Each team in every sport needs cornerstone players on whom to build their franchise. Such players need to be young enough to be around for a long time but also need to have proven that they can compete at a star level.
The concept here is to detail the top choices at all nine positions. Though some players may have the ability to move around the diamond, here they will be assigned only to their primary position. Three separate articles will highlight the battery (pitcher and catcher), infield and outfield.
The best place to start is with the most important position in sports outside of the hockey goaltender:
Pitcher: Matt Cain
Cain is not even the best pitcher on his team. He is 108 days younger than Tim Lincecum but has a losing record as a starter. Why would anyone choose him over The Freak?
Because he is not a freak. Lincecum's body stature and violent throwing style suggest a player who will spend more time on the disabled list and have a shorter career, and the purpose of this is to look long-term.
Both were phenomenal in their playoff debuts, with Timmy having one of the best outings of all time and Cain not giving up a single run in over 20 innings of work. Both are above average hitters (because this is for real baseball, where players have to bat and play the field!) and fielders of their position.
Which of these selections do you agree with?
Cain's ERA is 0.42 higher than Timmy's, his opponent batting average is eight points higher and he has .04 more walks and hits per inning pitched. Cain debuted a season-and-a-half sooner and thus endured more of the losing ways of the old San Francisco Giants. This, in part, explains his 59-63 record; Timmy's is 58-23. Cain has 23 fewer strikeouts in 275 more innings, but strikeouts are an overrated stat—all outs count the same.
The safer selection for the long haul is Cain given how narrow the margin is. At the end of their careers, Cain will have more innings pitched and more wins. And no other pitcher under 27 is as good as either of these two.
Catcher: Buster Posey
San Francisco Giants would do well to move Posey to a less grueling position. Only a handful of catchers remain offensive forces well into their 30s (Posey is 24) and his bat would be hard to replace.
Posey won Rookie of the Year in 2010 and is off to a solid start this season, bolstering fans' confidence that he is not a flash in the pan. He also possesses the intangibles, delivering in the clutch and handling the pitching staff like a veteran.
He is already near several key marks in his young career: .300 batting average; .350 on-base percentage; .500 slugging percentage. He is solid defensively, with only seven errors and two passed balls behind the plate while throwing out almost 40 percent of would-be base stealers.
It's true that both players are San Francisco Giants. It's true that I live in San Francisco and write about the Giants for Sports Haze-Bay Area. (Check out my latest piece about the Giants' Easter struggles.)
But I am a lifelong fan of the Milwaukee Brewers; the Giants are only my second team. I challenge anyone to argue that these are not two outstanding choices. If I choose a predominantly Giants infield later in the week, then cries of bias may be justified.