Picking Each MLB Team's Current Mount Rushmore

Martin FennFeatured Columnist IFebruary 15, 2021

Picking Each MLB Team's Current Mount Rushmore

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    It's Presidents Day, a holiday to commemorate some of the more heralded leaders in United States history. We thought we would mark the occasion by devising a modern-day "Mount Rushmore" for every club.

    That's right. Four players on the current roster who previously defined and/or most define the franchise. Note that not every team's Rushmore will necessarily be comprised of the four "best" players; some veterans might take precedence based on longevity and legacy with said team.

    However, other players might also be included based on future expectation, meaning you will see a few new acquisitions from this winter take up the mantle for their respective teams.

    Let's get down to business.

Arizona Diamondbacks

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    Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

    The Four: Nick Ahmed, David Peralta, Ketel Marte, Zac Gallen

    The Arizona Diamondbacks would have hoped Madison Bumgarner could claim a spot here with a stellar debut. Alas, that was not the case after an injury-riddled 2020 in which he posted a 6.48 ERA in nine starts.

    Zac Gallen, on the other hand, continued to excel. Gallen had a 2.75 ERA in 12 starts, even finishing ninth in the National League Cy Young Award voting. He has a 2.80 ERA since coming to Arizona from the Miami Marlins and figures to be a staple of the rotation.

    Ketel Marte's power numbers declined last season, but he still hit .287. Marte finished fourth in the NL MVP voting in 2019, and his positional versatility is quite valuable to the D-backs.

    Nick Ahmed and David Peralta are essentially the elder statesmen.

    Ahmed is a two-time Gold Glover and one of the best defensive players at the shortstop position. He can also hit for some power despite striking out too much and not drawing a ton of walks. Health has occasionally been an issue for Peralta, but he has a .291 career average and .820 OPS in seven years with the club. He also won a Silver Slugger in 2018, followed by a Gold Glove in 2019.

Atlanta Braves

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    Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press

    The Four: Ronald Acuna Jr., Freddie Freeman, Ozzie Albies, Max Fried

    Pretty self-evident selections for Atlanta.

    With respect to Mike Soroka, Max Fried gets the nod after going 7-0 with a 2.25 ERA in 2020. Fried ranked in the top 2 percent in both average exit velocity and hard-hit rate this past season, and his breaking stuff is ridiculously good.

    The other three are easy choices. Freddie Freeman continues to build his resume as one of the greatest Braves ever after winning NL MVP, and at 31, he is firmly in his prime.

    Ronald Acuna Jr., meanwhile, is already one of the best players in the game at just 23 years old. He nearly had a 40-40 season in 2019 and followed that with a career-high .987 OPS in 2020. Acuna is an elite five-tool threat, which explains why the Braves locked him up through at least 2026. 

    Ozzie Albies was an All-Star in 2018 and the NL hit leader in 2019, when he also won a Silver Slugger. He ranks seventh among second basemen in fWAR since 2018 and is a cornerstone in the middle of the infield.

    These four guys are a major reason the Braves figure to be contenders in the NL for years to come.

Baltimore Orioles

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    Julio Cortez/Associated Press

    The Four: Trey Mancini, Anthony Santander, Ryan Mountcastle, John Means

    I quite honestly considered Chris Davis for one of the spots. Perhaps nobody in baseball can match his production and subsequent fall from grace. The notorious nature of it all was enticing.

    The issue with adding Davis is twofold. For starters, the last four years have been every bit as definitive as his 2012-16 stretch when he averaged 39 homers and 99 RBI. Since then, however, Davis has been worth minus-6.3 wins in just four years.

    Secondly, though Davis garnered quite the reputation as a slugger, was he ever as large a franchise icon as Adam Jones or Manny Machado, especially when the latter was a budding young star in Baltimore? I would argue that he was not.

    Alas, we will avoid that one. Instead, let's start with Trey Mancini, a guy who hit 83 homers between 2017 and 2019 before taking on a far greater challenge in colon cancer. Mancini completed his chemotherapy in September, a testament to his willpower.

    Anthony Santander is only just getting his feet wet despite making his MLB debut in 2017. But he hit 20 homers in 93 games in 2019 and 11 more in 37 games this season, compiling a .575 slugging percentage and .890 OPS before an oblique injury sidelined him. Santander looks like a budding star, which is perhaps why he is garnering trade interest.

    John Means was the runner-up for American League Rookie of the Year in 2019, but he was a puzzle in 2020. Means had an excellent 0.99 WHIP and slashed his walk rate to just 1.4 per nine innings, compared to 8.7 strikeouts per nine innings. But he also gave up 12 homers, and the long ball has been a problem in his young career. Still, he is one to watch.

    We'll round out the four with Ryan Mountcastle because, well, why not? The 23-year-old hit .333 with an .878 OPS in 2020. He is the first representative of the next wave of young talent that will be coming through Baltimore’s system.

Boston Red Sox

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    Lynne Sladky/Associated Press

    The Four: Xander Bogaerts, Rafael Devers, Chris Sale, J.D. Martinez

    The Red Sox might have finished last in the AL East in 2020, but they still have ample star power.

    Chris Sale led baseball in innings pitched, strikeouts and fielding independent pitching (FIP) in an All-Star first year in Boston in 2017. He was an All-Star in 2018, posting a 2.11 ERA in 27 starts before helping the Red Sox to a World Series. Boston is hoping he makes a successful return from Tommy John surgery later this summer.

    J.D. Martinez also had a terrific debut campaign in Beantown when he nearly won the Triple Crown in 2018, hitting .330 with 43 homers and an MLB-high 130 RBI. Martinez hit 36 more dingers and drove in 105 runs in 2019. He hit just .213 with a .680 OPS in 2020, but the return of in-game video could help Martinez regain his stroke.

