The 100 Greatest Baseball Players of the 21st Century

Joel Reuter@JoelReuterBRFeatured ColumnistMarch 6, 2015

The 100 Greatest Baseball Players of the 21st Century

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    MARK DUNCAN/Associated Press

    A few weeks back, I published my top 100 players for the 2015 MLB season, and, as always, it sparked some terrific debate in the comments section.

    So let's dig a little deeper.

    Who are the top 100 players of the 21st century?

    An interesting transition takes place when you look only as far back as the 2000 season, as we see the tail end of the steroid era transform into the pitching-dominated league we have today.

    Some questions to answer before we get started:

    • Which statistics counted?: Only numbers put up starting in the 2000 season were considered, not a player's full body of work. That means you won't see guys like Greg Maddux, Frank Thomas and Ken Griffey Jr. on this list. Sure, they played in the 2000s, but they were at their best in the 1990s.
    • Consistency or peak production?: Both. Someone like James Shields has been a reliable and durable starter throughout his career without necessarily ever being truly great. On the other hand, someone like Brandon Webb was legitimately great for a short period of time. Both players earned a spot in the rankings.
    • How were young players ranked?: It's hard to compare Mike Trout to Albert Pujols when Pujols has played 11 more seasons. As such, players with a short track record were ranked as though they were retiring tomorrow. However, someone who is considered one of the truly elite talents of the current era (like Trout or Clayton Kershaw) did receive some extra consideration.
    • Are steroid users included?: Yep. This was not meant to be a steroid debate. Players were simply ranked on how their respective production stacked up to the rest of the league.
    • What stats mattered most?: To put it simply, all of them. There was no one defining statistic (looking at you, WAR) that was the deciding factor. Instead, it was a matter of one player's entire body of work (offense, defense, postseason success, intangibles, etc.) compared to another.

    Think that covers everything. Hopefully this will spark another intelligent debate.

The Next 25

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    This exercise began with a preliminary list of roughly 300 players and was trimmed down from there. Comparing players to others at their position was the first step in thinning the list, but things were tough from there.

    The following were the final 25 cuts from that preliminary list:

    Position Players

    • Jason Bay
    • Carl Crawford
    • Jermaine Dye
    • Jacoby Ellsbury
    • Luis Gonzalez
    • Matt Kemp
    • Jason Kendall
    • Mike Lowell
    • Hideki Matsui
    • Brandon Phillips
    • Gary Sheffield
    • Grady Sizemore
    • Jason Varitek
    • Vernon Wells


    • Bronson Arroyo
    • A.J. Burnett
    • Bartolo Colon
    • Dan Haren
    • Derek Lowe
    • Jonathan Papelbon
    • Francisco Rodriguez
    • Jason Schmidt
    • Ben Sheets
    • Billy Wagner
    • Barry Zito

    No. 101?...Billy Wagner. Relievers as a whole didn't get much love here (only four of them are in the top 100), but he was a tough omission.

Nos. 100-96

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    100. 1B/OF Adam Dunn (2001-14)


    His 2,379 strikeouts since the start of 2000 are the most in the league by over 500, but Adam Dunn also had some of the best power of his era. He topped the 40-homer mark six times, and his ability to draw a walk went a long way in offsetting his penchant for whiffing.

    99. SP Carlos Zambrano (2001-12)


    Carlos Zambrano was a head case, but he was also one of the league's best starters for a six-year stretch from 2003-09, going 100-58 with a 3.44 ERA. He also had a .238 average and .636 OPS with 24 home runs and 71 RBI for a 6.3 WAR as a hitter.

    98. C Russell Martin (2006-Now)


    Russell Martin has been one of the league's most well-rounded catchers since breaking into the league with the Los Angeles Dodgers back in 2006. He had his full skill set on display during the 2007 season, as he hit .293/.374/.469 with 19 home runs and 21 stolen bases while also winning Gold Glove honors.

    97. LF Carlos Lee (2000-12)


    He didn't have the gaudy numbers of some of the era's other sluggers, but Carlos Lee was a model of consistency. He had at least 20 home runs and 80 RBI every year from 2000-10, and that included five 30-homer seasons and six 100-RBI seasons. He could also steal a base, with seven seasons of double-digit thefts.

    96. SP Brandon Webb (2003-09)


    His peak was brief, but from 2005-08, Brandon Webb was undoubtedly one of the best pitchers in the game. The sinkerballer went 70-37 with a 3.23 ERA during that span, including 16-8 with a 3.10 ERA in 2006, when he claimed NL Cy Young honors. Injuries set in from there, and he made just one more start after the 2008 season.

Nos. 95-91

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    95. RP Craig Kimbrel (2010-Now)


    He's played in fewer games than anyone on this list, but Craig Kimbrel earns a spot in the top 100 thanks to his sheer dominance since taking over as the Atlanta Braves closer. He's paced the NL in saves in each of his four full seasons, and his 14.8 K/9 and 1.43 ERA speak for themselves.

    94. 3B Eric Chavez (2000-14)


    Injury problems kept Eric Chavez from truly reaching superstar status, but when he was healthy, there were few, if any, third basemen with his all-around game. His smooth lefty stroke produced seven 20-homer seasons and four 100-RBI years, but it was his defense that really set him apart. Chavez won the Gold Glove each year from 2001-06 during his time in Oakland.

    93. SS Jose Reyes (2003-Now)


    Jose Reyes might not be the dynamic speedster he was in the early stages of his career, but he's still one of the league's better table-setters. His 455 stolen bases since 2000 are good for fourth in the league, and his 78 thefts in 2007 are the highest single-season total during that span. He also won an NL batting title in 2011, when he hit .337.

    92. 2B Ian Kinsler (2006-Now)


    Ian Kinsler brings a rare mix of power and speed to the second base position, as he has a pair of 30/30 seasons under his belt, making him one of just three players at the position to accomplish that feat. He didn't miss a beat with a trade to the Detroit Tigers this past season, and he looks to have plenty more productive seasons in the tank.

    91. OF J.D. Drew (2000-11)


    J.D. Drew was never quite a superstar during his 14-year career, but when the dust settled, he was deserving of a spot in these rankings. His on-base skills were what set him apart, and his best year came in 2004, when he hit .305/.436/.569 with 31 home runs and 118 walks in what was his lone season in Atlanta.

Nos. 90-86

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    90. RP Trevor Hoffman (2000-10)


    Trevor Hoffman was already 32 years old with 228 career saves when the 2000 season rolled around, but he still earns a spot for his performance over the second half of his career. The changeup specialist has had nine 40-save seasons in his career, and six of them came in 2000 or later.

