Major League Baseball's 40 Most Respected Current Athletes

Bleacher ReportCorrespondent IJanuary 24, 2011

Major League Baseball's 40 Most Respected Current Athletes

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    How often have you turned on the television and seen another breaking news story informing the world that another athlete has been accused of taking illegal drugs?

    One of my all-time heroes has been Lance Armstrong, however recent accusations of Armstrong taking performance enhancing drugs has tainted my view of him. 

    Baseball is becoming more and more contaminated with cheaters and liars. Whether it be through drugs or explicit media sessions, many Major League Baseball players are developing reputations as bad influences.

    However, there are still, thankfully, many players who have refrained from such corrupt acts. 

    While it often the case that the dirty, flawed players attract the most attention from the media, it is important to recognize the players who are clean, respectable people.

    We are in an era where the crop of players who are willing to give their all to the game while still following the rules is growing thin. Therefore, in an attempt to promote a wave of good-intentioned athletes, this article will congratulate the most respected athletes in the MLB today. 

40. Joey Votto

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    Drafted by the Reds in 2002, Votto has progressed through the minors to the big leagues where he has been a major force for a Reds team that desperately needed a leader. Before 2010, the Reds had not reached the playoffs since 1995. 

    Votto won the National League MVP in 2010 by hitting .324 with 37 home runs and 113 RBIs. His presence in the line up is heavily felt. Said Dusty Baker, “Joey is a quality young man who cares about his teammates. I asked him once why he never gets angry on the field when something goes wrong and he said: 'I don't want to show up my teammates.'" 

    Votto will be with the Reds for at least three more seasons, and Reds fans should hope Votto resigns with them after, as Votto is a great player to build around. 

39. Ryan Braun

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    In just four years, Braun has developed a reputation as one of the best hitters in baseball. He has hit 25-plus home runs in every year of his career on top of a career .307 batting average.

    His hitting coach explains, “I was amazed. I knew Braun would hit some home runs, but to come in so under control emotionally as he was from day one and do what he did, you just don't find many guys who can do that.” 

    It is rare to see someone as talented as Braun, so let's hope Braun keeps up his clean reputation, as his career in Milwaukee could be one for the history books.

38. Cliff Lee

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    Cliff Lee's decision to reject the Yankees loaded offer and sign with the Phillies for less money is reflective of Lee's attitude. While Lee will still be making plenty of money, he went to the team he wanted to go to without worrying about pennies and dimes. 

    Though Lee spent most of his career in Cleveland, where he won a Cy Young award, he will be best remembered for his two, so far, World Series appearances with the Phillies and the Rangers. 

    A career 102-61 pitcher with a 3.85 career ERA, Lee will be remembered as a great pitcher regardless of how the next few seasons unfold, however Lee does have an opportunity to be part of a historic rotation in 2011. 

37. Aubrey Huff

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    Huff has been in the MLB dating back to 2000. During that period, he has been an extremely consistent player, with a .283 batting average and 229 home runs. 

    In 2010, Huff led the San Francisco Giants' offense to a World Series title, an honor Huff has been deserving of for a long time.

    Huff showed his leadership, one of the reasons he is a very well respected athlete in 2010. The Giants had a very young offense with players such as Buster Posey and Pablo Sandoval. Huff's experience and leadership were crucial for San Francisco in 2010. Though Huff has a few more years left, 2010 will likely be the year is best remembered for. 

36. Justin Morneau

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    Morneau and Joe Mauer have been the center for the Twins for the past few years. The success the Twins have had shows how great of a leader Morneau is.

    Per 162 games, Morneau has hit 31 home runs and has hit .286 in his career. He won a much-deserved Most Valuable Player award in 2008 to go along with his two Silver Slugger awards. 

    Morneau has played his whole career in Minnesota, and hopefully he will finish with the Twins, as he has a bright legacy awaiting him barring a significant decrease in production.