    Then, there are the homegrown stars. Rafael Devers exploded in 2019, hitting .311 with 32 homers and 115 RBI while leading MLB with 359 total bases. Despite the regression in 2020 (.793 OPS), the exit velocities and hard-hit rates are nothing to scoff at.

    As for Xander Bogaerts, all he has done is dominate over the course of the last three seasons. Bogaerts ranks second among shortstops in fWAR since 2018 and first in weighted runs created plus (wRC+). He has held down the shortstop position since 2014 and will continue to do so for a Red Sox team desperate to contend again.

Chicago Cubs

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    The Four: Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, Javier Baez, Kyle Hendricks 

    History is likely to ask whether the Chicago Cubs' core underachieved in winning just one World Series title. But that core has accomplished quite a bit.

    Javier Baez made his big league debut in 2014 and has since become one of the magnetic attractions in the game.

    El Mago was NLCS MVP and dazzled with spectacular defense in the team's World Series run in 2016. He was runner-up for NL MVP in 2018 after hitting .290 with 34 homers and an NL-high 111 RBI. This past season was a struggle at the dish (.599 OPS), but Baez continued to prove he was one of the best defensive shortstops in baseball by winning his first Gold Glove.

    Kris Bryant garners immense scrutiny from Cubs fans. But other than a subpar 2020 (.644 OPS), he has mostly produced magnificent results. Bryant won NL Rookie of the Year and MVP in back-to-back seasons in 2015 and 2016, respectively. Only Mike Trout and Mookie Betts produced more fWAR than Bryant from 2015 to 2019. That's...pretty good.

    Nothing about Kyle Hendricks is flashy. But he produces year in and year out. The Dartmouth grad has used location and a nifty changeup he can move both ways to produce a 3.12 ERA in over 1,000 career innings. He won the ERA title (2.13) in 2016 and started two of the biggest games in franchise history in Game 6 of the 2016 NLCS and Game 7 of the World Series later that year.

    But nobody has meant as much to the franchise as Anthony Rizzo in this current generation. Rizzo has an .866 OPS in nine seasons with the Cubs. He has won four Gold Gloves and hit 31 or more homers in four consecutive seasons between 2014 and 2017. Most notably, Rizzo ranks second only to Trout in win probability added since 2014.

    It remains to be seen what will become of this group in the coming years—Bryant, Baez and Rizzo are all free agents in 2022—but they have provided Cubs fans with indelible memories.

Chicago White Sox

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    Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

    The Four: Jose Abreu, Tim Anderson, Lucas Giolito, Eloy Jimenez 

    We move from the North Side of Chicago to the South Side. Unlike the Cubs, the White Sox have yet to even reach their pinnacle.

    Tim Anderson, Eloy Jimenez and Lucas Giolito are all representatives of the young batch of stars the White Sox are relying on to get to the top of the mountain.

    Anderson won the batting title (.335) in 2019. Just to prove it wasn't a fluke, he went out and hit .322 in 2020, also raising his OPS by 21 points and leading the AL with 45 runs scored. Anderson leaves something to be desired defensively but has the athleticism to make gains.

    Jimenez has light-tower power. He really found his stride in the second half of 2019, and the momentum carried over into 2020. The 24-year-old hit .296 with 14 homers and an .891 OPS, winning a Silver Slugger for his efforts. Jimenez will be an anchor in the middle of Chicago's lineup for years to come.

    Whereas Jimenez will anchor the lineup, Giolito anchors the rotation. His transformation into one of the best pitchers in baseball has been nothing short of miraculous.

    Giolito had a 6.13 ERA and walked an AL-high 90 batters in 2018. He responded by going 14-9 with a 3.41 ERA the following season. In 2020, Giolito had a 3.48 ERA and career-best 3.19 FIP. The 26-year-old is the established ace.

    Finally, we arrive at Jose Abreu. The 34-year-old produced 100-RBI seasons in his first four years with the White Sox and led the AL with 123 RBI in 2019. He took it a step further in 2020, hitting .317 with 19 homers and an MLB-best 60 RBI. Abreu also led the AL in hits (76) and slugging (.617) while ranking first in total bases (148) en route to winning AL MVP.

    Abreu has not always garnered the same acclaim as other first basemen around the league. But he has been every bit as productive and is one of the leaders for a White Sox team on the rise.

Cincinnati Reds

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    Aaron Doster/Associated Press

    The Four: Joey Votto, Luis Castillo, Sonny Gray, Eugenio Suarez

    Cincinnati Reds fans have not had much reason to smile this offseason, but at least they boast one of the best one-two punches in baseball at the top of the rotation.

    Luis Castillo made his first All-Star team in 2019 before posting a 3.21 ERA and career-best 2.65 FIP in 2020. At just 28 years old, Castillo has as much promise as any starter in the bigs, with a lively fastball and devastating changeup paving the way for future success. 

    Sonny Gray has also been dominant. Gray went 11-8 with a 2.87 ERA in 2019, following that by going 5-3 with a 3.70 ERA and 3.05 FIP in 2020. Both Gray and Castillo have been mentioned as trade candidates, though it seems more likely they will be with the team for the start of spring training. 

    Third baseman Eugenio Suarez is another guy who has garnered some attention in the trade market, and with good reason. Suarez has the eighth-most homers since 2016 and the second-most since 2018. He can hit the ball a mile and play decent defense at the hot corner. 

    But obviously, Votto is the most notable name here. He ranks fifth in franchise history with 62.1 fWAR and could pass Frank Robinson for fourth all-time with a decent showing this season. 

    Votto won an MVP and made six All-Star teams in the 2010s. He is not the same hitting savant he was even as recently as 2017 but is still putting up decent numbers (.800 OPS in 2020) into his late 30s. The Canadian has forever endeared himself to Reds fans.