    89. C Brian McCann (2005-Now)


    Injuries toward the end of his time in Atlanta and a subpar first season in New York make it easy to forget just how good Brian McCann used to be. He hit .333/.388/.572 with 24 home runs in his first full season as a 22-year-old back in 2006 and consistently ranked among the game's top offensive backstops from there. He's made seven All-Star appearances and won five Silver Slugger awards to date.

    88. SP James Shields (2006-Now)


    Whether or not you think he's truly an ace-caliber pitcher, there is something to be said for the durability James Shields has displayed for the better part of a decade. He leads the league in innings pitched since 2007 with 1,785.2 and has eclipsed the 200-inning mark in eight straight seasons.

    87. RP Joe Nathan (2000-Now)


    Joe Nathan would earn a spot on this list if we took just what he accomplished in his seven seasons with the Minnesota Twins, as he saved 260 games with a 2.16 ERA, 0.956 WHIP and 10.9 K/9. Throw in two great seasons with the Texas Rangers, and even with his disastrous performance last year, he still ranks as the best reliever since 2000 not named Mariano Rivera.

    86. 1B Derrek Lee (2000-11)


    Derrek Lee really came into his own after being traded to the Cubs in 2004, as he had a .903 OPS and 179 home runs during his seven seasons in Chicago. He was at his very best in 2005, when he hit .335/.418/.662 with 50 doubles, 46 home runs and 107 RBI to win the NL batting title and finish third in NL MVP voting.

Nos. 85-81

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    85. IF Michael Young (2000-13)


    Michael Young did everything that was asked of him and then some during his 13 seasons with the Texas Rangers, shifting from second base to shortstop to third base and eventually into a DH/utility role. He's the franchise leader in games played, hits, runs, doubles, triples and total bases. Young hit over .300 seven times, including .331 in 2005 to win the AL batting title.

    84. UT Ben Zobrist (2006-Now)


    Since becoming an everyday player in 2009, Ben Zobrist has a 37.4 WAR, putting him behind only Robinson Cano (40.7) and Miguel Cabrera (38.5). His versatility made him invaluable to the Tampa Bay Rays during their climb to relevance, and he'll be looking to cash in with a big contract year in Oakland this season.

    83. SP Mike Mussina (2000-08)


    Mike Mussina was at his best during the 1990s, going 136-66 with a 3.50 as the ace of the Baltimore Orioles, but he still had plenty in the tank when the 2000s rolled around. He was 123-72 with a 3.88 ERA in eight seasons with the Yankees, and he finally won 20 games for the first and only time in his career in his final big league season.

    82. 3B/RF Jose Bautista (2004-Now)


    The combination of being a late bloomer and suffering through a pair of injury-plagued seasons once he did finally break out makes it hard to place Jose Bautista, but there is little question he belongs somewhere in the top 100. Joey Bats has hit .272/.393/.559 while averaging 37 home runs and 94 RBI over the past five seasons, including his out-of-nowhere 54-homer season in 2010.

    81. 1B Adrian Gonzalez (2004-Now)


    Another slugger who fits the bill of "consistent run producer," Gonzalez has had at least 99 RBI in each of the past eight seasons. The former No. 1 overall pick was traded twice before settling into an everyday job in San Diego, but he's now the driving force in the middle of the Dodgers lineup.

Nos. 80-76

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    80. SP John Lackey (2002-Now)


    John Lackey became a household name when he won Game 7 of the 2002 World Series as a 23-year-old rookie. His career has had some significant highs and lows since, but he's always delivered in October, going 7-5 with a 3.08 ERA in 117 postseason innings.

    79. 1B Prince Fielder (2005-Now)


    His power has dropped off since leaving Milwaukee, and he's coming off of season-ending neck surgery, but at his best, Prince Fielder is still one of the best power hitters of the past 15 years. He led the league with 50 home runs in 2007 and had 46 long balls and an NL-high 141 RBI in 2009, but his best work may have come protecting Miguel Cabrera during his run to the Triple Crown in 2012.

    78. SS Troy Tulowitzki (2006-Now)


    When healthy, there is little question that Troy Tulowitzki is one of the best all-around players in the game. However, he's played more than 126 games in a season just three times in his career. Even a half-season of Tulowitzki is more offensive production than most shortstops will deliver in a full year, but he has to be docked for the injury issues.

    77. SP Jered Weaver (2006-Now)


    Jered Weaver has done a terrific job continuing to pitch at a high level despite a drop-off in his stuff, as he remains the ace of the Angels staff. His .655 career winning percentage is second among active pitchers, and the 32-year-old has one strikeout title (233 in '10) and two win titles (20 in '12, 18 in '14) to his credit.

    76. 1B Joey Votto (2007-Now)


    A short track record of success and a rough 2014 season keep Joey Votto out of the top 75, but he is one of just seven players with at least 1,000 plate appearances and a .300/.400/.500 line since the start of 2000. He won NL MVP in 2010, the first of four straight seasons he led the NL in on-base percentage.

Nos. 75-71

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    75. SP Jon Lester (2006-Now)


    There is a lot left to be decided regarding Jon Lester's place in history after he signed a six-year, $155 million deal with the Chicago Cubs this offseason, but his track record to this point is impressive. Along with the regular-season success you see above, he's also 6-4 with a 2.57 ERA in 14 career postseason appearances. That includes 3-0 with an 0.43 ERA in three World Series games.

    74. C/DH Victor Martinez (2002-Now)


    Victor Martinez began his career in Cleveland, where he was one of the most productive offensive catchers in recent memory. He's still going strong entering his age-36 season after hitting .335/.409/.565 with a career-high 32 home runs to finish second in AL MVP voting last season.

    73. 1B Ryan Howard (2004-Now)


    The Ryan Howard currently suiting up for the Philadelphia Phillies is little more than a drain on the payroll, but there was a time not long ago when he was perhaps the most feared slugger in the game. During a five-year span from 2006-10, Howard had a .947 OPS and averaged 46 home runs and 136 RBI per year. He won NL Rookie of the Year in 2005 and followed it up with NL MVP honors in 2006, when he hit .313/.425/.659 with 58 home runs and 149 RBI.

    72. RF Magglio Ordonez (2000-11)


    A 30-homer/100-RBI producer for four straight seasons in the middle of the White Sox lineup during his prime, Magglio Ordonez was still a productive hitter in Detroit even when his power started to wane. He won the AL batting title in 2007 with a .363 average, finishing second to Alex Rodriguez in MVP voting.

    71. LF Matt Holliday (2004-Now)


    His early-career numbers at Coors Field were a bit inflated, but it was always clear that Matt Holliday was a really good hitter, regardless of where he was playing. For as many $100 million-plus contracts have wound up being a disaster, his seven-year, $120 million deal with the Cardinals has been smooth sailing.

