The 100 Best Players In Baseball Today (Part Five of Five)
This is the final part of a five-part countdown. In case you missed it, here's 40 through 21...
40. Kevin Youkilis
39. Josh Johnson
38. Justin Upton
37. Derek Jeter
36. Adam Wainwright
35. Josh Hamilton
34. Nick Markakis
33. David Wright
32. Ryan Howard
31. Dustin Pedroia
30. Matt Kemp
29. Adrian Gonzalez
28. Justin Verlander
27. CC Sabathia
26. Justin Morneau
25. Grady Sizemore
24. Mariano Rivera
23. Zack Greinke
22. Ryan Braun
21. Ian Kinsler
This has been a very daunting task but I'm happy with the list I put together. I've taken more into account than stats; I'm sure some people have a problem with this, but stats don't make a player.
There are intangibles and other things that need to be taken into account. I've done my best to be wholly objective. I hope you've enjoyed the list and can appreciate how hard it was to make, thanks for reading.
Here is the top 20...
20. Felix Hernandez, Mariners SP
This year, people have talked a lot about about Zack Greinke and Roy Halladay and Josh Beckett. This interests me because in my opinion, Mariners ace Felix Hernandez ought to be leading the AL Cy Young race.
"King Felix" took the majors by surprise in 2005, posting a sub-3 ERA in 84 innings before turning 20 years old. He had a solid year in 2008 but suffered with little run support from Seattle's nonexistent offense, thus posting a 9-11 record.
As 2009 has been a year of redemption for the M's, Hernandez has broken out with a 12-4 record and 157 strikeouts in 165 innings.
People would mention this guy in the same sentence as Johan Santana or Josh Beckett if he pitched in a bigger market. Regardless of where he pitches, it's about to become very hard to ignore this young ace.
19. Prince Fielder, Brewers 1B
Hit or miss, this guy does not get cheated. Fielder has a huge swing, and more often than not does a lot of damage with it.
After exploding in 2007, hitting 50 home runs and thus joining father Cecil as baseball's first 50-home run father-son combination, Fielder was kind of overshadowed in 2008 despite another solid season. It seemed his future in Milwaukee was a little unclear.
Well, the Brewers would be wise to keep him a part of their long-term plans if they don't feel like splitting up the best offensive duo in the National League. Some would like to see him lose some weight; I say if it ain't broke, don't fix it.
Besides, Fielder has an inside the park home run under his belt; how much weight could he possibly need to lose?
18. Carlos Beltran, Mets CF
I know; he's been hurt, and you probably forgot about him. It's unfortunate that Beltran, like all the Mets' other studs, had to go and get hurt because he looked to be on his way to his best season in years.
The complete package, though not an elite contact hitter but still a very good one. Between 2001 and 2008, Beltran hit at least 20 home runs and drove in 100 seven times, and stole at least 20 bases six times (at least 30 from 2001 to 2004).
His glovework speaks for itself; he had won three straight Gold Gloves before 2009. Still one of the game's elite in center field.
When healthy, he's one of the game's most complete players. And people actually wonder why the Mets have struggled so mightily this year; losing players like Beltran will do that to you.
17. Carl Crawford, Rays LF
After a very disappointing 2008 season (albeit one that did not stop the Rays from making it to the World Series), Carl Crawford has reestablished himself as the fastest man in the majors and one of the game's most exciting players.
After four straight 45-steal seasons, Crawford swiped only 25 last year. Joe Maddon has cut him loose this year though (54 steals, leading the league), as Crawford is on pace to shatter his previous personal best of 59 swipes.
You can't steal first, so it's a good thing that Crawford is more than competent with the bat. He can consistently be counted on for a .300 average, double digit home runs and 70 RBI.
With the kind of speed you normally see in center field, his range in left field is amazing; he put his magic with the glove on display this past All-Star game.
The most important player in franchise history, word is that the Rays might trade him this winter; whoever acquires him is getting a one-man wrecking crew on the basepaths.
16. Dan Haren, Diamondbacks SP
Starting pitchers are largely a delicate, undependable bunch. The exception to the rule is Dan Haren.