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    David Dermer/Associated Press

    The Four: Jose Ramirez, Shane Bieber, Zach Plesac, James Karinchak

    Francisco Lindor is gone, but at least Cleveland can still relish the talent that is Jose Ramirez.

    Ramirez was the runner-up for AL MVP in 2020 after hitting .292 with 17 homers and 10 stolen bases. It marked the third time in four years he had finished in the top three in MVP voting, which has almost flown under the radar given Lindor's gravitas. Cleveland is still hoping to contend and will need Ramirez to maintain an MVP level to do so.

    Another Cy Young campaign from Shane Bieber would certainly help matters in that regard. Bieber led the majors in nearly every major category in 2020, including ERA (1.63), strikeouts (122), ERA+ (281) and FIP (2.07). His stellar campaign came just one year after he broke through with a 3.28 ERA in 2019 that featured three complete games and two shutouts. 

    Catcher Roberto Perez garnered consideration for one of the final two spots as one of the best defensive backstops in baseball. But let's go with Zach Plesac and James Karinchak.

    Plesac should be a marquee piece in the rotation. He had a 3.81 ERA in 21 starts in 2019. Plesac then upped his strikeout rate and reduced the free passes, resulting in a 2.28 ERA and 0.80 WHIP in 2020.

    Karinchak, meanwhile, looks like one of the best young relievers in the game. The 25-year-old had a 2.67 ERA and a whopping 53 strikeouts in 27 innings. It should come as no surprise that he ranked in the 99th percentile in whiff rate. Karinchak deserves a spot given his 2020 results and the immense upside.

Colorado Rockies

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    The Four: Trevor Story, Charlie Blackmon, German Marquez, Jon Gray 

    Like Cleveland, the Colorado Rockies traded their franchise star this winter in Nolan Arenado. "Down bad," as the kids might say. 

    Still, at least Trevor Story remains in the Rocky Mountains for the time being. Story's five-tool talents have been on display for five seasons, and he ranks fifth among shortstops in fWAR during that span. It remains to be seen whether the Rockies will move Story—a free agent in 2022—sometime this year, but he might also be an extension candidate.

    Charlie Blackmon was drafted by the Rockies in 2008 and has made four All-Star teams since 2014. He has a .304 career average and .865 OPS in 10 seasons with the Rockies and was the hit leader (213) in 2017. Blackmon's future is also unknown, as he has player options in both 2022 and 2023. 

    We turn to the rotation for the other two spots. German Marquez has good stuff and amassed a 42-30 record with a 4.24 ERA in five years with the Rockies. He could stand to get away from Coors Field (5.10 career ERA at home) but still makes the cut.

    Jon Gray has had a couple of clunkers, including an injury-riddled 2020 in which he was bothered by a shoulder injury. But a 45-37 record with a 3.84 FIP in six seasons with the club is strong enough, and Gray has often looked like the most promising arm in Colorado's rotation.

Detroit Tigers

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    Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

    The Four: Miguel Cabrera, Spencer Turnbull, Daniel Norris, Jonathan Schoop

    Miguel Cabrera is well past his prime, but what he has achieved in his 13 seasons with the Detroit Tigers is miraculous.

    Cabrera won back-to-back AL MVP awards in 2012 and 2013 in addition to the Triple Crown in 2012. He has made seven All-Star teams with the Tigers, and his slash line of .313/.392/.539 still holds up despite a sharp decline since 2016. Cabrera is likely to be a Hall of Famer, and he will don a Tigers cap on his plaque in Cooperstown.

    Daniel Norris has spent the last five-plus years in Detroit, posting a 4.48 ERA in 424 innings. Norris had the best season of his career in 2020, posting a 3.25 ERA and 2.87 FIP as the Tigers' best left-handed option. He is only entering his age-28 season, and the spin rates are encouraging, which could bode well for Norris' future.

    Spencer Turnbull is another guy who gave the Tigers good results in 2020, pitching to a 3.97 ERA and 3.49 FIP. Though Turnbull gets hit hard and occasionally struggles with command, he also has strong spin rates and generates a decent number of swings and misses.

    While Jonathan Schoop has only been in Detroit for one season, it was an important one. Schoop hit .278 with eight homers and a .799 OPS, doing enough to earn another year with the club. Schoop is a strong clubhouse presence and has already said he will play anywhere in the infield in 2021. New manager A.J. Hinch and the young Tigers need a guy of that ilk.

Houston Astros

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    Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

    The Four: Alex Bregman, Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, Justin Verlander

    It seems like a long shot for Justin Verlander to pitch in 2021 after undergoing Tommy John surgery in September, though Houston Astros general manager James Click said in December the ace is hoping to make an unprecedented return to the fold.

    Either way, Verlander deserves a spot on Houston's Rushmore. The Astros almost certainly would not have won the World Series in 2017 had they not acquired him at the now-defunct waiver deadline. He went undefeated in five regular-season starts before being named ALCS MVP en route to a World Series title. Verlander then dominated over the course of the next two years, winning his second Cy Young in 2019.

    The other three speak for themselves. Jose Altuve has an MVP to his name and also ranks eighth in Astros history in bWAR. He was a two-time batting champion and two-time hit leader even before the sign-stealing scandal in 2017, soldiering through some of the darker years in franchise history. Altuve had six straight seasons of 30 or more stolen bases from 2012 to 2017, when he was less hampered by injuries. It will be interesting to see whether the 30-year-old can return to form in 2021.

    Carlos Correa has dealt with a frustrating number of injuries, but his resume includes AL Rookie of the Year and an .833 career OPS. Correa ranks fifth among shortstops in fWAR despite the injuries and is coming off a prodigious postseason. Houston might extend the 26-year-old before he reaches free agency next winter.

