To borrow an exercise from Nate Silver last year, I'm attempting to rank the top baseball players I would take if everyone entered this year's draft.
The full ground rules are outlined in the article linked above, but the basics are:
- You get the player for his six years prior to free agency, just like in MLB
- Real-life contracts are irrelevant
- If the player is in the minors, you can keep him down there until he's ready, then get six years. So you're drafting Justin Upton for his 2009-2014, not 2007-2012.
For part I, I'll rank the players by position before boiling it down into one super-list. The goal is to get a list of 50; part I will feature more guys than that, but I won't bother ranking anyone who has no chance to make the final cut.
Remember, we're considering only future returns. Since we're looking at six years of production, guys like Barry Bonds and John Smoltz won't make the cut even though they're among the 50 best players right now.
1. Joe Mauer
2. Brian McCann
3. Victor Martinez
Comments: Mauer may require a position change, but should he move to third base, he will bring an elite bat and above-average glove even if he loses some overall value. McCann could have a better career than Mauer, but his minor league stats don't tell the same story his 2006 did. Martinez, like Mauer, may not remain at catcher through six years, but for now his bat gives the Indians a big competitive advantage at a thin position.
1. Albert Pujols
2. Ryan Howard
3. Mark Teixeira
4. Lance Berkman
5. Prince Fielder
6. Justin Morneau
7. Derrek Lee
Comments: Pujols is a no-brainer. Spots 2-4 can be debated, as Howard may not age well, especially on defense, while Berkman is pretty old for this exercise. Still, Howard was light years ahead of Teixeira in 2006, so we'll give him the benefit of the doubt.
I like Morneau, but there's a good chance 2006 will be the best year of his career and he still was nowhere close to deserving the MVP. Morneau's age is really the only reason he makes the list, but Fielder is younger and has better indicators going forward.
1. Chase Utley
2. Robinson Cano
3. Howie Kendrick
Comments: Orlando Hudson would merit consideration for a list of the 50 best players right now. Rickie Weeks, given a clean bill of health, would crack the list even with his defensive issues. B.J. Upton is a top-50 talent if he can play a decent second base, but that is far from a given at this point.
The gap between Utley and the others is not as great as you may think, as his defense may necessitate an eventual position change and he's not that young. Cano and Kendrick are special talents, and each has a better shot at the Hall of Fame than Utley.
1. Miguel Cabrera
2. David Wright
3. Ryan Zimmerman
4. Alex Rodriguez
5. Alex Gordon
6. Aramis Ramirez
7. Garrett Atkins
Comments: Seeing A-Rod ranked fourth at his own position may surprise some, but he's seven years older than everyone ahead of him, and with his defensive struggles it's hard to argue he's demonstrably better than Cabrera or Wright right now. A-Rod may have to move to first base or an outfield corner; meanwhile, Zimmerman is an elite defender and may convert to shortstop, where his bat would look even better.
Even though Cabrera might end up in an outfield corner, his bat justifies his ranking. Gordon's placement may seem generous for a guy with no big-league track record, but we're getting him for his age 23-28 seasons as opposed to 29-35 for Ramirez, and his AA numbers portend stardom. Atkins lacks the track record to rank higher, but could push ahead a couple of spots with a strong 2007.
Ryan Braun might have a case if someone teaches him how to field. Scott Rolen is too old and injury-prone, though he would certainly appear on the top 50 list for 2007. Eric Chavez is a possibility, but his skill set is really no longer all that special.
1. Jose Reyes
2. Hanley Ramirez
3. Jimmy Rollins
4. Stephen Drew
5. Miguel Tejada
6. Derek Jeter
7. Rafael Furcal
8. Carlos Guillen
9. Michael Young
Comments: Before I get hate mail from Jeter supporters, remember we're buying his age 33-38 seasons, and that his recovery from defensive hazard to league-average fielder is unprecedented. I could be convinced that he should rank ahead of Tejada, but no higher.