35. Nick Markakis

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    Markakis does not hit a lot of home runs or steal a lot of bases. He has a strong average, though he has never led his Orioles to the playoffs. But, Markakis is guy that you can not help from rooting for. 

    Said former teammate Corey Patterson, “He's a confident kid and the thing I laugh about, it seems like he has a short-term memory. He puts things behind him and learns from them. Nick knows that he can run, catch, throw, hit for average, hit for power, so it's never a question about his ability.”

    Markakis is the kind of guy you know will always be out there trying his hardest, and for that has earned the respect of many. 

34. Joe Nathan

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    There are very few relievers who are able to maintain an elite status for more than two or three years. However, Nathan has been one of the best closers in the game since 2004.

    He allows hits sparingly, as displayed by his career 1.11 WHIP. If you were to poll MLB hitters asking them to name the reliever they fear most, Nathan would be near the top. 

    Nathan ranks 30th among all-time saves leaders, though if he is able to return in 2011 unaffected by his Tommy John surgery, Nathan could move up to the top 10 within a few years. 

33. Adam Dunn

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    In an age plagued with steroid users, Dunn will be remembered as one of the few hitters who not only was an elite power hitter, but stayed clean his whole career. As of 2010, Dunn has hit 38-plus home runs in seven straight seasons, a rare feat among hitters. The consistency required to achieve these statistics is mind blowing.

    Dunn has played no fewer than 152 games in one season since 2002, a testament to his incredible durability. If there is any power hitter you had to rely on, Dunn would likely be second to only Albert Pujols.

    With the White Sox, Dunn will get the opportunity to play for a playoff contender, something long overdue. 

32. Evan Longoria

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    With the departure of Carl Crawford, Longoria will be able to assume the role of the leader on the Tampa Bay Rays. He has shown tremendous talent in his first three seasons in all aspects of the game. As long as Longoria is at the center of this team, it is hard to imagine them falling too far despite losing Crawford, Pena, Garza and more. 

    Longoria has seen his batting average rise in each season in the majors; in 2010 he reached .294. His power in very dangerous and he is always a threat on the base paths. It is no coincidence that the Rays exploded the same year Longoria established himself as a starter. In his new well-deserved leadership role, expect Longoria to thrive. 

31. Pat Burrell

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    At age 34, Burrell has played 11 major league seasons on three different teams. He has never been an elite player, though he has consistently been a strong player, averaging over 25 home runs per season.

    'Pat the Bat' has been a great player to root for throughout his career, and his World Series win with the Giants in 2010 was well-deserved. 

    Said Rays manager Joe Maddon, "I’m always about effort and work, and this guy did that every day. He was the first guy showing up. He was always in the cage, always worked on his defense even though he didn't play out there. He was very supportive among his teammates."

30. Brandon Inge

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    A perfect example of why Inge is a great person to root for is his Home Run Derby attempt in 2009. After hitting a total of 0 home runs in the first round, Inge's response was, "loved it. I'd do it again in a heartbeat. I really would. I'd ask them to do it again."

    Inge has spent his entire 11 year career in Detroit, hitting 136 home runs with 564 RBIs. He may not be an elite catcher, though he has been very valuable to Detroit over the years. 

29. Ryan Zimmerman

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    Despite playing for the Washington Nationals, Zimmerman has maintained an extremely positive attitude throughout his entire career. He has been the heart of this organization ever since he arrived and if the Nationals break through in the near future, Zimmerman deserves a lot of credit. 

    Zimmerman has been extremely impressive during his career thus far, hitting .288 with 116 home runs in just five full seasons on top of a Gold Glove award in 2009. 

    If there is any reason to cheer for the Nationals in 2011, it is for Zimmerman. 

28. Torii Hunter

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    Hunter is best known for his defensive prowess. He has won a total of nine Gold Gloves in his career. Hunter has also hit 244 home runs since 2001. 

    More importantly, Hunter is known as a very fun player. After being elected to the All-Star game last season, Hunter said, "That's what I decided a long time ago. If I'm here, I'm going to host it — have some fun, smile, kiss some babies."