Nos. 70-66

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    70. SP Andy Pettitte (2000-13)


    A lot of the best work Andy Pettitte did came in the 1990s, as he went 81-46 with a 3.92 ERA and helped the New York Yankees to three World Series titles. That said, he was still terrific in the 2000s, especially in the postseason, where he was 13-7 with a 3.34 ERA in 30 starts.

    69. 3B Aramis Ramirez (2000-Now)


    The Chicago Cubs stole Aramis Ramirez from the Pittsburgh Pirates at the trade deadline in 2003, and he wound up being a staple at the hot corner for the next eight-plus seasons. All told, he had an .887 OPS with 239 home runs and 806 RBI during his time with the North Siders, and he's still a productive run producer for the Milwaukee Brewers entering his age-37 season.

    68. CF Johnny Damon (2000-12)


    The table-setter for the Boston Red Sox team that finally broke the Curse of the Bambino in 2004, Johnny Damon was one of the best leadoff hitters of the past 20 years. He brought a good mix of contact skills, speed and power to the top of the lineup and is one of just seven players since 2000 with 150 home runs and 250 stolen bases.

    67. 2B Jeff Kent (2000-08)


    An elite power hitter at the second base position, Jeff Kent provided the protection for Barry Bonds during his historic seasons in the early 2000s. He actually edged Bonds out for NL MVP honors in 2000, hitting .334/.424/.596 with 33 home runs and 125 RBI. His 351 career home runs as a second baseman stand as the record at the position.

    66. SP Javier Vazquez (2000-11)


    Javier Vazquez was at his best pitching for some forgettable Montreal Expos teams at the beginning of the 2000s, but he was quietly one of the most productive pitchers of the era. He made at least 26 starts in each of his 14 big league seasons, striking out 200-plus batters five different times. He was one of just two pitchers with over 2,000 strikeouts in the 2000s, joining Randy Johnson (2,182). 

Nos. 65-61

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    65. SP Roger Clemens (2000-07)


    The 2000s were probably the third-best decade in the 24-year career of Roger Clemens, and he still walked away with a pair of Cy Young Awards. The first came in 2001, when he was 20-3 with a 3.51 ERA for the Yankees in 2001. The second, and seventh of his career, came in 2004, when he went 18-4 with a 2.98 ERA for the Astros at the age of 41.

    64. 1B Paul Konerko (2000-14)


    Paul Konerko never had one truly monster season, but from 2000-12, he averaged 30 home runs and 94 RBI per season while posting an .866 OPS. He did have a pair of 40-homer seasons and six 100-RBI seasons mixed in along the way, but for the most part, he earns this spot for consistent production for more than a decade.

    63. SP Jake Peavy (2002-Now)


    During his time with the San Diego Padres, right-hander Jake Peavy was very much in the "best pitcher in baseball" conversation. His peak came in 2007, when he went 19-6 with a 2.54 ERA and 240 strikeouts, winning the pitching Triple Crown and NL Cy Young honors. Injuries derailed him a bit from there, but he enjoyed a nice resurgence with the San Francisco Giants in 2014.

    62. SS Hanley Ramirez (2005-Now)


    There were few players in recent memory more dynamic than a young Hanley Ramirez. From 2006-10, he averaged a .313/.385/.521 line with 40 doubles, 25 home runs and 39 stolen bases. He won NL Rookie of the Year in 2006, the NL batting title in 2009 (.342) and has five 20/20 seasons to his credit. Injuries have since slowed him, but when healthy, he's still capable of carrying an offense.

    61. SP Chris Carpenter (2000-12)


    Chris Carpenter first emerged as an ace in 2005, when he went 21-5 with a 2.83 ERA and 213 strikeouts to win the NL Cy Young. After injuries cost him the 2007 and 2008 seasons, he rebounded to go 17-4 with a 2.24 ERA in 2009, winning Comeback Player of the Year and finishing second in Cy Young voting. It's his postseason resume that really gives him a boost, though, as he is 10-4 with a 3.00 ERA in 108 playoff innings.

Nos. 60-56

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    60. SP Madison Bumgarner (2009-Now)


    It was tough to decide exactly where to slot Madison Bumgarner, seeing as he has just four full seasons in the majors under his belt, but he's shown enough in that short time to earn the No. 60 spot with a big up arrow next to his name. Still just 25 years old after debuting as a 19-year-old, Bumgarner is already 7-3 with a 2.14 ERA in 88.1 postseason innings.

    59. 3B Evan Longoria (2008-Now)


    Probably the best player in the brief history of the Tampa Bay Rays franchise, Evan Longoria burst onto the scene to win AL Rookie of the Year honors and finish 11th in MVP voting in 2008. He has not always had the best protection around him in the lineup, but he continues to put up solid offensive numbers while playing a good defensive third base.

    58. SP David Price (2008-Now)


    Perhaps Longoria's biggest competition for the title of best player in Tampa Bay Rays history, David Price has consistently been everything you look for in an ace. He throws hard, eats innings and piles up strikeouts. The big left-hander was 20-5 with a 2.56 ERA in 2012 to win Cy Young honors, and this past season, he led the AL in innings (248.1) and strikeouts (271).

    57. CF Andrew McCutchen (2009-Now)


    A true five-tool talent, Andrew McCutchen has been the driving force behind the Pittsburgh Pirates' return to relevance. He's finished in the top three in NL MVP voting each of the past three seasons, winning the award in 2013, when he hit .317/.404/.508 with 21 home runs and 27 stolen bases. He's certainly in the conversation for best player in the game today.

    56. C Buster Posey (2009-Now)


    At this point, you probably see the pattern. Maybe it's cheating to lump all of the current young superstars together on one slide here just outside the top 50, but it feels like where they belong at this point in their careers.

    Buster Posey has the best resume of any of them, with three World Series titles, 2010 NL Rookie of the Year, 2012 NL MVP, a batting title (.336 in '12) and two Silver Slugger awards.

Nos. 55-51

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    55. LF Brian Giles (2000-09)


    To put it simply, fantastic on-base skills and an impressive peak are what earn Brian Giles a spot here ahead of some bigger-name outfielders. In his four full seasons in Pittsburgh, Giles hit .309/.426/.604 and averaged 37 home runs, 109 RBI and a 5.9 WAR playing for some bad Pirates teams.

    54. SS Miguel Tejada (2000-13)


    Part of what now looks like a golden age of shortstops, Miguel Tejada quickly emerged as an offensive force in the middle of the Oakland Athletics lineup. He won AL MVP honors in 2002, when he hit .308/.354/.508 with 34 home runs and 131 RBI. The six-time All-Star also led the AL in RBI with 150 in 2004, his first season with the Baltimore Orioles.

