he's still a highly productive hitter. He's still hitting .325 and getting on base in more than 45% of his at bats. He's also only 26 and signed to a reasonable long term deal.
6) Ryan Braun
He's a big time hitter that was signed to a ridiculously affordable long term deal early in his career. The 25 year old won't make more than $9 million until at least 2014. How's that for cost effective mashing in the middle of your order?
5) Joe Mauer
Even if he can't sustain his power surge this season, Mauer is one of the most valuable commodities in the league. He's a solid defensive catcher with two batting titles on his resume. Players like him don't come around very often.
4) Evan Longoria
Much like Braun, Longoria was signed to a long term deal very early, in his case before he had played even a month in the majors. He's an elite third baseman in the field and has significant power at the plate. My only gripe is that his OBP could be higher, but his production relative to his contract is absurd.
3) Tim Lincecum
The reigning Cy Young winner shows no signs of slowing down. His stuff is electric, batters have a very hard time making solid contact against him. He might look like he's in junior high school, but he's actually 25 and still had four arbitration years left. He's easily the most valuable pitcher in the league.
2) Hanley Ramirez
Even if he were an outfielder, he would have placed very high on this list. He has a career .314 batting average, 30 homer power and elite speed. On top of that he's 25 and is a capable shortstop. Oh, and he's also not going to make more than $11 million until 2012. Even the $15 million per year in 2012 and 2013 is highly reasonable given his abilities.
1) Albert Pujols
I think everyone saw this coming. The man is a one man wrecking crew that has helped keep St. Louis competitive even when the talent around him looks less than stellar. He's currently leading the entire league in homeruns and RBI and is fifth in the National League in batting average. He has a legitimate shot to win the first Triple Crown.
Sure, he plays first base, isn't as young as many of the players on this list and makes $16 million a year. Do you care when he's producing like he is? I sure don't.
Anyways, that's my list. Feel free to flame away in the comments section.