    Not much needs to be said on Alex Bregman's behalf. He ranks sixth among all players in fWAR and wRC+ since 2017, finishing in the top five of the AL MVP voting in 2018 and 2019. Bregman has a .902 career OPS and has displayed his defensive versatility in playing some shortstop in addition to third base. He and Correa are likely the faces of the franchise going forward.

Kansas City Royals

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    Orlin Wagner/Associated Press

    The Four: Salvador Perez, Whit Merrifield, Danny Duffy, Wade Davis

    Wade Davis makes it for the Royals after heading back to Kansas City on a minor league deal. 

    Davis was one of the most dominant relievers in baseball during a three-year stretch between 2014 and 2016, with an MLB-best 1.18 ERA during that span. He had an 0.94 ERA and 0.79 WHIP during the Royals' championship run in 2015 and did not give up a single run in 10.2 innings during that postseason. 

    Danny Duffy was drafted by the Royals in 2007 and is still with the team after 10 seasons in the majors. Duffy has a 4.02 career ERA, filling multiple roles both as a reliever and a starter.

    It took Whit Merrifield quite a bit longer to reach the bigs than it did for Duffy, but he has made quite the impression. Merrifield led the AL in steals in 2017. He one-upped himself the following season, leading the majors in both steals (45) and hits (192). Merrifield was again crowned hit champion in 2019 after racking up 206 base knocks, including 41 doubles and 10 triples.

    No Royals Mount Rushmore would be complete without Salvador Perez, however. Salvy made six straight All-Star teams from 2013 to 2018, also hauling in five Gold Glove awards. He missed the entirety of the 2019 campaign after undergoing Tommy John surgery, only to hit .333 with 11 homers and a .986 OPS in 37 games this past season.

    The focus will soon shift to Perez's contract, as he is set to become a free agent in 2022.

Los Angeles Angels

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    Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

    The Four: Mike Trout, Anthony Rendon, David Fletcher, Andrew Heaney

    Let's not waste copy on Mike Trout's inclusion on the Los Angeles Angels Mount Rushmore—he is hoping to be on baseball's Mount Rushmore in due time.

    One could argue Albert Pujols should be included on the basis of longevity, but he has not even been worth a full win over the last five seasons. Due respect to a future Hall of Famer, but uh, pass. 

    The Halos are undoubtedly hoping Andrew Heaney's strong peripherals start producing better results. Regardless, he has been at least a serviceable starter for the better part of his Angels career, with a 4.35 ERA in L.A.

    David Fletcher has always had the hit tool, and he put it to good use in 2020, hitting .319 with an .801 OPS. He ranked in the 100th percentile in whiff rate and is as tough an out as they come. Fletcher can play multiple infield positions, and that versatility is likely a reason the Angels felt comfortable letting Andrelton Simmons walk.

    Anthony Rendon's star shined bright yet again in his first season in L.A. Rendon hit .286 with nine homers and a .915 OPS. His Angels career is quite young, but the Halos are hoping Rendon can be Trout's co-star as general manager Perry Minasian attempts to build a winner.

Los Angeles Dodgers

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    Eric Gay/Associated Press

    The Four: Clayton Kershaw, Mookie Betts, Cody Bellinger, Corey Seager

    It feels like the Los Angeles Dodgers' Mount Rushmore may as well be a pick'em, but Clayton Kershaw is a shoo-in. 

    Kershaw ranks first among starters in fWAR since his rookie year in 2008. He has three Cy Young Awards and an MVP, as well as a pair of 20-win seasons (2011 and 2014) and one 300-strikeout season (2015). Kershaw won the ERA title in four consecutive seasons between 2011 and 2014, and continues to dominate and evolve as he ages.

    Cody Bellinger is another Dodgers MVP to make the cut. Belli also has Rookie of the Year and Gold Glove Awards in the trophy case and has immediately established himself as one of the best all-around stars in baseball.

    Speaking of all-around stars, it's impossible not to include Mookie Betts. The 2018 AL MVP nearly won the NL counterpart in 2020, hitting .292 with 16 homers, 10 stolen bases and a .927 OPS while helping the Dodgers to their first title since 1988. There is a reason L.A. moved quickly to sign Betts to a massive extension after acquiring him from the Boston Red Sox last winter. 

    The last spot was tough. Walker Buehler likely has a Cy Young in his future and is a domineering force on the bump. Closer Kenley Jansen's prime has come and gone, but he was one of the most valuable weapons in the game during said prime. Justin Turner has an argument given both his longevity and postseason success.

    However, it is hard to pick against Corey Seager. The 2016 NL Rookie of the Year has a .295 career average and .863 OPS in six seasons with the Dodgers, including a 2020 in which he hit .307 with 15 homers and a .943 OPS before winning both the NLCS and World Series MVPs. The success this past October in particular puts Seager over the top.

Miami Marlins

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    Chris O'Meara/Associated Press

    The Four: Brian Anderson, Sandy Alcantara, Pablo Lopez, Sixto Sanchez 

    While it might not be the best sign for your team's Mount Rushmore to consist of three young pitchers, it isn't the worst, either.

    Sandy Alcantara, Pablo Lopez and Sixto Sanchez form a solid foundation in the Miami Marlins rotation. Lopez had a 5.09 ERA in 2019 but bounced back with a 3.61 ERA and 3.09 FIP in 2020. Alcantara made the All-Star team in 2019 and has a 3.69 ERA in 273.1 innings with the Marlins.

    Sanchez is really the headliner because of his electric stuff. He is already advanced in having a plus changeup to pair with his upper-90s velocity and should only grow more dangerous if he can get more swings and misses with his breaking stuff.