    53. CF Torii Hunter (2000-Now)


    Torii Hunter earns his high ranking as much for his highlight-reel defense as for his consistent offensive production, and he is still going strong entering his age-39 season. Hunter won nine straight Gold Glove awards from 2001-09, and he hit .275/.332/.484 while averaging 25 home runs and 89 RBI during that same stretch.

    52. SP Tim Lincecum (2007-Now)


    He's fallen quite a ways over the past three seasons, but there was a time when the debate was Tim Lincecum vs. Roy Halladay for the title of best pitcher in baseball. The Freak won back-to-back Cy Young Awards in 2008 (18-5, 2.62 ERA, 265 K) and 2009 (15-7, 2.48 ERA, 261 K), then rattled off two more terrific seasons before his ERA ballooned to over 5.00 in 2012. He hasn't been the same since, but that doesn't take away from his previous accomplishments.

    51. CF Mike Trout (2011-Now)


    Outside of Barry Bonds, no one was harder to place in these rankings than Mike Trout.

    How much weight can you really put on just 493 big league games?

    In the end, three full seasons just couldn't justify a spot in the top 50 when so many others put together entire careers in the established time frame. That said, Trout is a once-in-a-generation talentno one started his career the way Trout has—so the No. 51 spot seemed like the perfect symbolic placement for the game's next great superstar.

50. SP Zack Greinke (2004-Now)

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    It was a rocky start for Zack Greinke, who debuted as a 20-year-old and went 21-35 with a 4.63 ERA over his first four seasons with the Kansas City Royals. That included a disastrous 2005 that saw him go 5-17 with a 5.80 ERA.

    He turned a corner in 2008, though, and the following season, he won AL Cy Young honors when he went 16-8 with a 2.16 ERA and 242 strikeouts for a Royals team that lost 97 games.

    After spending time with the Milwaukee Brewers and Los Angeles Angels, he's settled in nicely as the No. 2 starter behind Clayton Kershaw on the Los Angeles Dodgers. He's gone 32-12 with a 2.68 ERA over the past two seasons.

49. 1B Carlos Delgado (2000-09)

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    Carlos Delgado already had four big seasons under his belt when 2000 rolled around, but he remained one of the game's most productive sluggers for the better part of the next decade.

    His best season came in 2000, when he hit .344/.470/.664 with 57 doubles, 41 home runs and 137 RBI to finish fourth in AL MVP voting. Even as a 36-year-old in 2008, he posted an .871 OPS with 38 home runs and 115 RBI to finish ninth in NL MVP voting while playing for the New York Mets.

    The fact that he received only 3.8 percent of the Hall of Fame vote in his first and only time on the ballot is a shame.

48. SP Cliff Lee (2002-Now)

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    Demoted to the minors at one point during the 2007 season, Cliff Lee finally broke out as a 29-year-old the following season. He went 22-3 with a 2.54 ERA and 170 strikeouts to win the AL Cy Young, and his career took off from there.

    Over the next two seasons, he would spend time with the Phillies, Mariners and Rangers before eventually returning to the Phillies on a long-term deal.

    He earned the reputation of being a big-game pitcher thanks to his postseason success, as he is 7-3 with a 2.52 ERA and three complete games in 11 career playoff starts.

47. 2B/OF Alfonso Soriano (2000-Now)

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    His on-base percentage was on the low side, he struck out a lot and his defense was subpar both at second base and in the outfield, but at his best, there were few players as dynamic offensively as Alfonso Soriano.

    From 2002-06, he averaged 37 home runs and 33 stolen bases per season, and he joined the exclusive 40/40 club in 2006. He hit .277/.351/.560 with 46 home runs and 41 stolen bases in what was his lone season with the Washington Nationals.

    That earned him an eight-year, $136 million contract for the Chicago Cubs. The move wound up being a bust as a whole, but Soriano remained a productive player and a terrific leader in the clubhouse.

46. SP Adam Wainwright (2005-Now)

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    Adam Wainwright began his time with the St. Louis Cardinals as a reliever, serving as the team's closer during its World Series run in 2006. He recorded four saves and struck out 15 in 9.2 scoreless innings.

    He joined the rotation the following season, and by 2009, he was one of the best starters in the game. He's finished in the top three in Cy Young voting four times, topping 19 wins with an ERA under 3.00 in each of those seasons.

    Despite his struggles last October, he also has an impressive playoff track record overall, going 4-4 with a 3.12 ERA and one complete game in 83.2 innings.

45. 2B Dustin Pedroia (2006-Now)

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    Dustin Pedroia became an immediate star for the Boston Red Sox as a rookie in 2007, hitting .317/.380/.442 to help the team to a World Series title and run away with AL Rookie of the Year honors.

    He was even better the following season, improving that line to .326/.376/.493 and adding 54 doubles, 17 home runs, 83 RBI and 20 stolen bases to win AL MVP.

    The 5'8" spark plug has been the heart and soul of the Red Sox ever since, leading the team to another title in 2013 and establishing himself as one of the best second basemen of his generation.

44. 1B/DH Jason Giambi (2000-14)

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    From his first year as a starter in 1996 to the 2000 season, Jason Giambi saw an improvement in all three triple-slash categories, his home run total and his RBI total each season.

    That all culminated in AL MVP honors in 2000, when he hit .333/.476/.647 with 43 home runs and 137 RBI to beat out Frank Thomas for the award.

    After one more monster season in Oakland (.342 BA, 38 HR, 120 RBI), he signed with the New York Yankees. From there, his average hovered more in the .250 range, but he continued to put up power numbers and was a big personality in the Big Apple.

43. SP Cole Hamels (2006-Now)

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    Cole Hamels has found himself in the shadows of Brett Myers, Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee during the course of his nine-year career, but for much of that time, he's been an ace in his own right.

    After a sixth-place finish in NL Cy Young voting as a 23-year-old in 2007, Hamels really made a name for himself during the 2008 postseason. In five starts, he was 4-0 with a 1.80 ERA, and he earned World Series MVP with a pair of quality starts.

    The left-hander has yet to finish higher than fifth in Cy Young voting, but he's coming off of a career-best 2.46 ERA in 2014. His days in Philadelphia seem numbered, and it will certainly be one of the big stories of the season if and when he's traded.

42. 3B/LF Ryan Braun (2007-Now)

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    Ryan Braun needed just 113 games as a rookie in 2007 to hit 34 home runs and post a 1.004 OPS, edging out Troy Tulowitzki for NL Rookie of the Year honors.

    For the next five seasons, Braun was one of the best offensive players in the game, hitting .312/.375/.558 and averaging 34 home runs, 109 RBI and 22 stolen bases.

