Here’s what’s coming up in the fifth, and final, countdown of the 100 best players in baseball today:
– 24 All-Star Games.
– 9 MVPs/Cy Youngs.
– 10 World Series appearances.
– $140,250,000 worth of 2012 earnings.
In other words, it’s getting serious, and really, there’s no further introductions needed. Because while their names speak loudly enough for who they are, their accomplishments silence anything that could be contrary to their place at the top of the game.
Now, time to head up to the summit of the game today…
10. Mariano Rivera, Yankees: He’s been the best closer in the game for so long that even when the man that was his contemporary and would surpass 600 saves and become the All-Time saves King before him, Trevor Hoffman reached these milestones, everybody knew it was the definition of temporary.
Mo broke the record in September of last year, amidst his eighth year out of nine with an ERA under 2.00. He also surpassed 40 saves for the eighth time as well; all at the age of 41. Arguably, there’s been no player in baseball history who’s been the unquestionable best at what he does for as long as Rivera has. And it’s a throne he may be abdicating from the top, as 2012 most likely will be his last go around.
9. Jose Bautista, Blue Jays: In just two years, he’s gone from rotational fill-in infielder/outfielder to being the premier power hitter in the game. Since Opening Day 2010, Joey Bats has cranked 97 balls over the fence, leading the Majors in both seasons. Before his 54 shot outbreak in ’10, his career high was 16 with Pittsburgh in 2006.
The respect that he’s earning stretches both on the field and off; he led the Majors in both walks of both the intentional and unintentional last season and raked in 7,454,753 All-Star votes as well, shattering the previous record held by Ken Griffey, Jr by over 1.3 million.
8. Troy Tulowitzki, Rockies: The heavy hitting shortstop is nothing new, and has become more and more common over the years. However, perhaps none has combined all the elements of the tradition and new age position together as well as Tulo has. While he’s a highlight waiting to happen in the field (two consecutive Gold Gloves of the legit variety), it’s his bat that’s really set him apart.
2010 saw him hit 15 home runs & rack up 40 RBI in September alone, and he carried the act into 2011 by pulling in his fourth year of topping .290, 24 homers, 25 doubles and 90 RBI. This justifiably led to the Rockies handing the 26 year old a $120 million deal that keeps in Colorado through 2021.
7. Matt Kemp, Dodgers: Talk about a guy realizing there’s really nothing he can’t do on the field, and then him actually going out and doing it? That’s called Kemp’s 2011 showing. He hit .324 on 195 hits, 115 runs scored, coming by way of 39 homers, 33 doubles and 4 triples, which brought home a total of 126 runs. For good measure, he threw in 40 steals too, which left him one homer short of being the fifth player to ever join the 40-40 club.
All of this made him the first player to finish in the top two in homers and steals in the same season since Hank Aaron in 1963. But this wasn’t good enough for him: he says he’s shooting for 50-50 this year. He’d be the first to do that, and after all of this I’m not going to be the one to doubt him.
6. Robinson Cano, Yankees: Go back through this list, and don’t even go all the way to 100. Along the way you’ll see five Yankees before this one, and none of them are what Robby Cano is today. He’s the best player on the most talented roster in the game. He’s always out there (he’s missed a total of 11 games since 2007) and he’s all over the place.
Over the last three years, he’s averaged a .314 average, 27 home runs & 104 RBI a year. He even won the All-Star home run derby over much bigger swingers such as Prince Fielder, David Ortiz & Jose Bautista. Second basemen don’t do that. But no other second baseman is Cano either.
5. Ryan Braun, Brewers: It’s terrifyingly how many different ways he can beat you. He’s just as likely to single, steal a base and then use his speed to close the gap on a single, as he is to cut to the chase with a 450 foot homer. In his first five years, he’s only seen a season that didn’t end with at least 30 home runs & 100 RBI; his rookie year where he “only” notched 97 after being called up in March. Since that year he’s become a hits king in ’09, a member of the 30-30 club and finally an MVP last season.
The shadow of a positive steroid test has clouded the perception of what an amazing talent he truly is, and could cost him 50 games this year. Whether it’s right or wrong is up for debate, what isn’t is that he’s truly one of the most consistently devastating presences in the game.
4. Justin Verlander, Tigers: Before last year, Verlander was regarded as one of the more intimidating pitchers in the game, and already had a no-hitter to his credit. However, once the season got started, it really started to feel like he could throw one every time out. By the end of the summer, he wasn’t only the best pitcher in the game, but the best player as well. His 24 wins, 250 strikeouts and 2.40 ERA all led the AL and he became the first starting pitcher since Roger Clemens in 1986 to walk home with the MVP & Cy Young Awards.
Along the way, he threw another no-hitter and won the most games by an AL hurler in over 10 years and solidified himself as the most feared man to step on up on the hill since Randy Johnson’s prime.
3. Miguel Cabrera, Tigers: So how do you want it? There’s nothing that involves hitting a baseball that Cabrera hasn’t mastered yet, and he’s only 28. No seriously, where do you want to take this? Hits: he hasn’t had less than 180 in the last seven years. Doubles: Highs of 50, 48 and 45. Homers: Only hit less than 30 once over a full year. He’s an RBI machine as well, with eight straight years over 100. In one season or another, he’s led the league in each stat as well.
And remember, he’s 28.
2. Roy Halladay, Phillies: He’s the best doing it, period. Any year he doesn’t win the Cy Young is usually just because of a career year from another guy. Nearly everything Doc throws is judged by an awestruck headshake, a confused head cock or thrown bat. He’s the level of great that when someone actually does get a big hit off of him or he gives up three runs in one day, it’s a legit shock. And his reaction to all of this? To give off the emotion of John Wayne mixed with a dash of Javier Barden from “No Country For Old Men”.
He’s a warrior: 20 career shutouts, 66 complete games, five seasons over 19 wins, a no-hitter in his first postseason appearance…which followed up a Perfect Game earlier in the year and since joining coming to the NL, he’s notched a 39-16 record on a 2.40 ERA, while building up 439 strikeouts against only 65 walks. Competitive imbalance is caused just as much by Doc as it ever was by steroids.
1. Albert Pujols, Angels: Okay, there’s a rhetoric going around this offseason that is confusing as hell for me. Somehow, there’s some notion that Pujols, the absolute most complete player the game has seen in a very, very long time. And by the time it’s all said and done…well let’s just say he’s got an “E-V-…” so far.
What’s causing this? Is it because he crossed 30? Or maybe it’s the “down year” he had last season, where he hit still hit 37 home runs & racked up 99 RBI, while winning a second World Series? That season broke a 10 year streak of topping .300/30/100, but still leaves him as the only guy to ever hit 30 homers in his first 11 years.
He’s a year and a half away from both 500 homers & 1,500 RBI. He’s a .328 career hitter that has just as much range in the field as he does foul pole to foul pole at the plate. And while the hat, league and surrounding will change, one thing won’t:
Albert Pujols is not just the best player in the game now, but he’s the best of the last 40 years. And he’s working on is next “E”.
That’s that, hope you enjoyed it all. For more on these and the other 90 of the list’s exploits in 2012, follow me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan.