MLB Power Rankings: Robinson Cano and the 25 Best Players in the AL East
With Boston's offseason spending spree and Tampa Bay's everything-must-go jumble sale, one can make a pretty good stab at how the AL East will play out in 2011.
The Yankees and Red Sox will fight it out for the top spot, the Blue Jays and Rays will compete for third and fourth and the Orioles will still languish at the bottom.
Obviously, any of the bottom three could make a run to the postseason as the Rays did in 2008, but it would be a staggering turnaround.
At first glance, this article may appear overloaded with players from Boston and New York but bear in mind, there is a simple reason they will be the favorites for the AL pennant: they have the best players.
If the O's had more players on this list, they would not have had 13 consecutive losing seasons.
25. Ben Zobrist
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Zobrist had a great 2009, batting .297 with 27 homers and 91 driven in. Last year was a big step down, as his average fell 59 points, and his SLG plummeted from .543 to .353. Still, he drove in 75 and stole 24 bases, third on the team after BJ Upton and the now-departed Carl Crawford.
He has struck out 100 times in each of his two full seasons, but he also drew over 90 walks. If it is the 2009 Zobrist who turns up in April, Joe Maddon will be very happy; he really needs him.
24. Luke Scott
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Scott had a solid 2010, with a .284/.268/.535 line. He also hit 27 HR, a career-high. His homer total has increased each yeah he has been in the majors. His career OPS+ stands at 123.
23. Josh Beckett
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Beckett had a disastrous 2010 campaign. At 6-6, 5.78 ERA, he was a shadow of the 20-game winner of four years ago.
That said, hopes will be high for a bounce-back season this year. Look at his ERA+ year by year. His five best seasons were 2001, 2003, 2005, 2007 and 2009. He was not a $16 million pitcher last season but if the trend continues, he should be somewhere close to that in 2011.
Perhaps he just dislikes even numbers.
22. Rafael Soriano
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Yes, his coming 12th in the MVP race was a bit of a stretch, but he did have a great year. Opponents hit just .163 off him and he pitched to a 1.73 ERA, leading the AL in saves with 45.
2010 was his first season with Tampa Bay and the way things have gone this offseason for the 2008 AL Champions, it might be his last.
21. Brett Gardner
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There is a lot to like about Gardner. Last year's .379 slugging percentage will excite no one, but 47 stolen bases, a .277 average and solid defense are all good signs for the young outfielder.
20. JD Drew
JD Drew is frightfully uninspiring, both to watch and in the way he plays the game. Despite this, he is a good player. Not worth his $14m paycheck, but still very good.
He has hit 25 home runs just twice and driven in 70 just three times in his 13-year career, but will bat .280. Not exciting, but then again, he is not an exciting player. Drew is very good defensively and is a great baserunner. He does not have the speed to be a prolific steal threat, but he is intelligent on the basepaths.
19. Nick Markakis
One does not hear of Markakis very often, in large part due to his playing in Baltimore. His numbers are very solid, however.
He has been immensely durable, missing just nine games in the past four seasons combined. He has batted .290 each of the last five seasons and while he will not hit 30 home runs, he has managed to drive in 100 twice in his career. That is quite an achievement in the Orioles lineup.
18. Phil Hughes
Phil Hughes was almost unhittable in the first half of the season and while he fell away after the All-Star break, he still finished with a very impressive 18-8 record and a 4.19 ERA.
His dismal August and September could be signs that pitching that many innings does not suit him, but it might be down to his youth. 2010 was the first time he had been a full-time member of the rotation for the whole season and he performed well enough to reassure Yankees fans that they have another good arm to follow CC Sabathia.
17. Daniel Bard
The offseason acquisition of Bobby Jenks prompted a debate about whether or not the Red Sox would replace Jonathan Papelbon as closer in 2011. That will not be the case (one does not pay a middle reliever $12m), but there is no doubt who the Sox closer will be in 2012.
Daniel Bard has been a revelation since coming up in 2009. Most would have been against the Adrian Gonzalez trade if San Diego had demanded Bard's inclusion in a package. That alone tells you how much he is valued.
His WHIP in 2010 was almost exactly 1 and his ERA was just 1.93. He also showed no signs wearing down despite a higher innings total. He will be the set-up guy for Papelbon again at the start of the season, but perhaps not by the end.
16. Jacoby Ellsbury
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2010 was a lost season for Ellsbury. After injuring his rib in the first week of the season, he played just 12 more games, returning to the DL twice. He batted .192 with no home runs, five RBIs and just seven stolen bases.
The year before, however, he was brilliant. He hit over .300 and stole a franchise-record 70 bases. With the glove, he was nowhere near as good as he had been in 2008, but overall, it was a year that solidified his place as one of the league's top young outfielders.
15. Mariano Rivera
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No one would be shocked if Rivera were still on this list a decade from now. His WHIP in 2010 was 0.83. His ERA has been above two just once in the last eight years. It is easy to forget he is 41-years-old.
The guy is a machine, and that is really all there is to it.
14. Derek Jeter
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2010 was a down year for the Yankee captain. His BA was the lowest of his career, 44 points below his career average. He hit just 10 home runs, his lowest figure since he hit 10 in 2003. His defense was once again fairly poor.
Yes, he won a Gold Glove, but that was perhaps the most farcical selection since Rafael Palmeiro in 1999.
Having said that, it is hard to know how Jeter will perform in 2011. Was last season an aberration or the beginning of the end for the future Hall of Famer?