    That stretch was capped off by a pair of 30/30 seasons and included NL MVP honors in 2011 and an NL home run title in 2012, when he hit 41 long balls.

41. C Jorge Posada (2000-11)

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    Part of the New York Yankees' "Core Four" along with Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera and Andy Pettitte, catcher Jorge Posada was behind the dish for 15 postseason trips, six AL pennants and four World Series titles.

    He was the best offensive catcher of the 2000s, leading the position in doubles (288), home runs (208) and RBI (819) on his way to five All-Star appearances and five Silver Slugger awards.

    His last great season came in 2007, when he hit .338/.426/.543 and added 42 doubles, 20 home runs and 90 RBI as a 35-year-old.

40. SP Josh Beckett (2001-14)

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    The No. 2 pick in the 1999 draft and the No. 1 prospect in baseball heading into the 2002 season, Josh Beckett entered the league with no shortage of hype.

    His regular-season performance was somewhat inconsistent, but he shined in October, going 7-3 with a 3.07 ERA and three shutouts in 14 games.

    There were plenty of highlights along the way, but his crowning moment came in Game 6 of the 2003 World Series, when he threw a five-hit shutout in Yankee Stadium to clinch the title.

39. 1B Mark Teixeira (2003-Now)

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    The No. 1 prospect in baseball heading into the 2003 season, Mark Teixeira quickly established himself as one of the game's premier power hitters after a fifth-place AL Rookie of the Year finish in 2003.

    From 2004-11, the switch-hitter batted .284/.377/.537 and averaged 36 home runs and 117 RBI, reaching the 30-home run and 100-RBI plateau in each of those eight seasons.

    His production has plummeted the past three seasons, in part due to injury, and he's still owed $46.25 million over the next two seasons. Another example of a long-term contract to a really good player where the back end of the deal is a mess.

38. 3B David Wright (2004-Now)

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    David Wright has seemingly been the face of the New York Mets since the first time he stepped on the big league field as a highly touted prospect back in 2004.

    The following year saw him begin a streak of four straight seasons with at least a .300 average, .900 OPS, 40 doubles, 20 home runs, 100 RBI and 90 runs scored.

    Various injuries have cut into his production a bit since the start of 2009, but when he's healthy, he's still one of the best players in the game. The Mets have high hopes for him and the team as a whole heading into the 2015 season.

37. SS Jimmy Rollins (2000-Now)

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    One of the best all-around shortstops of the past 25 years, Jimmy Rollins could do it all during his prime with the Philadelphia Phillies.

    His peak came in 2007, when he hit .296/.344/.531 with 212 hits, 38 doubles, 20 triples, 30 home runs, 94 RBI, 139 runs scored and 41 stolen bases to win NL MVP. He also took home the first of four Gold Glove awards that season and his lone Silver Slugger.

    Traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers this offseason, Rollins leaves Philly as the franchise all-time leader in hits (2,306) and doubles (479).

36. SP Tim Hudson (2000-Now)

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    Tim Hudson was truly great during his five seasons in Oakland after the turn of the century, going 81-37 with a 3.31 ERA and finishing in the top six in Cy Young voting three different times.

    In 10 seasons since he left Oakland, he's been one of the most consistent pitchers in the game, and he enters the 2015 season as the active leader in wins (214) and shutouts (13) and second only to Mark Buehrle in starts (457).

    He bounced back nicely from ankle surgery to make the NL All-Star team as a 38-year-old last season, and the San Francisco Giants are counting on him to keep plugging away for at least one more year.

35. C Yadier Molina (2004-Now)

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    Whenever he decides to hang up his spikes, Yadier Molina will have a solid case for being the best defensive catcher the game has ever seen.

    The St. Louis Cardinals have reached the postseason an impressive seven times in 10 years since Molina took over as their primary catcher in 2005. That stretch includes three pennants and two World Series titles, and Molina is a .290/.344/.375 hitter over 307 postseason at-bats.

    The 32-year-old was slowed by a thumb injury last season, but he was a legitimate NL MVP candidate in 2012 and 2013. His offensive game took some time to catch up to his defense, but at this point, Molina is the best all-around catcher in the game.

34. 1B/DH Jim Thome (2000-12)

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    How one goes about quietly hitting 612 career home runs is perplexing, but that's exactly what Jim Thome did over the course of his 22-year career.

    The big slugger already had 196 home runs and 579 RBI when the 1990s wrapped up, but his best seasons came at the beginning of the 2000s. Over the first five years of the decade, he averaged 45 home runs and 117 RBI while posting a 1.002 OPS.

    He even stayed productive in a diminished role late in his career, posting a 1.039 OPS with 25 home runs in 276 at-bats for the Minnesota Twins as a 39-year-old in 2010.

33. 2B Robinson Cano (2005-Now)

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    One of the best pure hitters in the game today, Robinson Cano has been doing it since he first debuted as the New York Yankees starting second baseman in 2005.

    His 51.5 WAR since 2005 is good for the fifth-highest total in all of baseball, and his uptick in power production during the 2009 season immediately made him one of the best offensive players in the game.

    He has finished in the top six in AL MVP voting in each of the past five seasons, and with newly signed Nelson Cruz to protect him for the upcoming season, he could make a legitimate run at winning the award in 2015.

32. SP Mark Buehrle (2000-Now)

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    Mark Buehrle has never been what someone would call a dominant pitcher, but the left-hander has been the most durable pitcher in baseball for over a decade.

    He has pitched at least 200 innings and won at least 10 games every year since 2001, and he wrapped up his 12-year run with the Chicago White Sox in 2011 at 161-119 with a 3.83 ERA and nine Opening Day starts.

    He's had his share of memorable moments along the way, helping the team to a World Series title in 2005, no-hitting the Texas Rangers in 2007 and twirling a perfect game against the Tampa Bay Rays in 2009. He also has five All-Star appearances and four Gold Glove awards to his credit.

31. 3B Scott Rolen (2000-12)

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    Had he avoided missing significant time due to injury, Scott Rolen likely would have been a shoo-in for the Hall of Fame. Even as it stands, he should have a shot at induction, as his 70.0 career WAR ranks ninth all-time at the position.

    Despite winning NL Rookie of the Year in 1997 and following it up with a 30-homer/100-RBI season, Rolen was eventually traded by the Philadelphia Phillies after clashing with management over the direction of the team.

    He ended up being shipped to the St. Louis Cardinals, where he teamed with Jim Edmonds and Albert Pujols to form the best middle-of-the-order trio in all of baseball for several seasons. Even later in his career, during stints with the Toronto Blue Jays and Cincinnati Reds, Rolen remained a solid producer despite shoulder and back problems.