    Hunter is still producing very impressive stats with the Angels, and with the addition of Vernon Wells, the Angels will have a very threatening outfield in 2011. 

27. Eric Chavez

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    Though Chavez is only 33, he seems like he is 40 because he has been in the majors since 1998. He is one of the few players to have played his whole career (so far) with the same team. Chavez has struggled in the past few years, though in his prime he was a dominant force in Oakland. 

    Chavez consistently hit around 30 home runs with a .280 batting average during his span as an elite player, winning six Gold Gloves at the same time. He is one of the few good-natured people to have been so successful coming from the steroid era, and it will be disappointing to see him retire in the future. 

26. Jimmy Rollins

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    Rollins is an unquestioned Philadelphia hero. He has been the cornerstone of their defense and a very productive hitter. In his career, he has hit .272, stolen 343 bases, and hit 154 home runs. He can claim one Most Valuable Player award and three Gold Gloves. More importantly, he is a World Series winner.

    Rollins has been a role model in his career on top of his outstanding performance on the field. He created the Rollins Family Foundation, served as an Honorary Chairman for the Negro Leagues Baseball Memorial Fund, and participated in ESPN's "My Wish" program. Rollins is an inspirational person and baseball player, hopefully with a Hall of Fame spot waiting for him.  

25. David Wright

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    Wright has been a favorite of Mets fans since 2004. He has been an elite third basemen with power, speed, pure hitting talent, very good fielding, and leadership. In 2006, he led the Mets to a postseason appearance. His lack of surrounding production over the past few years is the only reason he has been unable to reach the playoffs again.

    Wright has been the center of the Mets; he has been blamed for successes and failures, he has been consistent on an injury-plagued team (though he was on the DL for a short period of time in 2009), he has assumed the role of captain, and done it all very well.

    Pardon the cliche, but David Wright has done everything 'wright' in his career. 

24. Chase Utley

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    Like Rollins, Utley is a Phillies hero because of his play on the field and the way he carries himself off the field. He is a lifetime .293 hitter, hits 25 home runs a year, and steals almost 15 bases each season. His four Silver Slugger awards are symbols of his greatness as a hitter. 

    Utley is simply a class act off the field. If little league coaches were to tell their kids who to watch, Utley would probably be one of the first players the coaches would think of. How can you not have respect for the guy?

23. Paul Konerko

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    The White Sox have faltered many times over the past decade, however the player they have always come back to is Paul Konerko. Konerko has been with the White Sox since 1999, hitting 351 home runs during that span. He has taken the White Sox to three playoff appearances, hitting seven home runs during the post season.

    Konerko has been the icon of this organization for years. He was rewarded by being named captain, an honor that very few MLB players are able to lay claim to. Manager Ozzie Guillen said that he would not have picked a new captain had Konerko left this winter, because "nobody earned" the honor like Konerko.  

22. Vladimir Guerrero

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    It is so hard not to love watching Vladimir Guerrero hack at every pitch thrown his way. Despite his aggressive batting strategy, Guerrero has won eight Silver Slugger awards and one Most Valuable Player award. 'Vlad' has been in the league since 1996, and has hit 436 home runs during that time. What is most impressive about Vlad's hitting is that he has maintained a .320 batting average. Even at age 35, Vlad still managed 29 home runs and a .300 batting average last season.

    Vlad is still a free agent this season, however any team would be lucky to have him hitting in the middle of their lineup. Vlad is a fun hitter to watch, and a great hitter to have. 

21. Kevin Youkilis

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    Youkilis has been a player loved by Red Sox fans forever. When he bats, fans yell "Yooooouk!". Why him? Because he is one of the hardest workers in the game, sacrifices himself for his team in every scenario, and loves to play baseball. He has a passion unparalleled by any player in the MLB. 

    Youkilis has an attitude similar to that of former Red Sox outfielder Trot Nixon. He is a dirt dog and puts his heart into the game. He plays defense, hits for power and average, and has a presence in the dugout that just makes his teammates want to play. 

