The saying goes, "There is no 'I' in team", and it is certainly true that no team can succeed relying on one superstar. However, there are players who act like glue for many MLB teams; these players are the foundation of their team from which everything else builds.
These are not necessarily the best hitters in the game nor the power pitchers, but the players who are truly the most valuable to their team. These players are the guys who steal bases at just the right time, make crucial plays in the field, and thrive under pressure. Foundation players are the ones who win games and produce championships for franchises.
Indispensable players are the ones who you can tell when their presence is missing. When this player is out of the lineup, his team just doesn't play with the same fire. For example, the Cardinals' lineup looks a lot less daunting without Albert Pujols.
When building an MLB team, general managers look for these types of players as a starting point. So, in this article, I will list the top players, by position, who I would look to first if I were building a Major League Baseball team from scratch. Age, health, talent, and both offensive and defensive statistics are the major categories I will examine.
Joe Mauer, Minnesota Twins
Major Awards: Four-time Silver Slugger, Three-time Gold Glove, One-time MVP, Two Playoff Appearances*
Mauer may never hit 20 home runs again; however, that is insignificant because Mauer's real value comes from his elite defense and being one of the top pure hitters in Major League Baseball.
Mauer has won three straight Gold Glove Awards (2008-2010), making him one of only nine catchers to win this award three or more times.
As far as his offensive prowess is concerned, Mauer has hit .340 since 2008, and his on-base percentage during that same time period was .420. Those stats rank Mauer first in batting average and second in on-base percentage since 2008.
While Mauer does not always hit the ball over the fence, he has proven that he can drive in runs and score runs.
Honorable Mention: Buster Posey, San Francisco Giants
Major Awards: One-time Rookie of the Year, One-time World Series Champion, One Playoff Appearance
The only reason I would not take Posey over Mauer at this point is the lack of major-league experience.
While his youth is certainly a benefit, one season is not enough time for me to rank him as the best player to build a team around at his position. The Giants went 66-42 to finish the 2010 regular season once Posey became the starter, which translates to a 99-63 record over 162 games.
If he is able to continue his production in 2011, he may very well transcend Mauer.
Albert Pujols, St. Louis Cardinals
Major Awards: One-time Rookie of the Year, Six-time Silver Slugger, Two-time Gold Glove, Three-time Most Valuable Player, Five Playoff Appearances, One-time World Series Champion
You should be able to tell simply by his lengthy list of credentials above. Pujols could retire today and he would be a Hall of Famer without a doubt at only age 31.
He has shown the ability to carry a team to a World Series, as the Cardinals reached the World Series in 2004 and 2006, winning it in 2006.
Pujols can field, hit for average, hit for power, and steal bases. He could probably pitch if you asked him to. He may may be 31, but he still has many great years ahead of him.
Honorable Mention: Joey Votto, Cincinnati Reds
Major Awards: One-time Most Valuable Player
Sorry, Miguel Cabrera. While Cabrera is arguably the better hitter, Votto is a more diverse ballplayer. He has the power (37 home runs in 2010) and the average (.314 career batting average), but what is more important is that he can steal bases if necessary and play defense.
Votto showed significant improvement at first base, posting a .996 fielding percentage in 2010, while Cabrera was among the worst fielding first basemen at .990.
Dustin Pedroia, Boston Red Sox
Major Awards: One-time Rookie of the Year, One-time Silver Slugger, One-time Gold Glove, One-time Most Valuable Player, Three Playoff Appearances, One-time World Series Champion
Pedroia and Robinson Cano were the two obvious favorites for this award. The two are almost identical in every aspect of the game, though Pedroia is a much more proficient base stealer.
Yankee fans will contend that Cano destroyed Pedroia in 2010, however had Pedroia not been injured, he was on pace for 25.9 home runs and 19.4 stolen bases.
Pedroia is the best all-around second baseman in the game; he has a career .305 batting average (.369 OBP), solid power, strong speed, and an elite glove.
It could go either way, but I'll take Pedroia's better all-around game and superior on-base percentage over Cano's extra four or five home runs any day.
Honorable Mention: Robinson Cano, New York Yankees
Major Awards: Two-time Silver Slugger, One-time Gold Glove, Five Playoff Appearances, One-time World Series Champion
Cano has always been a great hitter, however his development as a fielder is what boosts his prospects as the foundation of a baseball team. His career .309 batting average (.347 OBP) more than makes up for his speed deficiency.
In a year where many Yankees struggled, Cano was the glue of the team last season, again showing his potential to be the center of a team.
Evan Longoria, Tampa Bay Rays
Major Awards: One-time Rookie of the Year, One-time Silver Slugger, Two-time Gold Glove, Two Playoff Appearances
With the departure of Carl Crawford, Longoria will be the unquestioned leader of a young Tampa Bay squad. In the past three seasons, Longoria has shown that he is more than qualified for this role.
His batting average has been on the rise since his rookie season, reaching .294 this past season. Longoria's 86.1% stolen base success rate (31-36) shows his ability to snag an extra base if the context calls for it.
Longoria's ability to drive in runs is undeniable; he has driven in 217 runs in the past two seasons. If that isn't enough, Longoria is a two-time Gold Glove winner.
While Tampa lost a lot this off season, it is hard to imagine them dropping off a cliff with Longoria at the center.