30. CF Jim Edmonds (2000-10)

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    Jim Edmonds does not have the same sustained level of success as some of the others you'll find here in the top 30, but he had some monster seasons during his time with the St. Louis Cardinals.

    Over his first five seasons with the team, Edmonds hit .298/.410/.593 and averaged 36 home runs and 100 RBI. That included a pair of 42-homer seasons, both of which saw him finish in the top five in NL MVP voting.

    On top of his impressive offensive numbers, Edmonds was also a human highlight reel in center field, winning eight Gold Glove awards in his career, including six straight during his time in St. Louis.

29. RF Bobby Abreu (2000-14)

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    One of the most underrated players of all time, Bobby Abreu was an absolute beast during his time with the Philadelphia Phillies.

    In his six full seasons with the team during the new millennium, Abreu hit .300/.411/.517 and averaged 43 doubles, 25 home runs, 97 RBI, 107 runs scored and 31 stolen bases per year.

    Despite those terrific numbers, he made the All-Star team just twice and never finished higher than 12th in MVP voting. All told, he had eight 20/20 seasons in the 2000s, including a pair of 30/30 campaigns, and he simply does not get the recognition he deserves.

28. SP Roy Oswalt (2001-13)

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    Roy Oswalt may not have had the prototypical power-pitcher build, but he was every bit the part of an ace for the Houston Astros during his 10 seasons with the team.

    The right-hander burst onto the scene in 2001, going 14-3 with a 2.73 ERA and 144 strikeouts in 141.2 innings to finish second in NL Rookie of the Year voting and fifth in Cy Young voting.

    He would go on to finish in the top five in Cy Young balloting four more times during his tenure in Houston, going a combined 143-82 with a 3.24 ERA and 1.196 WHIP before being traded to the Philadelphia Phillies.

27. 3B Adrian Beltre (2000-Now)

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    Adrian Beltre was a .270/.325/.453 hitter who averaged 21 home runs and 76 RBI per season over the first 12 seasons of his career. That, coupled with his defensive skills, made him a solid all-around player, but it was not until the 2010 season that his career really took off.

    Entering his age-31 season, in what would be his lone year with the Boston Red Sox, Beltre hit over .300 for the first time since his monster 2004 season (.334 BA, 48 HR, 121 RBI).

    He joined the Texas Rangers after that, and over the past five seasons combined, he's hit .316/.364/.535 and averaged 29 home runs and 96 RBI. A few more productive seasons, and he'll have an awfully compelling Hall of Fame case when the time comes.

26. 1B/OF Lance Berkman (2000-13)

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    Following a strong rookie season in 2000, Lance Berkman broke out in a big way in 2001, hitting .331/.430/.620 with 55 doubles, 34 home runs and 126 RBI to finish fifth in NL MVP voting.

    That was the first of what would be four top-five finishes in MVP voting for the Big Puma, as he quickly became one of the most feared hitters in the game.

    The switch-hitting Berkman finished his career with a .943 OPS, good for 26th all-time and ahead of the likes of Willie Mays (.941), Chipper Jones (.930), Hank Aaron (.929), Frank Robinson (.926), Ken Griffey Jr. (.907) and many other all-time greats.

25. 2B Chase Utley (2003-Now)

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    It took Chase Utley some time to pass Placido Polanco on the depth chart, as he did not take over as the Philadelphia Phillies' everyday second baseman until his age-26 season, but he immediately became one of the elite offensive players at the position.

    In his first five seasons as a starter, Utley hit .301/.388/.535 and averaged 29 home runs, 101 RBI, 111 runs scored and 15 stolen bases.

    His power dropped off a bit from there, but he has remained a consistent offensive producer when healthy, and he's no slouch with the glove, either.

24. SP Curt Schilling (2000-07)

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    The 2000 season saw Curt Schilling traded from the Philadelphia Phillies to the Arizona Diamondbacks at the deadline, and a year later, he helped bring a World Series title to the fledgling franchise.

    He was runner-up to teammate Randy Johnson for NL Cy Young honors in 2001 and 2002, going a combined 45-13 with a 3.10 ERA and 609 strikeouts in 516 innings. He was also 4-0 with a 1.14 ERA in seven postseason starts during his time in Arizona.

    From there, he joined the Boston Red Sox and continued his October dominance, going 6-1 with a 3.28 ERA in eight playoff outings. That included the infamous "Bloody Sock" performance in Game 6 of the 2004 American League Championship Series.

23. C/1B Joe Mauer (2004-Now)

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    Even if Joe Mauer had retired after the 2010 season, just seven years into his big league career, he would go down as one of the best catchers in baseball history.

    An elite athlete who is the only athlete ever selected as Gatorade High School Player of the Year in two sports, Mauer became the first AL catcher ever to win the batting title in 2006. He then followed that up by also winning it in 2008 and 2009.

    The 2009 season was his finest by far, as he hit .365/.444/.587 with 28 home runs and 96 RBI to win AL MVP. Various injuries and some concussion problems have since sidelined him and forced a move to first base, but he's still an easy choice to crack the top 25.

22. SP CC Sabathia (2001-Now)

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    An imposing figure to say the least at 6'7" and 280-plus pounds, CC Sabathia has been an absolute horse since breaking into the league as a 20-year-old back in 2001.

    He was 17-5 with a 4.39 ERA to finish second in AL Rookie of the Year voting that season, and from there, he settled in as the ace of the Cleveland Indians staff. Sabathia went 19-7 with a 3.21 ERA and 209 strikeouts in 2007 to win AL Cy Young.

    The big left-hander was traded to the Milwaukee Brewers at the deadline the following year, where he went 11-2 with a 1.65 ERA in 17 starts to help carry them into the postseason. Following that brief rental, he joined the New York Yankees, and his time in the Bronx had been equally productive before a down 2013 season was followed by an injury-plagued 2014.

21. CF Andruw Jones (2000-12)

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    His decline was a steep one once he left Atlanta, but in his prime, Andruw Jones was worth the price of admission, both at the plate and patrolling center field.

    He was not overly fast, but there may be no outfielder in baseball history who could get a better jump on the ball off the bat than Jones. That earned him 10 straight Gold Glove awards and a 24.1 dWAR that ranks as the highest total ever for an outfielder.

    Jones also had seven 30-homer seasons, including six from the 2000 season onward. He paced the NL with 51 home runs and 128 RBI in 2005, finishing second in MVP voting to Albert Pujols.

20. RP Mariano Rivera (2000-13)

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    While the other three relievers who earned a spot in these rankings find themselves near the bottom, Mariano Rivera is an easy choice for a top-20 spot, as he's hands down the greatest closer the game has ever seen.