I think Reyes is greatly overrated by the public, who consider his fantasy value before his on-field value. Still, he is very young and already a great hitter for his position, and I think his speed can compensate for his questionable defense. The top of the list can be questioned for its lack of track record, but being seven or eight years younger than your competition has a lot of benefits, especially in the field.
I expect Guillen and Young will not make the top 50. Guillen is getting up there in years and he may be a first baseman by this time next year. Hell of a ballplayer. Young is a terrible defensive shortstop and his value centers around a batting average that may collapse at any time.
Jhonny Peralta missed the cut, but you could make a case for him. That's one ugly 2006, though.
1. Jason Bay
2. Adam Dunn
3. Carl Crawford
This list is short but features a couple of guys who are entering their peak years and pack some serious punch. Left field is often a destination for older players who have defensive issues, so there isn't a big future for them. Manny Ramirez, this means you. Even Dunn is likely to be a first baseman or DH in a few years.
If you play fantasy baseball, chances are you think Crawford is much better than he actually is. Still, his bat is improving and his glove is the league's best in left.
1. Grady Sizemore
2. Carlos Beltran
3. Andruw Jones
4. Alfonso Soriano
5. Chris Young
6. Vernon Wells
Chris Young? Really? He did crack Nate Silver's list last year and had a successful follow-up. Young is 23 and already packs an above-average glove and bat for center, and his power-speed combination hints at a good aging curve. The PECOTA projection system loves him, as do most of the others. He's a stud, plain and simple.
Sizemore merits some consideration for the number 1 overall spot on the list, given his rare combination of youth, glove, bat, and health. Beltran is probably another top-10 guy, though age and health could keep him out.
Rocco Baldelli is kept off the list by his health. Matt Kemp and Lastings Milledge also merited some consideration.
1. Vladimir Guerrero
2. Delmon Young
Like left, this isn't a position that attracts a lot of good young talent. You may quibble at the two-deep list, but who else are you going to make a case for? Jermaine Dye, who's 33 and has one star-level season on his resume? Brian Giles is 36, Jeremy Hermida can't stay healthy, and Carlos Quentin isn't there yet.
1. Travis Hafner
2. David Ortiz
Not a lot to quibble about here, as all the other good DHs--Thome, Giambi, Thomas--are way too old for consideration. Both of these guys will make the top 50, but I'm not crazy about how they're going to age.
1. Johan Santana
2. Brandon Webb
3. Jake Peavy - Over/Under on the next year he posts an ERA over 4.00 in San Diego: 2011.
4. Ben Sheets - Some quick pitcher math: Santana - health - lefty = Sheets.
5. Felix Hernandez - His combination of strikeouts and ground balls should be made illegal. He's still younger than your favorite team's top pitching prospect, unless you live in the Bronx.
6. Jeremy Bonderman - Extreme bad luck on balls in play should regress in the future. All his peripherals are sparkling. Still only 24.
7. Roy Oswalt
8. Francisco Liriano - Taking 2008-13. Obvious injury risk, but he is that good when healthy. Would rank second if not for the surgery.
9. Roy Halladay
10. Carlos Zambrano - Plenty of negative indicators from 2006, especially his rising walk rate.
11. Cole Hamels - His peripherals are out of this world. If he stays healthy, this ranking is too low.
12. Daisuke Matsuzaka
13. Chris Carpenter - Docked for his injury. These things tend to snowball.
14. John Lackey
15. Dontrelle Willis
16. C.C. Sabathia
1. Huston Street
2. Joe Nathan
3. Francisco Rodriguez
Comments: I doubt any relievers will make the final 50; I would include K-Rod if not for the widespread belief that his mechanics will inevitably cause an injury. Street was considered but didn't make the cut. Everyone else is too old and too susceptible to attrition. There's a reason no reliever has ever been signed for six years.
That's 61 names. Coming soon: Part II, where we boil the list down to 50 and I rank them all.