    Youkilis has been to the postseason four times, winning two World Series. In 2007, he hit four home runs and batted .388, establishing himself as a Red Sox postseason hero. And he's only 31. 

20. Carl Crawford

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    Crawford has been the foundation for the Tampa Bay Rays for nine years now. In 2008, Crawford showed how valuable he was, taking a young, small-market Rays club to the playoffs over the Yankees and Red Sox. Crawford has been invaluable to the Rays over the years, and it is hard to believe his departure will not be felt by many Rays players.  

    Crawford is typically known as a speed demon because of his 409 career stolen bases and .296 lifetime average. However, Crawford has more power than one might expect, hitting double digit home runs in six of the past seven seasons. Crawford will be moving on to Boston in 2011 where his team will be favored to win it all. And very few players deserve a championship more than Crawford after all the work he did to the Tampa Bay franchise. 

19. Ichiro Suzuki

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    Ichiro is another baseball player that all little leaguers look up to. He is a pure hitter with a .331 career average. He has won ten Gold Glove awards along with an assortment of other trophies, including one Most Valuable Player award.

    More importantly, however, is that Ichiro has been one of the most humble players to every play the game. Despite an increasingly intrusive media, Ichiro has refrained from calling out other players, maintaining a clean, respectable profile. 

    Ichiro has been playing baseball since 1993, including 10 MLB seasons, and hopefully he will stay a little bit longer. 

18. Orlando Hudson

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    Hudson has a great reputation among MLB circles. He is a solid player, who plays elite defense. In his nine year career, Hudson has won nine Gold Glove awards and has been to two postseasons. 

    Hudson once said, "You have to pass the baton. Everyone takes a turn and chips in. That's what great teams do." This quote represents why everyone loves Hudson. He loves the game, knows his place, and always does what he can to win. 

    Hudson may never be an elite player, however when his contract with San Diego expires, he will likely have many contenders looking to add him to their rosters. 

17. Yadier Molina

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    Molina is only 28 years old, however he seems a lot older because of the leadership role he has taken with St. Louis. Sure, Albert Pujols has always been the leader of this team, but Molina also has his share of respect within the team. Winning three straight Gold Gloves has only helped boost reasons to respect Molina. 

    Many people ignore Molina because of his .268 career batting average or the fact that he has never hit double digit home runs. However, Molina's four playoff appearances and one World Series victory speak for themselves. 

16. Michael Young

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    Young is a .300 hitter, a guy who has power, a player who can steal bases, a Gold Glove-caliber defender and the leader of the Texas Rangers. He has been with the team his entire 11 year career, reaching the World Series for the first time in franchise history last season. 

    Young has been remarkably consistent for the Rangers and has always had a team-first attitude. The veteran was willing to move to third base in order to accommodate youngster Elvis Andrus, and in 2011 is again taking a hit moving to either first base or designated hitter. Young will go down in Rangers history as one of the best to have ever played for them. 

15. Lance Berkman

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    Like Young, Berkman will retire a Texas hero. However, instead of the Rangers he will be remembered for his career with the Astros. Berkman played the first 11 years of his career with Houston, leading them to three playoff appearances. 

    Berkman has shown elite power in his career, hitting up to 45 home runs in one season. He also has surprising speed for a first baseman, stealing 82 career bases. He may not have the legacy that Jeff Bagwell owns, however, he has a place in Astros history. 

14. Dustin Pedroia

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    Anyone who doesn't have respect for Pedroia is either a Yankee fan or a Red Sox hater. Pedroia has defied all odds as a 5'9", small player. He has played with a heart bigger than almost any MLB players in the game today. When Pedroia broke his foot this past season, he demonstrated leadership despite not being able to play, and his hard work ethic was still prevalent in the Boston locker room. 

    Many people claim that Pedroia's 2008 Most Valuable Player award was undeserved, or that he just got lucky. Those people fail to realize how valuable Pedroia truly was. While his statistics were very good, it was his scrappy play, his attitude and his perseverance that won him the award. Without his charisma in the locker room, the Red Sox would have likely faltered on many occasions. Nobody was more valuable than Dustin Pedroia in 2008.