    Brian Anderson ranks in the top 50 in fWAR since 2018. That's better than stars like Kris Bryant and Rafael Devers. Anderson had a career-high 119 OPS+ in 2020 and also ranked third among third basemen in outs above average (OAA).

Milwaukee Brewers

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    Aaron Doster/Associated Press

    The Four: Christian Yelich, Josh Hader, Brandon Woodruff, Devin Williams

    Well would you look at this...two relievers. Seems fitting for a Milwaukee Brewers club managed by Craig Counsell.

    Lorenzo Cain nearly got the nod over Devin Williams. But the 2020 NL Rookie of the Year and Trevor Hoffman Reliever of the Year was the most dominant relief pitcher in baseball last season. Williams gave up just eight hits and one earned run (0.33 ERA) in 27 innings, striking out 53 and making hitters look foolish with his "Airbender" changeup.

    We would be remiss not to include Josh Hader, as well. The left-hander won back-to-back Hoffman awards in 2018 and 2019, even finishing seventh in the Cy Young Award voting in 2018. Hader has a 2.54 career ERA in four seasons with the Brew Crew, also posting a 0.86 WHIP and 15.3 strikeouts per nine innings.

    Brandon Woodruff gets the call in the rotation. The 28-year-old went 11-3 and made the All-Star team in 2019 and this past season had a career-best 3.05 ERA and 0.99 WHIP. Woodruff induces a lot of soft contact, and he excels going upstairs with the fastball before changing eye level with a wipeout slider.

    It goes without saying Christian Yelich deserves a spot. The 2018 NL MVP might well have won it in 2019 had he not suffered a broken kneecap in September. Yelich ranks fourth in fWAR since 2018, and that's despite a 2020 in which he hit just .205 with a strikeout rate over 30 percent. He is another guy who should benefit from the return of in-game video.

Minnesota Twins

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    Jim Mone/Associated Press

    The Four: Nelson Cruz, Jose Berrios, Kenta Maeda, Byron Buxton

    The Minnesota Twins Rushmore was fairly hard to construct considering guys like Max Kepler and Miguel Sano have merit. But this group is tough to top.

    Jose Berrios made consecutive All-Star teams in 2018 and 2019. Opponents have teed off on the four-seam fastball, including a .780 slugging percentage in 2020. But Berrios could reach new heights if he has more success with the heater and continues to utilize a curveball that was quite successful this past season.

    Kenta Maeda has spent just one pandemic-shortened season in Minnesota, but it was enough to warrant a spot. Maeda finished second in the AL Cy Young Award voting, going 6-1 with a 2.70 ERA and MLB-best 0.75 WHIP. His 161 ERA+ dwarfed his previous career high of 115 from 2016. He has become the Twins' clear-cut ace. 

    Nelson Cruz hit .311 with 41 homers and a 1.031 OPS in 2019 before hitting .303 with 16 homers and a career-high 169 OPS+ in 2020. Cruz ranks second in wRC+ in the past two years behind only Mike Trout, and the Twins re-upped with him this offseason.

    Byron Buxton was the toughest addition. Injuries have really stunted his development. Still, the 27-year-old's progress in the last two seasons has been impressive, notably that he slugged .577 with 13 homers in just 39 games last season.

    Buxton plays a tremendous defensive center field and can fly around the bases. Hopefully, he can finally stay healthy and flex his muscle as an All-Star-caliber player.

New York Yankees

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    Gregory Bull/Associated Press

    The Four: Aaron Judge, Gerrit Cole, DJ LeMahieu, Gleyber Torres

    Brett Gardner would probably get a spot on the New York Yankees Mount Rushmore, but it remains to be seen whether he re-signs with the Bronx Bombers.

    Gerrit Cole had some issues with the long ball in 2020, but he still went 7-3 with a 2.84 ERA. He is the centerpiece of New York's rotation after signing a record-breaking deal last offseason.

    The Yankees also declared DJ LeMahieu a top dog when they re-signed him to a six-year deal, and with good reason. He led New York with 7.8 fWAR and a 146 wRC+ over the past two seasons, winning his second batting title (.364) in 2020. LeMahieu also gives the Yankees plenty of defensive versatility.

    Aaron Judge's inability to stay healthy has been frustrating, but his talent is awesome. Judge's 2017 is one of the greatest rookie seasons ever, and he has since become one of the better two-way players in baseball. The power and exit velocities are evident, but Judge also ranks second among right fielders (minimum 2,000 innings) in defensive runs saved since 2017.

    The last selection was tricky, but Gleyber Torres' back-to-back All-Star campaigns in 2018 and 2019 and his status as a future franchise player ultimately win out. At just 24, Torres has yet to hit his stride, which is impressive considering he has an .834 OPS in his first three seasons.

New York Mets

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    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    The Four: Jacob deGrom, Francisco Lindor, Michael Conforto, Jeff McNeil

    Pardon, but there was no way Francisco Lindor was not going to be a face of the New York Mets.

    Sure, Lindor has yet to play a single game for the Mets. He will be a free agent (at least for now) in 2022. But he is one of the biggest stars in the sport and an enormous upgrade over Amed Rosario.

    Lindor is a five-tool shortstop with three 30-homer seasons and a career .833 OPS. He is a two-time Gold Glover and a Platinum Glove winner, which is significant given Rosario produced minus-35 defensive runs saved and a minus-4.2 ultimate zone rating in his time as Mets shortstop.

    Michael Conforto has quietly been one of the most productive outfielders in baseball since his breakout All-Star season in 2017. Conforto ranks ninth among outfielders in fWAR during that span and this past season hit .322 with nine homers and a .927 OPS. 

    Jeff McNeil steals a spot away from Noah Syndergaard. Although Thor was dominant in his first two seasons with the Mets, injuries have cost him the better part of two seasons, and he could miss the first two months of 2021 as he continues to recover from Tommy John.

