It’s only January, and there’s more than a few moves still to be made, but it’s not too early to assess the best units in the MLB. After all, Pitchers and catchers report next month, and the World Baseball Classic is on deck as well. While this year’s edition of my Top 100 Players won’t come out until February either, here’s a bit of a warm up series.
Rankings are based, as usual, not just on offense, but a blend of hitting, defense, talent and projection across the board. Catchers are factored in to infield worthiness as well.
1. Yankees (Mark Teixeira/Robinson Cano/Derek Jeter/Kevin Youkilis/Austin Romine): While much of the team is in flux, the infield is still the class of all in the game, with three out of four starters of All-Star quality. Cano and Teixeira are the arguably the best at gloving their positions, and their bats are as good as any. Jeter’s decline in the field is clear, but he’s still among the most productive bats in the game. Youkilis was a very solid signing, especially for a unit awaiting A-Rod to return.
2. Tigers (Prince Fielder/Omar Infante/Jhonny Peralta/Miguel Cabrera/Alex Avila): The only thing that keeps this unit from being #1 is that it’s not the defensive equal of the Yanks. Cabrera transitioned well to third, and Infante added a solid glove option up the middle when he came over as well. Fielder and Avila are offensive surpluses along with Cabrera’s obvious impact, and this will be the most productive offensive unit in the game.
3. Texas Rangers (Mitch Moreland, Ian Kinsler, Elvis Andrus, Adrian Beltre, AJ Pierzynski): The best defensive complete infield in the game. Kinsler and Andrus are one of the best double play combos in the game, and the Beltre is the best defensive third baseman in either league, and has also hit over 30 homers and 100 RBI in each season in Texas.
4. Nationals (Mike Morse, Danny Espinosa, Ian Desmond, Ryan Zimmerman, Kurt Suzuki): A ridiculously blanced unit, led by the rangy Zimmerman at third, the Nats have put together a complete unit. Morse is the masher, Espinosa provides plus power for a second baseman and Desmond is one of the most underrated players in the game. Cap it off with Suzuki ‘s fantastic handling of their staff, and there’s no holes in DC.
5. Reds (Joey Votto, Brandon Phillips, Zach Cozart, Todd Frazier, Ryan Hanigan): Phillips and Votto are among the top tier, complete duos in the game, with Votto well on his way to second MVP early last year before an injury. While he was gone, Frazier stepped up and nearly took Rookie of the Year honors, and will be a valuable (and rare) right handed power bat in Cincy.
6. Giants (Brandon Belt, Marco Scutaro, Brandon Crawford, Pablo Sandoval, Buster Posey): The M-V-Posey makes it all go, as heart of the lineup and field general, but this is a total effort collection. Crawford, Belt and Scutaro all cover plenty of range, with little flash but plenty of efficiency. Sandoval is the punch for the squad, as his World Series three homer, later MVP, effort showed.
7. Blue Jays (Edwin Encarnacion, Emilio Bonafacio, Jose Reyes, Brett Lawrie, JP Arencibia): Reyes and Bonafacio will continue to be the quickest middle infield combo in the league together in their move to Canada. Lawrie is a strong athlete as well, and where Encarnacion is better suited at DH, his lapses on defense are made up for with his 40+ homer level he reached in 2012.
8. Cardinals (Allen Craig, Daniel Descalso, Rafael Furcal, David Freese, Yadier Molina): Molina is the game’s best defensive player at any position, and has become one of its most clutch hitters as well. Furcal and Descalso together is a very efficient middle infield combo, while Freese and Craig both topped .290, 20 homers and 75 RBI.
9. Dodgers (Adrian Gonzalez, Mark Ellis, Hanley Ramirez, Luis Cruz, AJ Ellis): The benefits of the Gonzo deal will pay out big this year, as he’s a much needed plus defender, as well as another 30 home run threat too. Hanley is as well rounded of a hitter as there is, and while he may end up back at third, there’s no shortage of possibilities with Ellis, Cruz, Skip Schumaker and Dee Gordon as well.
10. Angels (Albert Pujols, Howie Kendrick, Erick Aybar, Alberto Callapso, Chris Ianetta): Pujols carries the heavy lifting for this group, but there’s more to it than him. Aybar is a former Gold Glove winner, and Kendrick a career .292 hitter. Add on the steady contribution of Callapso, and this is a strong collection.
Just Missed: Red Sox, Phillies, Indians
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