    Pedroia should have a long career with the Red Sox. He already has one World Series under his belt, though many more are expected. Now that Pedroia has proved people wrong, his expectations have been raised.  

13. Jamie Moyer

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    Jamie Moyer has not won a Most Valuable Player award, nor has he even won a Cy Young award. What Moyer has done in his career is even more impressive. Moyer has been pitching since the year the Mets beat the Red Sox in the World Series because of Bill Buckner's error. He has a career 267-204 record and his 4.24 ERA over the course of four decades is astonishing. 

    Moyer has reached the playoffs on four occasions with two teams, winning it all with Philadelphia in 2008. At age 48, Moyer is still playing to nobody's dismay. 

12. Todd Helton

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    Though the Rockies have had many great players on their team such as Troy Tulowitzki, Todd Helton is the unquestioned head of this team. He has played his whole career in Colorado, starting all the way back in 1997. With Colorado, he has won three Gold Gloves and four Silver Sluggers, as well as two playoff appearances in 2007 and 2009.

    He is one of the best first baseman to play in the past two decades, hitting .324 in his career along with 333 home runs. I would be shocked if Helton did not have a spot for him in Cooperstown. Though Helton is no longer the player he used to be, he is still a great player to watch and root for. 

11. Roy Halladay

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    Not having respect for Roy Halladay is a crime. He dominated the American League East from 2001-2009, and is now conquering the National League East. His lifetime 3.32 ERA and career 169-86 record are reflective of Halladay's dominance and his two Cy Young awards display the same traits. 

    Since 2005, Halladay has gone under 3.00 in ERA four times and won 20 games twice. Entering 2011, Halladay leads a Phillies rotation that has the potential to make history. Halladay is one of the greatest pitchers in the history of the MLB to not win a World Series (so far). But do not count Halladay out yet, because he is still one of the fiercest pitchers in the league at age 33.  

10. Jorge Posada

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    Posada is one of the few Yankee players you must respect. He has played with the team his whole career, dating back to 1995. During that time he has won five Silver Slugger awards and has reached the postseason 14 times.

    Despite being a catcher, Posada has a career .275 batting average and has hit 261 career home runs. Along with Derek Jeter, Posada has been the heart of the New York Yankees. Posada played a major role in their 2009 World Series victory, hitting two home runs with a .260 batting average. Posada will no doubt reach the Hall of Fame and should be remembered by Yankee fans forever. 

9. Jason Varitek

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    Varitek is the Red Sox version of Jorge Posada. Despite being on teams with Manny Ramirez, David Ortiz, Dustin Pedroia, Pedro Martinez and many others, Varitek has been the captain of the Red Sox.

    Since his rookie season in 1997 with Boston, Varitek has been to seven postseasons and has a career .258 batting average. He has played incredible defense, being awarded with a Gold Glove in 2005, and his offense won him a Silver Slugger award in 2005 as well. 

    Varitek has player with a lovable attitude (for Red Sox fans), and no one will ever forget when he put Alex Rodriguez in his place. Varitek is not the player that he used to be, however is still a leader on the Red Sox and will go down as one of the greatest catchers in Red Sox history. 

8. Jim Thome

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    Jim Thome is another one of those players who is impossible to hate. He has been in the league since 1991 and is playing on his fifth team in 2011. He is one of the greatest power hitters of all time, ranking eighth overall in career home runs with 589.

    He has been to nine postseasons, and may add to that number this upcoming season. Thome ranks sixth all-time in postseason home runs with 17. It would be hard to believe that Thome is not destined for the Hall of Fame. 

7. Jon Lester

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    At age 22, Lester was diagnosed with cancer. His determination and perseverance helped him through, and by 2006 he was pitching in the major leagues with the Red Sox. In only his second season back, Lester helped the Red Sox win their second World Series since 1918. Amazingly, Lester is now one of the Cy Young favorites entering the 2011 season.