Honorable Mention: David Wright, New York Mets
Major Awards: Two-time Gold Glove, Two-time Silver Slugger, One Playoff Appearance
Wright fits the bill for all-around superstar perfectly. He has a .305 career batting average (.383 OBP), Wright has hit 25+ home runs in five of the past six seasons, and he has won two Gold Glove awards.
If Wright has any weakness, it is his limited playoff experience. This is not completely his fault, as his teammates have been less than productive during his Mets career.
One final note about Wright is that he played 154+ games in five of the past six seasons, displaying his remarkable consistency.
Hanley Ramriez, Florida Marlins
Major Awards: One-time Rookie of the Year, Two-time Silver Slugger
This was one of the easiest decisions out of all the positions. While Troy Tulowitzki is catching up, Ramirez is one of the top three or four talented players in the league.
Ramirez has hit at least .300 in every season since 2006, and his on-base percentage has not dipped below .378 during that same time period.
No shortstop has a higher on-base percentage than Ramirez since 2006. Ramirez's incredible combination of power and speed is his main allure.
He has hit 20+ home runs in four of the past five seasons, and has stolen 32+ bases four of the past five seasons as well.
He has maxed out at 33 home runs and 51 stolen bases, which are spectacular statistics for any player, let alone a shortstop.
Honorable Mention: Troy Tulowitzki, Colorado Rockies
Major Awards: One-time Silver Slugger, One-time Gold Glove, Two Playoff Appearances
In 2010, Tulowitzki displayed his ability to demolish pitchers, hitting .323 with 18 home runs and 61 RBI after the All-Star Break. Like Ramirez, Tulowitzki has the rare ability to hit for power, average, and steal bases.
Having hit 59 home runs and stolen 31 bases in the past two seasons, Tulowitzki is a step behind Ramirez in this regard, though his .315 batting average last season was significantly higher than that of Ramirez.
Ryan Braun, Milwaukee Brewers
Major Awards: One-time Rookie of the Year, Three-time Silver Slugger, One Playoff Appearance
Arguably the best outfielder regardless of age, Braun is an easy choice as one of three outfield potential building blocks.
Braun is best known for his power, as he has hit 128 home runs in the past two seasons, though his .307 batting average and 63 stolen bases during his career are not too shabby either.
Of players with 128 home runs or more since 2007, no one has stolen as many bases as Braun.
Carlos Gonzalez, Colorado Rockies
Major Awards: One-time Silver Slugger, One-time Gold Glove
Though Gonzalez's Triple Crown-threatening 2010 season was a surprise to many, his career statistics show that it was predictable.
Gonzalez's efficiency was by far the best in the league in 2010. In just 145 games, Gonzalez hit 34 home runs, stole 26 bases, and drove in 117 runs, all the while maintaining a .336 batting average (.376 OBP).
The fact that Gonzalez is only 25 years old and still has room to grow makes him among the top five players to build a team around.
Carl Crawford, Boston Red Sox
Major Awards: One-time Silver Slugger, One-time Gold Glove, Two Playoff Appearances
In the past three years, Crawford has show the ability to lead a small-market team past two of the richest teams in the MLB.
Though he is primarily known for his daunting speed (five seasons with 50+ stolen bases), Crawford has sufficient power to be the central figure of a baseball team.
His Gold Glove-winning defense doesn't hurt his value either.
- Justin Upton, Arizona Diamondbacks
- Andrew McCutchen, Pittsburgh Pirates
- Matt Kemp, Los Angeles Dodgers
Felix Hernandez, Seattle Mariners
Major Awards: One-time Cy Young Award
Hernandez is arguably the best pitcher in the MLB, and being just 24 makes Hernandez's success even more ridiculous.
Still 24, Hernandez already has two seasons with a sub-2.50 ERA (2009-2010), both of which he struck out 217+ batters.
Even if Hernandez only has four or five more dominant seasons, he is an easy choice for a foundation pitcher.
Hernandez has averaged over seven innings per start over the last two seasons, which explains how he has managed a 32-17 record despite playing for a team with a historically bad offense.
Tim Lincecum, San Francisco Giants
Major Awards: Two-time Cy Young Award, One Playoff Appearance, One-time World Series Champion
At age 26, when your 'down season' consists of a 3.43 ERA, 16 wins, and 231 strikeouts, you know you are doing something right. His two Cy Young awards are reflective of Lincecum's ability to mow right through even the most talented offenses.
In 811 career innings pitched, Lincecum has an incredible 907 strikeouts. It doesn't matter how unconventional his delivery is as long as he continues to dominate.
His 4-1 record and 2.34 ERA in the 2010 postseason show why Lincecum is reliable in clutch situations, a sign of an indispensable player.
Jon Lester, Boston Red Sox
Major Awards: Three Playoff Appearances, One-time World Series Champion
Clayton Kershaw and Josh Joshson fans may feel as if their player was more deserving; however, Lester's has proven that he can be the top pitcher for an elite team consistently and has had postseason success.
Lester's 61-25 record and 3.55 career ERA speak for themselves, however those stats do not even tell the full story about Lester.
In the last three seasons, Lester's ERA was 3.29 and hitters have hit just .240 off of him. While Johnson and Kershaw have produced better single seasons, Lester is a consistently dominant starting pitcher despite pitching against the top hitting teams in the league.
- Ubaldo Jiminez, Colorado Rockies
- Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers
- Josh Johnson, Florida Marlins