I was reading a piece over at Joe Posnanski's blog the other day (read: week) and he was talking about "Sports Illustrated" doing a survey of 20 baseball General Manager's around the league. The manager was to "in order of preference, name the five players in Major League Baseball they would most like to build their team around." I wanted to try this with VEB posters, but do it a little differently.
My idea is to find out from all of you which position player at each position around the field is most desirable when starting a franchise. You are not naming an All-Star team of young players, so you do not have to make sure to have a great leadoff hitter, a great 4 hitter, a stud defensive outfielder or catcher, or anything like that. Here's my shot at it.
If I were choosing a catcher to start a franchise, my choice is probably Russell Martin or Yadier Molina. As much as I love Brian McCann, Joe Mauer, et al. After seeing the All-Star game, I would have to say that I think Russell Martin has the most potential to be a good defensive catcher than all the rest (minus Yadi). Yadi is already the best defensive catcher in the game, in my opinion. Martin's got the upside on the offensive side of the ball. I like the fact that neither of them strike out much more than they walk, if at all. Yadier will give you very close to a .300 average a year and has 10-15 HR potential pop in his bat. Martin has 20 HR and 20 SB potential, possibly more. Being a pitcher's son, I believe that there are just a few positions on the diamond that good defense is needed. Yadier redefines the words "good defense." I'll take Yadier Molina.
At first base, I choose none other than Albert Pujols. I think around here, the choice is obvious. In his article, Posnanski's whole point of bringing up the survey from SI was to say how underrated Pujols is around the country and how there's no doubt he's the best player right now. I have barely anything to add to that, so I'll let it stand as is.
At second base, I really think it only comes down to Robinson Cano, Ian Kinsler, Jose Lopez, Dustin Pedroia, Brandon Phillips, Dan Uggla, and Chase Utley (in alphabetical order.) Let's start with the good. Lopez and Pedroia are 24 years old, Cano is 25. The others are older than that, but still very much so in the beginning of their prime (or so I would believe.) Dustin Pedroia and Brandon Phillips are probably the best defenders among them, just by looking at what baseball-reference has to offer me.
Offensively, this is what I forsee for each. Cano should be able to give you many seasons of .290+, 40+ double, 25+ HR baseball. Kinsler I see giving .290+, 45+, 25+, while also giving 30+ steals. Lopez I see giving .280+, 30+, 15+. Pedroia I see giving .315+, 40+, 15+, 15+. Phillips I see giving .270+, 25+, 25+, 30+. Uggla I see giving .250+, 40+, 30+. Utley I see giving .295+, 40+, 30+, 10+ steals.
I think that with defense included, Brandon Phillips looks most like the entire package to me. I would take Phillips.
At third base, there are a myriad players who are easy to list; however, that makes it much harder to choose. Evan Longoria, Ryan Zimmerman, David Wright, Miguel Cabrera (I believe, in ascending order of age, to name a few) are all youngsters with amazing potential for many home runs, many steals, many doubles, a high average, etc. I don't think any of them come close. Alex Rodriguez is the class of 3rd basemen and I think he can play for another 5-7 years at this level. Many people believe that he is the best in all of baseball right now and has been for years. It is a tough thing to argue against. I still take Pujols over him...but that's me and I'm a bit of a homer. In any case, this was not a tough call for me.
At shortstop, I believe there to be a long list of candidates...that can be whittled down to three immediately. Hanley Ramirez, Troy Tulowitski, and Jose Reyes. I'll take them out in reverse order from here on out. After watching Jose Reyes in the 2006 playoffs, I was scared to see him bat. Not only did it mean that the other big boppers (Beltran, Delgado, Wright) were coming up, it meant that I had to have a boatload of angst watching him sprint and twist and turn and whatever else he was doing while on the bases. He is SO incredibly fast that it is hard to imagine ever getting him out unless the ball is caught in the air. After watching the end of last year with the run the Rockies had, it was clear to me that this rookie shortstop was one BIG reason why they were winning all these games. He is stellar in the field and gets on base a ton. However, after watching the first 3 games of the series against the Fish, I believe that Hanley Ramirez is the real deal. To me, he looks like a player who expects greatness, a la Pujols or Rodriguez. He is a player who expects to get on every time. When he gets out he kinda looks around at the bat, at the ball, whatever, and thinks to himself "I'll remember that for next time." Not only that, but he probably has the most raw power of the three...and maybe the most raw speed. I'll take that guy every time. Hanley Ramirez.
I think that there's no need to take three outfielders. I think it is definitely necessary to take two when doing this exercise. I believe that great centerfielders are hard to come by AND that they are very different from corner outfielders...so I will take a centerfielder and a corner outfielder.
In centerfield, Josh Hamilton (at least this year) and Grady Sizemore are the class of the league to me. Josh Hamilton has graced baseball with a season to remember, thus far. Grady Sizemore has been putting up similar numbers for 4.5 seasons now. Hamilton is given the green light consistently, except for on the base paths. That hurts his numbers in terms of steals. I don't think he's as fast as Sizemore, but does not need to be. Sizemore, on the contrary, has tremendous speed and uses it to his advantage a lot. He also leads off for the Indians, so he has every opportunity to do so. Because he bats leadoff, he is asked to take more pitches and "just get on base" more often than Hamilton is (I assume.) This leads me to believe that his power numbers are lower than they could be. Both play defense VERY, VERY well, so that's a wash. This, to me, is about a draw, but having 3 more years of experience AND being younger...I'll take Grady Sizemore.
As for corner outfield spots, I think the best one to start a franchise with has to come from this grouping of players: Nick Markakis, Carl Crawford, and Matt Holliday. All 3 players play reasonably good defense, given the status of their bat. None is a complete liability out there. Ryan Braun is another to consider, but he could very well be a 1B very soon...so maybe not. Anyway. Markakis is a guy who could give you .300/.400/.500 year in and year out. I would expect 25 or more homers and 60 or more XBH out of him every year. He doesn't steal very often, but is getting much better year after year at his K:BB. Crawford gives you flat out speed. He could give you .300/.350/.465 year in and year out. He could also give you 50-75 steals, but is NOT improving on his K:BB. I'd expect only 10 or so homers, but 50+ XBH because of his speed. Matt Holliday is on the opposite end of the Markakis spectrum from Crawford. Holliday is a guy who will give you something like this year in and year out: .330/.400/.600 Yeah...wow. I would expect between 25-35 hr, 40-50 doubles, and 15 steals out of him. Since he has a little speed, but MUCH more power than the others, I would have to go with Matt Holliday.
There's the players I would start a franchise with at each position.