    It is also hard to quantify how much McNeil has meant to the franchise in the last three years. He has a .319/.383/.501 slash line in just over 1,000 plate appearances, as well as a 139 OPS+. Squirrel also plays all over the infield and in the outfield, which gives the Mets ample roster flexibility.

    Pete Alonso narrowly misses out on a spot, mostly because the Mets might otherwise prefer to have Dom Smith take over at first base and move him into a designated hitter role should it become available to the National League. Smith himself misses out because he really only has 2020 to point to as a full-time player.

    Finally, there's the best pitcher in the game: Jacob deGrom. Zoom out from deGrom's especially brilliant three-year run—which featured two NL Cy Young Awards—for a second. 

    He broke into MLB by winning NL Rookie of the Year with the Mets in 2014 and made his first All-Star team a year later while going 14-8 with a 2.54 ERA. The 32-year-old has a 2.61 career ERA and is the active leader in FIP (2.75). Impressive stuff, no?

Oakland Athletics

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    Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

    The Four: Matt Chapman, Matt Olson, Chris Bassitt, Mark Canha

    Michael Conforto's introduction as a "quiet" star is a nice segue to the Oakland Athletics' own soft-spoken stud in third baseman Matt Chapman.

    Chapman has slugged over .500 in each of the last three seasons and ranks seventh in fWAR during that stretch. He hit 36 homers and made his first All-Star team in 2019, also capturing his second Gold Glove Award. The 27-year-old won Platinum Glove Awards in both of those seasons, as well.

    The Athletics have another Matt at the opposite corner of the infield in Matt Olson. Like Chapman, Olson is a terrific defender with big-time power. He clubbed 24 homers in just 59 games in 2017 and won a Gold Glove in 2018. Olson hit 36 homers and won his second Gold Glove in 2019. Despite hitting .195 in 2020, he mashed 14 homers and ranked in the 91st percentile in average exit velocity. 

    Outfielder Mark Canha has been with the A's since 2015 but has especially excelled the last two seasons. He ranks 27th in fWAR since 2019, when he hit .273 with 26 homers and a 146 OPS+. The 31-year-old could be even better in what should be more of a full-time role in 2021. 

    Right-hander Chris Bassitt is another who has flown under the radar. Bassitt has a 3.56 career ERA in five years with the A's. He finished eighth in the AL Cy Young Award voting in 2020, going 5-2 with a 2.29 ERA in 11 starts.

Philadelphia Phillies

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    Mike Carlson/Associated Press

    The Four: Bryce Harper, J.T. Realmuto, Aaron Nola, Rhys Hoskins

    The Philadelphia Phillies are hoping to make strides in Dave Dombrowski's first year as president of baseball operations, and they will need Aaron Nola to keep dealing in order to contend.

    Nola firmly established himself as one of the best pitchers in baseball in 2018, going 17-6 with a 2.37 ERA. After some regression in 2019, Nola reclaimed that status in 2020, posting a 3.28 ERA in 71.1 innings. The 27-year-old has a 3.47 career ERA in six seasons with the Phils, ranking 11th among starters in fWAR since 2015.

    Rhys Hoskins burst onto the scene in 2017, hitting 18 homers with a 1.014 OPS in 50 games. Hoskins then hit 34 homers in 2018 and led the NL in walks (116) in 2019. He had another quality season in 2020, hitting 10 round-trippers and posting an .887 OPS. Hoskins ranks 10th among first basemen in wRC+ since 2017.

    The final two names arrived in Philly ahead of the 2019 season but will define the franchise for years to come.

    Bryce Harper hit 35 homers and drove in 114 runs in his debut season with the Phillies and then produced a .962 OPS in 2020, leading baseball with 49 bases on balls. Hate him or love him, he is a terrific offensive player and fiery leader.

    J.T. Realmuto is the best catcher in baseball. He clubbed 25 homers and threw out a league-best 47 percent of would-be base-stealers in 2019. The following year, he posted a career-high .840 OPS.

    Realmuto can hit for average and slug while playing terrific defense and providing excellent pitch-framing at a premium position. Perhaps that's why the Phils eventually ponied up $115.5 million to re-sign him this winter.

Pittsburgh Pirates

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    Ron Schwane/Associated Press

    The Four: Ke'Bryan Hayes, Colin Moran, Steven Brault, Richard Rodriguez

    Let's not dance around the Pirates being the worst team in baseball in 2020. The Bucs are fully committed to rebuilding, which means things will look pretty ugly in the near future.

    Still, Steven Brault and Colin Moran deserve some respect as Pirates mainstays. 

    Brault has a 4.68 career ERA in five seasons with the Bucs, posting a career-low 3.38 ERA in 2020. He could be a trade asset as a controllable left-hander who, at 28, might still have his best years ahead of him.

    Moran has hardly been spectacular in Pittsburgh, but he has a .272 average and .757 OPS in three seasons with the Bucs, posting a .797 OPS in 2020.

    Richard Rodriguez has been a terrific asset out of Pittsburgh's bullpen. Rodriguez has a 3.02 ERA in 158 innings with the Pirates. He had a 2.70 ERA and 2.85 FIP in 2020, ranking 15th in expected FIP among relievers.

    If there was one clear bright spot in Pittsburgh's downtrodden 2020 campaign, it was Ke'Bryan Hayes. The 24-year-old slashed .376/.442/.682 with five homers and a 202 OPS+ in 24 games. Hayes is a legitimate building block and a Rookie of the Year candidate in 2021.

San Diego Padres

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    Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press

    The Four: Fernando Tatis Jr., Manny Machado, Blake Snell, Yu Darvish

    As was the case with Francisco Lindor and the New York Mets, both Blake Snell and Yu Darvish had to make the San Diego Padres Rushmore because of their importance to the team's World Series hopes.