    He already had 129 saves and three World Series rings when 2000 rolled around, but he would pile up another 523 saves and win two more rings before his Hall of Fame career came to an end in 2013.

    Rivera finished his career with 42 saves and a 0.70 ERA in 96 postseason appearances, and that included 29 saves and an 0.86 ERA in 65 games from 2000 on.

19. SP Justin Verlander (2005-Now)

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    There was a time pre-Clayton Kershaw when Justin Verlander was the consensus choice for best pitcher in baseball. While his production has tailed off a bit over the past couple of seasons, his decline has been nowhere near that of Tim Lincecum.

    From 2006-12, Verlander was 124-63 with a 3.37 ERA and 1.169 WHIP, averaging 220 innings per season as the ace of the Detroit Tigers staff.

    His best season by far came in 2011, when he went 24-5 with a 2.40 ERA and 250 strikeouts to win the AL pitching Triple Crown, AL Cy Young and AL MVP. He has still shown flashes of being the Verlander of old the past two years, so perhaps a bounce-back season is in the cards in 2015.

18. CF Carlos Beltran (2000-Now)

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    One of just eight players in baseball history with 300 home runs and 300 stolen bases, Carlos Beltran is currently one of the more compelling Hall of Fame cases among active MLB players.

    The switch-hitter won AL Rookie of the Year for the Kansas City Royals in 1999, and he quickly became one of the most productive all-around players in the league, with three straight 20/20 seasons from 2001-03.

    He was traded to the Houston Astros at the deadline in 2004, where he would turn in one of the greatest postseason performances of all time, hitting .435/.536/1.022 with eight home runs and 14 RBI in 12 games.

17. SP Felix Hernandez (2005-Now)

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    Felix Hernandez first debuted as a 19-year-old pitching prodigy during the 2005 season, and since that time, he has been one of the most consistently dominant starters in recent memory.

    King Felix won AL Cy Young in 2010, despite going 13-12 for a bad Seattle Mariners team, as he led the AL with a 2.27 ERA and struck out 232 batters in 249.2 innings.

    The Mariners made a huge seven-year, $175 million commitment to lock him up through the 2019 season, and he has continued to rank as one of the game's best. Corey Kluber edged him out for Cy Young honors in 2014, but with an AL-best 2.14 ERA and 0.915 WHIP, Hernandez had an awfully strong case.

16. SP Johan Santana (2000-12)

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    The perfect example of why it's worth giving a Rule 5 selection a chance, Johan Santana posted a 6.49 ERA in 30 games for the Minnesota Twins in 2000, but they held onto him for the entire season and retained his rights.

    By 2004, Santana was the AL Cy Young winner, going 20-6 with a 2.61 ERA and 265 strikeouts, thanks in large part to his devastating changeup. He won another Cy Young Award in 2006, when he was 19-6 with a 2.77 ERA and 245 strikeouts to claim the pitching Triple Crown.

    Injuries took their toll shortly after he was traded to the New York Mets in 2008, but from 2004-08 the left-hander was 86-39 with a 2.82 ERA and 1,189 strikeouts in 1,146.2 innings.

15. 1B Todd Helton (2000-13)

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    Were his numbers inflated a bit by playing in Coors Field? Sure, but Todd Helton was still by far one of the best hitters of the 2000s.

    For the record, he was a .345/.441/.607 hitter with 227 home runs at home and a .287/.386/.469 hitter with 142 home runs on the road. A clear split, but still really good numbers even away from hitter-friendly Colorado.

    The 2000 season saw him make a compelling run at hitting .400, as he was batting .397 on Aug. 28. He tailed off down the stretch but still finished with a terrific .372/.463/.698 line that included 216 hits, 59 doubles, 42 home runs and 147 RBI.

14. SP Pedro Martinez (2000-09)

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    Pedro Martinez closed out the 1990s by going 59-19 with a 2.29 ERA over the final three years of the decade, winning Cy Young honors in 1997 and 1999.

    The dominant seasons kept coming from there, as he was 59-17 with a 2.11 ERA and 892 strikeouts in 719.2 innings over the next four years, winning another Cy Young in 2000.

    He was 53-33 with a 3.87 ERA over the final six seasons of his career, retiring at the age of 37, and he breezed into the Hall of Fame on the first ballot with 91.1 percent of the vote.

13. SP Randy Johnson (2000-09)

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    Randy Johnson was already 36 years old when the 2000 season rolled around, but he was still arguably the most dominant pitcher in baseball.

    He won the NL Cy Young each season from 2000-02, going a combined 64-18 with a 2.48 ERA and 1,053 (!) strikeouts in 758.1 innings. That included leading the Arizona Diamondbacks to the World Series title in 2001, when he was 5-1 with a 1.52 ERA and a pair of three-hit shutouts in the postseason.

    Johnson was 79-60 with a 3.91 ERA over the final seven seasons of his career, but he still earns a spot in the top 15 on the strength of those three dominant seasons.

12. 3B Chipper Jones (2000-12)

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    One of the best switch-hitters in baseball history, Chipper Jones was a staple in the middle of the Atlanta Braves lineup during their impressive 14 straight division titles.

    Jones had some great seasons in the 1990s, winning NL MVP in 1999, but he was still in the prime of his career as a 28-year-old when the 2000s began.

    He continued producing at a high level right up until his retirement at the age of 40 in 2012. He was an eight-time All-Star, two-time Silver Slugger and won the NL batting title with a .364 average as a 36-year-old in 2008.

11. RF Vladimir Guerrero (2000-11)

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    Vladimir Guerrero never met a pitch he didn't like, yet his free-swinging approach still resulted in a .318 career average and some of the best individual seasons of the 2000s.

    During his time with the Montreal Expos, Guerrero was also an elite base stealer on top of everything else. He had a .943 OPS with 34 home runs and 37 steals in 2001, and he followed that up with a 1.010 OPS, 39 home runs and 40 steals the following year.

    He won AL MVP in 2004, his first year with the Angels, hitting .337/.391/.598 with 39 home runs, 126 RBI and an AL-high 124 runs scored. Even late in his career, when his body started to break down and he could no longer play the outfield, he was still a dangerous DH.

10. SP Clayton Kershaw (2008-Now)

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    It's tough to rank a 26-year-old among some of the all-time greats, but Clayton Kershaw has done enough in his seven big league seasons to merit a spot just inside the top 10.

    The left-hander is currently working on a run of four straight NL ERA titles, going 72-26 with a 2.11 ERA and 0.946 WHIP and winning three Cy Young Awards and one MVP during that span.