    He has a 61-25 career record and a 3.55 lifetime ERA. Lester's talent as a pitcher is impressive, however his character is the reason he is respected by baseball fans across the country. He is inspirational to not only his teammate, but to baseball fans, players and sports fans in general. 

6. Omar Vizquel

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    Omar Vizquel is one of the best defensive shortstops in the history of Major League Baseball. He won the Gold Glove award every year from 1993-2001, along with two more in 2005 and 2006. His legacy is embedded in four decades and he is still going strong at 43.

    As a hitter, Vizquel is not too shabby. He has a career .273 batting average to compliment his 400 stolen bases. Vizquel has been to six postseasons, though not since 2001. However, with the White Sox in 2011, Vizquel has a chance to reach for a seventh time. Vizquel has a Hall of Fame spot waiting for him, though no one is pressuring him to retire.

5. Chipper Jones

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    Chipper Jones is one of the best players to ever play for the Atlanta Braves. He has spent his entire baseball career with Atlanta ever since he was drafted by them in 1990. He has done it all for the Braves; he has hit 45 home runs, stolen 25 bases, and has bat .330. There is no doubt that Jones was the reason Atlanta reached the playoffs every year from 1995-2005. 

    At 38, Jones' career appears to be coming to an end. However, like many of the players on this list, Jones has a spot in the Hall waiting for him, and a spot in Braves' fans hearts already. 

4. Joe Mauer

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    When you think of Joe Mauer you think of: Hometown hero, leader, pure hitter. All of those characteristics are qualities of players to respect. Staying in Minnesota was one of the best things that has happened to the MLB in recent years. Mauer's contract represents building within. 

    His attitude and his character are phenomenal, and his production isn't so bad either. Mauer has won three straight Gold Glove awards, four Silver Sluggers, and one Most Valuable player. In 2011, Minnesota will be vying for a playoff spot under the leadership of Joe Mauer. I can not imagine somebody saying anything disrespectful toward Mauer. 

3. Mariano Rivera

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    He is the best closer to ever take the mound in the league's history hands down. He has saved 28-plus games every year dating back to 1997. His veteran presence has done wonders for the Yankees over this past decade, and his career 2.23 ERA has helped out as well.

    Rivera is no question one of the most dominant weapons on the New York roster, and their World Series wins have a lot to do with Rivera's role. His 42 postseason saves and 0.71 postseason ERA obliterate everyone else in the category. Hall of Fame? Check.

    Could you have imagined Rivera in a non-pinstriped jersey in 2011?

2. Albert Pujols

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    Pujols is going to go down in history as one of the greatest hitters ever, and he is nowhere near done. He has won three Most Valuable Player awards, though that number would have at least doubled had the infamous Barry Bonds not have been a factor.

    Pujols is a team player, a Gold Glove defender and an incredible hitter. He has hit 32-plus home runs every year of his career, and his .312 batting average this season was the lowest of his career. He also has good speed for a first baseman and a very competitive spirit. He is the heart of this St. Louis franchise and will be for the next few years if he can work out a new deal with the Cardinals. 

1. Alex Rodriguez

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    Just kidding. The winner is...

1. Derek Jeter

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    Was there really any question about this choice? As I said with Posada and Rivera, Jeter is one of the very few Yankee players who you have to have respect for. Maybe it's because he has played all 16 years of his career in New York. It could be his career .314 batting average, or maybe it is his 14 playoff appearances and five World Series rings. His five Gold Glove awards are pretty respectable too.

    Jeter is an icon not just in New York. Because of his personality and his dedication to the game, he is a baseball hero for all baseball fans. Jeter is the player that all kids try to mimic when fielding ground balls. 

    He may be overpaid statistically, though the Yankees will be able to count on their shortstop to lead their team, moderate team morale, and work as hard as he can for the next three years. His success makes him very easy to want to hate, though in reality he deserves everyone's respect.