    Snell should have the opportunity to extend himself after leaving a Tampa Bay Rays organization with a heavy reliance on the relief unit. The 28-year-old is just two seasons removed from a Cy Young and will surely be motivated to get back to the World Series.

    Darvish, meanwhile, has been as good as any pitcher in baseball since the 2019 All-Star break. He ranked second in xFIP in the second half of 2019, striking out nearly 17 opponents per walk. Darvish then finished second in the NL Cy Young Award voting in 2020, going 8-3 with a 2.01 ERA and NL-best 2.23 FIP. He added velocity last season, which projects well for his ability to be successful even in his age-34 season.

    The left side of the Friars infield accounts for the rest of the foundation.

    Manny Machado rebounded from a slightly underwhelming Padres debut in 2019 by hitting .304 with 16 homers and a .950 OPS in 2020, finishing third in the NL MVP voting.

    Shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr. has needed just 143 games to become a megastar. Tatis hit .277 with 17 homers and 11 stolen bases in 2020 and also led all infielders in outs above average. He can do anything and everything on a baseball field and is as exciting a superstar as there is in the bigs.

San Francisco Giants

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    Matt York/Associated Press

    The Four: Buster Posey, Brandon Crawford, Brandon Belt, Mike Yastrzemski

    Three of the San Francisco Giants' four names have been staples for a decade and crucial pieces on championship teams.

    Buster Posey was a member of all three World Series teams in the last decade. The backstop was named NL Rookie of the Year in 2010 and NL MVP just two years later. He's won four Silver Sluggers, a batting title and a Gold Glove. In essence, he has done it all and will go down as the best catcher in franchise history.

    The Brandons (Crawford and Belt) were every bit as important to the Giants alongside Posey.

    Crawford was one of the best defensive shortstops in baseball, winning three straight Gold Glove Awards from 2015 to 2017 and making a pair of All-Star teams. Belt has an .810 career OPS in San Francisco and just this past season hit .309 with a 1.015 OPS and 178 OPS+.

    The fourth member is a leader of the new school in Mike Yastrzemski. He hit 21 homers in 107 games in his rookie season in 2019 and then finished eighth in the NL MVP voting after hitting .297 with 10 homers, four triples and a .968 OPS. 

    Yastrzemski is on the rise, whereas Posey (club option), Belt and Crawford (both unrestricted) are destined to reach free agency in 2022.

Seattle Mariners

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    Ted S. Warren/Associated Press

    The Four: Kyle Seager, Marco Gonzales, Kyle Lewis, J.P. Crawford

    The Seattle Mariners are hoping the next wave of young talent can help the franchise regain competitive status. Kyle Lewis is one of those talented youngsters to lead the M's into the future.

    Lewis was named AL Rookie of the Year in 2020 after hitting six homers and slugging .592 in an 18-game stint in 2019. The 25-year-old clubbed 11 homers and stole five bases, also dazzling with some exceptional home run robberies.

    Speaking of good glove work, shortstop J.P. Crawford makes the cut after finishing in a three-way tie for fourth among shortstops in outs above average.

    Starting pitcher Marco Gonzales has revitalized his career in Seattle, going 37-25 with a 3.97 ERA. Gonzales had the best season of his career in 2020, going 7-2 with a 3.10 ERA and leading the majors in strikeouts per base on balls (9.14). Barring a trade, Gonzales looks to be a staple of the Mariners rotation given he is under club control through at least 2024.

    Kyle Seager has held down the hot corner for nine full seasons in Seattle, winning a Gold Glove and twice finishing in the top 20 in the AL MVP voting. The 33-year-old is always a threat to go deep, and he still plays strong defense at third.

St. Louis Cardinals

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    Gregory Bull/Associated Press

    The Four: Yadier Molina, Adam Wainwright, Paul Goldschmidt, Nolan Arenado

    The St. Louis Cardinals' group of four would have been quite a bit harder to pick were it not for both Adam Wainwright and Yadier Molina re-signing with the team.

    Wainwright has amassed a 167-98 record and 3.38 ERA in 15 seasons with the Cardinals. He has won 20 games twice in his career, finishing in the top three or better for the NL Cy Young in four of five seasons between 2009 and 2014 (Wainwright missed all of 2011 with an injury). The 39-year-old is still kicking after posting a 3.15 ERA and throwing a pair of complete games in 2020.

    Molina is a nine-time All-Star and nine-time Gold Glove Award winner, as well as a four-time Platinum Glove winner. He will officially pass Hall of Famer Bob Gibson for second in Cardinals history with 18 seasons with the team and—if healthy—should also move into fourth all-time in games caught. Yadi and the Cards have been a match made in heaven.

    Whereas the first two are established franchise icons, the next two represent the next era of Cardinals greats. Paul Goldschmidt "struggled" in 2019 but still mashed 34 homers. He then hit .304 with a 142 OPS+ in 2020, numbers for more on par with the Goldy that baseball fans saw in Arizona.

    Nolan Arenado has already said he plans to stay in St. Louis, and he is the kind of franchise player who can get the Redbirds back to the top of the NL Central. Arenado is the best defensive third baseman in the game, and he has 40-homer power. The fans in St. Louis should also come to appreciate his burning desire to win.

Tampa Bay Rays

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    Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

    The Four: Kevin Kiermaier, Brandon Lowe, Tyler Glasnow, Nick Anderson

    The Tampa Bay Rays will look a bit different in 2021 despite last year's trip to the World Series. But Kevin Kiermaier appears to have survived the trade rumors.

    Kiermaier is a three-time Gold Glover who has long been hailed as one of the best defensive center fielders in baseball. He also ranks fourth in Rays history in bWAR and did his very best to deliver a championship to Tampa with a pair of homers and a 1.137 OPS in the World Series.