    The scary thing is he seems to still be getting better, as the 2014 season was his best to date. He went 21-3 with a 1.77 ERA, 0.857 WHIP and 239 strikeouts in 198.1 innings. He could be challenging for the No. 1 spot in these rankings five years from now.

9. LF Manny Ramirez (2000-11)

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    Manny Ramirez was already well-established as a superstar when the 2000 season began, as he was coming off a ridiculous 44-homer, 165-RBI season for the Cleveland Indians in 1999.

    The 2000 season would be his last in Cleveland, as he joined the Boston Red Sox prior to 2001, but what jersey he was wearing had little impact on his production. He began the decade with seven straight 30-homer/100-RBI seasons and hit .320/.421/.620 in the process.

    On top of that, he hit .338/.442/.604 with 16 home runs and 52 RBI in 59 postseason games during his time with the Red Sox and Dodgers.

8. LF Barry Bonds (2000-07)

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    Barry Bonds was by far the hardest person to place in these rankings. In the introduction, it was made clear that these rankings were based solely on production, but it's still instinct to dock him in the rankings.

    In the end, Bonds essentially had five full seasons during the 2000s, but he made the most of them, hitting .339/.535/.781 with 258 home runs and 544 RBI. He won NL MVP in four of those five seasons, including his 73-homer campaign in 2001.

    People won't like seeing him here in the top 10, ahead of some of their all-time favorites, but based solely on production, those five historic seasons earn him a spot.

7. DH David Ortiz (2000-Now)

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    Defense did carry some weight in determining these rankings, but David Ortiz still earns a place in the top 10 despite his status as a DH-only player.

    After six mediocre seasons with the Minnesota Twins, Ortiz joined the Boston Red Sox in 2003, and he immediately took his game to another level, with a .961 OPS, 31 home runs and 101 RBI to finish fifth in AL MVP voting.

    That was only the beginning, though, as he would hit .304/.408/.616 and average 44 home runs and 135 RBI over the next four seasons as one of the most productive hitters in all of baseball. Even now as a 39-year-old, he's coming off back-to-back 30-home run/100-RBI seasons.

    What really earns him this spot, though, is his postseason heroics. He's a .295/.409/.553 hitter with 17 home runs and 60 RBI in 82 career postseason games, but it's the clutch nature of many of those hits that really sets him apart.

6. SP Roy Halladay (2000-13)

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    Tempting as it was to call Clayton Kershaw the best pitcher of the 21st century, he still has a bit of work to do to pass Roy Halladay.

    The 2000s got off to an inauspicious start for Halladay, who went 4-7 with a 10.64 ERA in 67.2 innings during the 2000 season. He trimmed that ERA to 3.16 in 105.1 innings the following season, and his career exploded from there.

    The big right-hander went 170-75 with a 2.97 ERA over the next 10 seasons, winning a pair of Cy Young Awards and throwing a perfect game and no-hitter in 2010, with the no-hitter coming in the postseason.

    One of the last of a dying breed of old-school workhorse starters, he threw 67 complete games and 20 shutouts during the course of his 16-year career.

5. 3B Alex Rodriguez (2000-Now)

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    Another player many fans won't like seeing ranked this high, Alex Rodriguez simply can't be ignored when looking at things from a production standpoint.

    Before he became a social pariah and a shell of the player he once was, A-Rod was the best player in baseball.

    From 2000-10, he hit .301/.396/.580 and averaged 42 home runs and 124 RBI per season, topping the 30-homer/100-RBI threshold each year. That included AL MVP honors in 2003, 2005 and 2007 and a pair of 50-homer seasons during his time with the Texas Rangers. 

    All of that said, his postseason struggles are enough to keep him in the No. 5 spot, as he never lived up to his lofty contract outside of the 2009 postseason.

4. SS Derek Jeter (2000-14)

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    Derek Jeter became something of a mythical figure during the final years of his career, a living legend of sorts, and that has led some to call him overrated.

    The simple fact of the matter is he was the heart and soul of some really good New York Yankees teams, and he is one of the most productive players the game has ever seen.

    For all of the regular-season accolades, though, it's the postseason where he really built his legacy.

    Even with the 1996, 1998 and 1999 World Series runs taken out of the equation, Jeter was still a .301/.366/.467 hitter with 16 home runs, 49 RBI and 76 runs scored in 113 playoff games from 2000 on.

3. RF Ichiro Suzuki (2001-Now)

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    After nine seasons and 1,278 hits as a member of the Orix Blue Wave, Ichiro Suzuki joined the Seattle Mariners as a 27-year-old rookie in 2001.

    The word seamless doesn't quite do justice to his transition to the majors, as he hit .350/.381/.457 with 242 hits and 56 stolen bases to win the AL batting title, Rookie of the Year and MVP honors.

    That began an impressive streak of 10 straight seasons with at least 200 hits and a .300 batting average, and that included another batting title in 2004, when he hit .372 and set the single-season record with 262 hits.

    He's transitioned into the role of part-time player the past two seasons but is set to begin his age-41 season as a member of the Miami Marlins, needing just 156 hits to reach 3,000 in his MLB career.

2. 1B/3B Miguel Cabrera (2003-Now)

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    At nearly four years younger than the No. 1 player on this list, Miguel Cabrera has a good chance to claim the top spot here eventually, but for the time being, he's a close second.

    Cabrera broke into the league as a 20-year-old in 2003 and helped the Florida Marlins win a World Series title. From there, he immediately became one of the best sluggers in the game.

    He's now rattled off 11 straight seasons with at least 25 home runs, 100 RBI and an OPS over .875, winning two home run titles, two RBI titles, three batting titles, five Silver Sluggers and two AL MVP awards along the way.

    In 2012, he became the first player since Carl Yastrzemski in 1967 to win the Triple Crown, hitting .330 with 44 home runs and 139 RBI. Still just 31 years old, he's capable of plenty more elite-level seasons in the years to come.

1. 1B Albert Pujols (2001-Now)

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    The next seven years and $189 million might not be great, but Albert Pujols has already carved out his place as one of the greatest hitters to ever play the game.

    He hit at least .300 with 30 home runs and 100 RBI in each of the first 10 seasons of his career, topping the 40-homer mark an impressive six times during that span, and helped lead the St. Louis Cardinals to a pair of World Series titles.

    Pujols won the NL batting title in 2003 (.359), home run titles in 2009 (47) and 2010 (42) and NL MVP honors in 2005 (.330 BA, 41 HR, 117 RBI), 2008 (.357 BA, 37 HR, 116 RBI) and 2009 (.327, 47 HR, 135 RBI).

    He earned the No. 21 spot in the "100 Greatest Players of All Time" article I wrote last year, and he's an easy choice as the best player of the 21st century.

    All stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference, unless otherwise noted.