The young Arizona right-hander with the split-finger fastball every pitcher envies has been one of the game's absolute most reliable pitchers since his breakout year in 2005, winning 14 games every year since then.
Not only that, he seemingly gets better every year; at least his constantly rising win and strikeout totals and shrinking walk totals suggest as much.
Haren's biggest problem has always been keeping the ball in the ballpark. Even in the midst of this career season for him, he's given up 18 long balls this year. No one's perfect.
Whether via trade or declining his 2009 option, it seems that its in everyone's best interests for Brandon Webb and the Diamondbacks to part ways. The continued brilliance of Dan Haren is a big reason for that.
15. Evan Longoria, Rays 3B
The best player in the majors under the age of 25, Evan Longoria is on the cusp of surpassing Alex Rodriguez as the game's best third baseman.
Largely hyped coming out of college, Longoria has lived up to it and then some, becoming the centerpiece of a dynamic Rays offense.
He exploded out of the gate and led the majors in RBI for a while before Albert Pujols really got it going.
In addition to already being an elite run producer, Longoria is solid at the hot corner, though he still has things to learn.
Though he isn't slow, Longoria is not a base-stealer either. That's not his role though, and Tampa leads the league in stolen bases anyway.
As some think the sun may be setting on Carl Crawford and Scott Kazmir's tenures in St. Petersburg, there's no doubt who would then succeed the two as the face of the organization.
14. Miguel Cabrera, Tigers 1B
You look at his stats, and they're impressive. They don't blow your mind until you're reminded he's only 26.
The young Venezuelan with the gorgeous right-handed swing has been making his mark in the majors since debuting for the Marlins in 2003 and helping them win the World Series.
In his first season in Detroit, Cabrera hit .292, hit 37 home runs (most in the AL), and drove in 127 (a career high).
The amazing thing is that it was a somewhat disappointing year; can you imagine what a good year for him is? Toolsy and instinctual, Cabrera is a right-handed bat in the mold of Manny Ramirez and Albert Pujols, hitting for power and average to every field.
The Tigers have returned to relevance in 2009, and Cabrera is as responsible for that as anyone.
I can't even explain what a joy it is watching this guy play every day. A once in a generation talent.
13. Ichiro Suzuki, Mariners RF
Watching Ichiro play, it's like going in a time portal and watching Ty Cobb or Shoeless Joe Jackson or some other legend of the deadball era. He is the most fundamentally sound player in the league.
His accomplishments speak for themselves. Since his 1994 season in Japan with the Orix Blue Wave, he has never batted below .300.
Since joining the Mariners in 2001, he has stolen at least 30 bases and collected at least 200 hits every year, breaking George Sisler's 84-year-old single seasons hits record in 2004.
He has the greatest arm I've ever seen; it is amazing watching him throw out baserunners the few times they ill-advisedly decide to test him. He has won a gold glove every year in the majors.
You can find this picture in your dictionary, next to the word "consistency."
12. Matt Holliday, Cardinals LF
After a disappointing half season with Oakland, Matt Holliday has reestablished himself as one of the game's best overall hitters, setting himself up for a major payday this winter.
Holliday took full advantage of the thin air during his five year tenure in Colorado, leading the team to the World Series in 2007 and finishing second in the MVP voting that year.
He has a good-looking swing and has always been a good contact hitter. There have always been doubts about his power hitting away from Denver, but he actually is on pace for at least 20 this season which is more than acceptable.
He is fast and can steal bases from time to time. Solid in left field, but not a Gold Glover.
For the next two months, the Cardinals have just the right guy to protect Albert Pujols and get the Red Bird fanbase dreaming of World Series title No. 11.
11. Josh Beckett, Red Sox SP
This man will never have to pay for a meal in Miami or Boston ever again.
Josh Beckett has taken up former teammate Curt Schilling's mantle as the best big game pitcher in the game, carrying the 2003 Marlins and 2007 Red Sox to glory. More so than any other reason, that is why he ranks this high.
A competitor in the mold of John Lackey and Mark Buehrle, Beckett benefits from having better stuff than either of them. With a devastating fastball and curveball, he is a threat to throw a no-hitter every time he takes the mound.