13. Evan Longoria
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Yes, the Rays did hold on to some of their star players. Longoria has put together three great years since coming up in 2008. He won the Rookie of the Year, has finished in the top 20 in MVP balloting all three years, won two Gold Gloves and a Silver Slugger and made all three All-Star teams.
With the Rays lineup looking terribly sparse now, he might be their most important player in the coming season.
12. David Price
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David Price burst onto the scene in the 2008 postseason and has not disappointed since. A 4.42 ERA in 2009 was followed up by a stellar 2010, in which he went 19-6 with a 2.72 mark. He made his first All-Star team and was runner-up to Felix Hernandez for the Cy Young.
With Matt Garza now pitching at Wrigley Field, Price is undoubtedly Tampa's best pitcher.
11. Carl Crawford
Former teammate of Longoria and Price, Carl Crawford signed a huge seven-year, $142 million contract with Boston this December.
It is the largest contract ever given to a player who had never hit 20 home runs, but the long ball is not a part of his game. Crawford has a .296 career average and is the active leader in stolen bases, swiping 50 bags five times.
10. Alex Rodriguez
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Love him or loathe him, call him a cheater or a legend, the fact remains that Alex Rodriguez can hit a baseball a really long way.
He has thirteen consecutive 30-100 seasons, amassing 613 home runs in his career. His average fell to .270 last season, his lowest mark since his rookie year, but even that could not stop him driving in 125 runs.
Barring a catastrophic collapse, he will almost certainly end up passing Hank Aaron and Barry Bonds in the all-time home run list. After all, he is just 35-years-old.
9. Clay Buchholz
It took Buchholz a few years to reach the potential he showed in September 2007, when he threw a no-hitter in his second big league start, but in 2010, he finally became the pitcher the Red Sox hoped he would be, going 17-7 with a 2.33 ERA.
A month-long DL stint scuppered any chance he had of winning the Cy Young, but he still put together a phenomenal season.
8. Jose Bautista
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Bautista provided one of the biggest surprise stories of last season. After bouncing around five different teams and averaging just 10 home runs a season, he had a monster 2010. He hit 54 home runs, 38 more than his previous career high.
Without last season, Bautista would not appear on this list. He would not even be a consideration for it. However, if one believes that the changes he made to his swing really quadrupled his home run total, and if one expects a repeat performance in 2011, he deserves his high ranking.
7. Kevin Youkilis
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Youk would have placed higher had he remained at first base, where he had won a Gold Glove and set an MLB record for errorless games. With his move across the diamond, his defensive contributions might be diminished, thus his lower ranking.
Offensively, he should put up MVP-calibre numbers. In the last four years, he has averaged 23 HR, 88 RBIs and a .303 BA. Last year ended prematurely thanks to a injury to and subsequent surgery on his thumb. He still hit 19 homers and his OPS+ was a ridiculous 157.
6. Jon Lester
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Jon Lester's story is inspirational. After beating cancer, he won the clinching game of the 2007 World Series, threw a no-hitter in May 2008, and has become one of the best pitchers in the game.
In his three full seasons in the majors, he has gone 50-23 with a 3.29 ERA, 1.235 WHIP and averaged over 200 strikeouts with just 71 walks.
5. Mark Teixeira
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Much like Jeter and A-Rod, Teixeira's batting average fell considerably in 2010 to just .256. However, he still went deep 33 times, collected 108 RBIs and led the league in runs.
He also won his second-straight Gold Glove, his fourth overall.
4. Dustin Pedroia
Dustin Pedroia was born to play baseball. After he went on the DL with a broken foot in July, he became so bored he started throwing sunflower seeds at his manager in the dugout.
When he is able to play, he is one of the best in the game. He became only the second person to win the Rookie of the Year and MVP in back-to-back seasons in 2008. He is a doubles machine, with a brilliant glove to match.
The Robinson Cano-Dustin Pedroia debate is one that will go on for a while.
3. CC Sabathia
CC Sabathia is a horse. If his arm can withstand the huge number of innings he has pitched (180+ every year, 230+ the last four) he has the best shot at winning 300 of any active pitcher.
A 21-7 record led the AL last year and he is 40-15 with a 3.27 ERA in his two seasons in the Bronx. With the possible exceptions of Roy Halladay and postseason phenom Cliff Lee, there is nobody you would rather have to start a playoff game.
2. Adrian Gonzalez
It is difficult to know how Gonzalez will perform with his new team since he has never played in the AL East, let alone Fenway Park. However, his numbers were so impressive at PETCO, it is hard to imagine they will not be even better in Boston's Back Bay.
It is that expectation which places him so high on this list. If his numbers do not translate to the AL, he would fall down the rankings quickly. If they do, then Boston is in with a great shot at winning the pennant.
Also, the Gonzalez-Teixeira comparisons are likely to be even closer than Pedroia-Cano.
1. Robinson Cano
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Speaking of Cano, here he is. The best player in the AL East. It is difficult to pick a clear winner between the top 10 or so, which is a testament to how stacked the division is. However, Cano gets the nod because it is easier to imagine him winning the MVP than anybody else.
Pedroia and Youkilis are coming off injuries (Youk is at a new position, as well), Teixeira's batting average was woeful, A-Rod has not been himself for a few seasons, Bautista might have been a huge fluke, and Gonzalez will have to settle into a new ballpark.
Also, CC, Lester and Buchholz are pitchers; betting on a pitcher to win the MVP is idiotic.
The one left? Cano. He has missed just eight games in four years, batted .319 with 29 HR and 109 RBIs last year and appears to be in the ascendancy. He won his first Gold Glove, Silver Slugger and was third in the MVP race.