|Building the Franchise|
Written by Tony Meale (Contact & Archive) on June 23, 2009
I live for questions such as this, so when Sports Illustrated tackled this very question in its 06-08 issue, I had to take a gander. Major League Baseball executives and scouts were asked to rank their top choices to the aforementioned question, and players earned points based on their position selection; that is, a player picked first overall earned five points, a player picked second earned four points, etc.
Here are the results:
Albert Pujols 70* (9**)
Evan Longoria 38 (2)
Zack Greinke 30 (2)
Joe Mauer 26 (2)
Hanley Ramirez 26 (2)
Johan Santana 25 (2)
Roy Halladay 21
Alex Rodriguez 11
Jonathan Papelbon 10 (1)
Tim Lincecum 5
Grady Sizemore 5
* total number of points
** total number of first-place votes
Based on these results, the greatest consensus surrounds Pujols, Longoria, Greinke, Mauer and Hanley Ramirez. Taken as a whole, it’s hard to argue with these five picks. But I will anyway.
It’s important to understand that the questions “Which five players would you pick to start a franchise?” and “Which five players would you pick to be on your team for one year?” are completely different. If I’m just picking five players for one year, age, for the most part, becomes irrelevant. In fact, if I’m looking at one year, I’d take Johan Santana and Roy Halladay -- both of whom are in their 30s -- along with Tim Lincecum, Dan Haren and Jonathan Papelbon. After all, pitching wins championships, right? With those arms, I think I could win the World Series with just about any offense imaginable. If I didn’t want to neglect my offense entirely, I’d swap Haren or Lincecum for Pujols and still like my chances.
But, as I said, picking players for one year and picking players for your franchise are two different questions. So here is a list of my five-player franchise in the order I would take them:
Albert Pujols, 1B
He may be 30 next year, but this selection, to me, is still a no-brainer. Take his worst stats from every year, and you get this line: a .314 average, 32 homers, 103 RBI, 99 runs scored and one stolen base. Take his best stats from every year, and you get this: .359/51/137/137/16. I’ll take the middle.
David Wright, 3B
The fact that Wright didn’t crack the top 10 among experts surprises me. He’s only 26 and has never hit lower than .302 in four full seasons in the bigs. In 2008, he set career highs in homers (33), RBIs (125), walks (94) and runs scored (115). His homers may be down this year (only four entering play on June 21), but he is leading the National League in average (.344) and, with 18 steals, has already eclipsed last season’s total (15) and is on pace to surpass his career best (34 in 2007).
Hanley Ramirez, SS
It might surprise some that I have Ramirez behind Wright, but my reasons are mainly two-fold; one, Wright has made 16 fewer errors than Hanley over the last three years (albeit on fewer chances), so I see Wright as a more complete player; and two, Hanley’s claim-to-fame stat -- steals -- has tailed off a bit. After swiping 51 bags in 2006 and 2007, Ramirez stole 35 in 2008 and has just nine in 2009. Still, Hanley, 25, hits for power and average and is the most complete offensive shortstop in the game.
Joe Mauer, C
Mauer, who already has a batting title on his resume, is off to one of the best starts to a season in recent memory. Through 45 games, the 26-year-old is hitting .417 and has already set a career high in homers, with 14 (his previous career high was 13 in 2006). The fact that Mauer plays catcher -- a position not typically revered for its offensive prowess -- makes him all the more valuable.
Jonathan Papelbon, RP
Closers, to me, are overrated in fantasy baseball. But in reality baseball, it helps having one who is lights out. Papelbon, 28, converted 89 percent of his save chances between 2006 and 2008 and is 16 for 17 (94 percent) in 2009. He averages more than one strikeout per inning pitched and is the closest thing we have to Mariano Rivera in his prime.
So there you have it. I’m one second baseman short of one of the sweetest infields ever, and I’ve reserved a lockdown closer at the back end of my bullpen. You may find my lack of starting pitchers surprising. Well, there’s a reason that few pitchers are taken in the first two rounds a fantasy draft -- hitters are more consistent. Over the next several seasons, there is more of a chance that injury or skill erosion will plague, say, Tim Lincecum rather than, say, David Wright.
Besides, look at the top four starters in the expert poll. As I mentioned, two -- Santana and Halladay -- are in their 30s. Surely, each has several good seasons left in him, but when starting a franchise, it’s better to go with youth more often than not. Lincecum, 24, appears to be the real deal, but I still want another season or two to see how his arm holds up with such a ferocious delivery. Greinke, meanwhile, is only 25 and has been dazzling this year, but he has an even smaller body of work than Lincecum, and I want to see more before putting him in my top five. That said, I wouldn’t fault anyone for putting any of these four pitchers on their list.
Speaking of which, who’s on yours?