When he's on, he's an unquestioned ace. He certainly has not displayed the durability you want out of an ace however, throwing over 200 innings only twice in his career.
His dominance when healthy complemented by him being the greatest post-season pitcher of his generation merits him a ranking just outside the top 10, however.
10. Chase Utley, Phillies 2B
Jimmy Rollins is the speed demon, Ryan Howard is the slugger but Chase Utley is the Phillies' everyman. He helps them win countless different ways and undeniably is their best player.
Hitting 20 home runs and driving in 100 every year as a full-time player, his stats scream "corner infielder" or "corner outfielder." Think again; Chase Utley is a five-tool middle infielder.
There really isn't anything this guy doesn't do well, and he is one of the smartest players in the game today.
His smarts most commonly come across with the glove in his hand, as that has been a part of his game he has improved drastically the last few seasons through hard work and commitment.
He's already led the Phillies to one World Series; Utley does so much for them that they'll likely contend as long as they have him.
9. Mark Teixeira, Yankees 1B
At first it can seem puzzling how a guy this talented could play for four different teams in a little over two years.
I guess that from a GM's standpoint, acquiring a guy like Tex is just too hard to pass up on, regardless of whether or not he can be extended long-term.
Tex has finally found a home in New York though, signing a lucrative eight-year deal with the Bombers this past off-season.
He is a star performer on both sides of the ball, driving in 100 every year since 2004 all while playing Gold Glove defense at first base.
His streakiness to begin seasons is well-documented but by the end of the season, Tex is putting up all MVP caliber numbers.
He can carry a team when he's going right, not that the Yankees' explosive offense would ever need him to.
Tex's remarkable consistency, all-around batting prowess, and Gold Glove make him the premier first baseman in the American League right now.
8. Johan Santana, Mets SP
After 2007, when he was rightfully thought of as the best pitcher in baseball, I'd have ranked Santana second overall.
However, Santana has regressed (if you can call it that) from masterful in Minnesota to simply very good with the Mets.
A lost season in New York has not stopped Santana from winning 13 games this year. He boasts a great ERA as well (3.13) but he has looked very hittable at times. More often than not though, Santana has impressed this year.
He could've easily won 20 games last season but the porous Met bullpen lost many of those wins.
So it's promising to think about what Santana could do handing the ball off to JJ Putz and Francisco Rodriguez, if only Putz could stay healthy.
The best left-handed starter in the game right now. Like I said, he has top two upside.
7. Manny Ramirez, Dodgers LF
Love him or hate him, Manny Ramirez still has done something that no other player on this list has done; he single-handedly won his team a pennant.
After seven legendary years in Boston, Ramirez was traded to the Dodgers.
He proceeded to put up ridiculous stats even by his standards, batting .396 with 17 home runs and 53 RBI and sparking excitement in the Dodger fanbase that had been missing for some time.
It's no secret he's made more news off the field than on it this year. There have been moments good and bad, funny and despicable in the long history of "Manny being Manny." For being such a dramatic personality, Ramirez has won everywhere he's gone.
Manny is the kind of player who proves you wrong the moment you start underestimating him so you have to expect him to get hot eventually as the Dodgers try to win their second straight division title.
6. Alex Rodriguez, Yankees 3B
Controversy may have stripped him of his standing as the league's poster boy, but Alex Rodriguez remains one of the game's elite players.
Able to hit for both great power and average, and while not the speed demon who stole 46 bags in 1998 while also putting 40 in the stands, he is still a decent base-stealing threat. New York's launching pad of a stadium should help A-Rod remain productive into his late 30's.
Controversy hovers over him constantly, and it clearly affects his play on the field some times. The other knock on A-Rod is that he has been notoriously non-clutch in the playoffs.
However, he certainly has not been the only reason the Yankees have struggled in the post-season since their last World Series berth in 2003.
Tainted or not, his stats are eye-popping. He's still young enough to accomplish more, like win a world series perhaps. For better or worse, history will remember Alex Rodriguez.
5. Joe Mauer, Twins C
Simply one of a kind. Past or present, it's hard to think of a player like Joe Mauer, and no player in the game today means more to his team than Mauer does to the Twins.