    Rays fans have every right to be displeased with Tyler Glasnow given how he has shriveled (6.56 ERA) in the playoffs. But Glasnow heads into 2021 as the ace of the staff, and his peripherals suggest he has been better than the surface numbers.

    The 27-year-old struck out a whopping 14.3 opponents per nine and had a 3.11 expected ERA in 2020. Glasnow has overpowering potential if he can rediscover success with the fastball, especially considering the dominance of his curveball.

    Brandon Lowe and Nick Anderson also struggled in the 2020 playoffs, but both still merit selections. Lowe made the All-Star team in 2019 and hit 14 homers with a .916 OPS and 152 OPS+ in 2020. He also has some positional versatility.

    Anderson had a 2.11 ERA in 23 appearances with the Rays after coming over from the Miami Marlins in 2019. He then posted a staggering 0.55 ERA and 0.49 WHIP in 2020, converting all six of his save chances and also recording six holds.

Texas Rangers

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    Roger Steinman/Associated Press

    The Four: Joey Gallo, Rougned Odor, Isiah Kiner-Falefa, Jonathan Hernandez

    Gone are the days of Adrian Beltre and Elvis Andrus. The Texas Rangers, like the Pittsburgh Pirates, begin their rebuild in earnest.

    Joey Gallo seems to be a polarizing figure among MLB fans, which only makes sense considering he is a three-true-outcomes hitter. At the same time, that idea has somewhat minimized his talent.

    Gallo won a Gold Glove in 2020, ranking in the 95th percentile in outfielder jump. He can play just about every outfield spot at a high level, a credit to his athleticism given his 6'5", 250-pound frame.

    Rougned Odor's appearance here probably gives Rangers fans pause. But he does have three 30-homer seasons and was also involved in one of the most notorious bench-clearing brawls in recent MLB history.

    Isiah Kiner-Falefa can hit for average and play multiple positions. He trailed only Nolan Arenado in outs above average among third basemen in 2020, winning a Gold Glove for his efforts.

    Jonathan Hernandez gets the final spot almost by default. Hernandez struggled with his command in a brief stint in 2019 but responded by posting a 2.90 ERA in 31 innings as a 23-year-old this past season.

Toronto Blue Jays

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    Chris O'Meara/Associated Press

    The Four: George Springer, Hyun Jin Ryu, Teoscar Hernandez, Bo Bichette

    The Toronto Blue Jays have a large swath of young talent, which made it a bit tough to narrow things down. However, Bo Bichette and Teoscar Hernandez stand out among that crop.

    I know, I know, there are still big expectations for guys like Lourdes Gurriel Jr., Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Cavan Biggio. But hear me out.

    Bichette has a certain swagger about him and the play to match. He hit .311 with 11 homers and a .930 OPS in 2019 and followed that up with a .301 average and .840 OPS in 2020. The 22-year-old even became a viral meme on Twitter this past summer.

    Let's talk about Hernandez, because he can tear the cover off the ball and run like the wind. Hernandez ranked in the 96th percentile or higher in average exit velocity, hard-hit rate and barrel percentage in 2020, clubbing 16 homers with a .919 OPS and 146 OPS+. The 28-year-old also stole six bases and consistently ranks among the fastest players in baseball. 

    Hyun Jin Ryu was terrific in his first season with the Blue Jays, posting a 2.69 ERA in 12 starts and matching a career-high with 9.7 strikeouts per nine innings. Toronto mostly made fringe upgrades to the starting rotation (such as Steven Matz), making it critical for Ryu to continue to be an ace if the Blue Jays hope to establish themselves as a threat to win the AL East.

    Then again, the addition of George Springer is what makes the Blue Jays that much bigger of a threat. Springer is a three-time All-Star who sets the tone at the top of the order with his power and on-base ability. The 31-year-old also brings championship experience and postseason heroism to the table for a talented Toronto roster with a lot of potential.

Washington Nationals

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    Julio Cortez/Associated Press

    The Four: Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Juan Soto, Trea Turner

    Starting pitching defined the Washington Nationals' run to the 2019 World Series, and their top two aces have also come to define the organization. 

    Max Scherzer is one of the best free-agent signings ever. He has a 2.80 ERA and 0.97 WHIP in six seasons with the Nationals, winning back-to-back Cy Young Awards in 2016 and 2017 and leading the majors in strikeouts twice. Scherzer should join the 3,000-strikeout club as soon as this season, and he is likely to be a Hall of Famer after his dominant run in the nation's capital. 

    Stephen Strasburg was a phenomenon coming out of San Diego State in 2009, and he made his debut just one season later. Though injuries have marred his career, Strasburg was still one of the most dominant pitchers of the last decade with a 2.97 career FIP. Strasburg also has a case as one of the greatest postseason pitchers ever, holding a 1.46 ERA and winning World Series MVP honors. 

    Although the starters are the headliners, the Nats also have two of the brightest positional stars in the game. Trea Turner has multiple seasons of 40-plus steals in addition to a .296 career average and .833 OPS. The 27-year-old hit .335 with 12 homers and a .982 OPS in 2020 and is a prime extension candidate with free agency looming in 2023.

    Juan Soto is a generational hitter. He clubbed 34 homers and drove in 110 runs in his age-20 season, later hitting .333 with three homers, seven RBI and a 1.178 OPS in the 2019 World Series. What did Soto do for an encore? Oh, only lead the majors in on-base percentage (.490), slugging (.695), OPS (1.185) OPS+ (212) and intentional walks (12). 

    It is truly frightening how good Soto already is at the age of 22—and nightmarish for opposing pitchers in thinking just how good he can be.


    All stats obtained via Baseball Reference, Baseball Savant and FanGraphs unless otherwise noted.