At 26, the sweet-swinging St. Paul native (making his story that much sweeter) already has won two batting titles, and should take home his first AL MVP award this season.
Did I mention he's a catcher, and despite a frame that might suggest otherwise, a more than capable one?
Taking into account the scarcity of quality at his position, a definite case can be made for Mauer for the title of most valuable player in the game today.
A jaw-dropping talent, his maturation as a power hitter has vaulted Mauer into the ranks of baseball's elite. And at 26 years young, Mauer is going to be giving opposing pitchers headaches for years to come.
4. Tim Lincecum, Giants SP
You watch him deliver a pitch, and nothing about him screams "ace." Lincecum is a short right-hander with incredibly unorthodox mechanics.
But boy is there some thunder in that right arm. Add in how exceptionally deceptive he is, and the methods of "the Freak's" madness are clear.
Lincecum has become the premier strikeout artist in the game today, striking out 265 in 227 innings last year and is leading Major League Baseball this year with 207.
As stated before, his frame and his mechanics have worried some baseball purists. Time will test his durability.
Whatever he's doing, you can't deny it's working wonders for him now. For the better part of a year now, no one in the National League has been able to figure this kid out. At 25, he is only going to keep improving.
For all his ability, there's still one pitcher I rank higher.
3. Roy Halladay, Blue Jays SP
Roy Halladay is the closest you or I will ever get to watching Bob Gibson or Tom Seaver. Doc is a more than welcome throwback to the days when starting pitchers finished what they started.
Halladay is the total package. He's just smart; he knows how to get big league hitters out.
He uses a sinking mid 90s fastball he sets hitters up with, from whence he can call on a curve, cutter, or changeup to put them away.
Throw in an intensity and competitive drive startlingly rare in today's game, and you've got one of a kind.
With arms so high-priced these days, durability might be the most important thing a pitcher can possess. Save for an injury plagued stretch from 2004 to 2005, Doc has been as durable as any pitcher in the game.
It seems like he goes at least seven innings every start, and always is a very real threat to go all nine.
By any measure, the best pitcher in the game right now. As such, he's the kind of player who would fetch a bounty if ever traded. Still, for the life of me I can't understand why no one traded for him last July.
2. Hanley Ramirez, Marlins SS
The most valuable player in baseball right now, and the only player you can really make a case for is Joe Mauer. No player in the game right now epitomizes "five-tool player" quite like Hanley Ramirez.
I mean seriously, name another shortstop who contends for batting titles, can hit 30-plus home runs, and steal 30-plus bases. You can't. When going right, Hanley can carry a team.
He gets it done defensively as well, though as a young player, he is prone to mental mistakes in the field; that will improve with time, though.
The Boston Red Sox would not have won the World Series in 2007 without Josh Beckett or Mike Lowell. Still, there will always be skeptics who think that Theo Epstein never should have let this phenom go; as talented as Ramirez is, you have to understand their reasoning. It's a debate that will rage on in Boston for years to come.
1. Albert Pujols, Cardinals 1B
The 13th round, with the 402nd overall pick. Some people better have lost their jobs.
Baseball nicknames are largely for show and don't tend to mean much, but Pujols' is quite appropriate; "the machine."
Quite simply, you can bet your life on him hitting .300, with 30 home runs and 100 RBI. After all, he's done that every full season in the major leagues.
He hasn't turned 30 years old yet, and he already ranks 77th on the all-time home run list, just 42 away from 400 for his career.
He's made the All-Star team every year but one. He's been named NL MVP twice, and has already won a World Series.
Oh yeah, he's also probably the best defensive first baseman in the game right now.
In an era where his peers are getting busted left and right for steroids, a false KTVI report is the only link you'll find between Pujols and the scandal.
Most athletes too often are in the headlines for all the wrong reasons, but Pujols avoids controversy and is very involved in the St. Louis community. Pro sports could use more people like Albert Pujols.
Those of you with any sense knew who No. 1 was the moment you found out I was doing a list.
Albert Pujols is not only the best player in baseball today, but seems destined to go down with the game's all time greats.
They'll be mentioning his name in the same sentence as Babe Ruth and Willie Mays some day.