Posted: Friday December 30, 2005 1:38PM; Updated: Monday January 9, 2006 3:39PM
Cream of the Crop
Alex Rodriguez and Albert Pujols are the crown jewels of their respective leagues. Pujols has simply had one of the finest first five years in the game's history. Having the misfortune of playing in the same league with Bonds is the only thing that has prevented Pujols from already winning one if not multiple MVPs. For Rodriguez, he won his second MVP since leaving Seattle. But even as his reputation took some hits in October -- where, as a Yankee, he hasn't been as terrible as is often suggested -- he put together the greatest single season by a third baseman in team history. For many fans, the defining difference between the two players this year was Rodriguez's poor showing against the Angels and Pujols' tremendous home run against the Astros in Game 5 of the ALCS.
There's nothing as easy as picking out over-hyped players. In 2005, we had Adrian Beltre, Jose Reyes, Corey Patterson, Alfonso Soriano, Carl Pavano, and Edgar Renteria for starters. But, why dwell on the disappointments? Here are some of players who were actually worth top billing: David Wright, David Ortiz, Mark Teixeira, Jason Bay, Dontrelle Willis (formerly of the over-hyped division), Derrek Lee, Roy Oswalt, Bobby Abreu, Andruw Jones (finally), Miguel Cabrera and Johan Santana. Oh, and the mid-summer match-up between Felix Hernandez and Randy Johnson lived up to the advance buzz as well.
Going, Going ...
A generation of great players are winding down their careers, and few as exceptionally as Rocket Clemens. Former stars Mike Piazza, Frank Thomas, Jeff Bagwell, Larry Walker, Kevin Brown and to a lesser extent, Bernie Williams, John Olerud and Mike Mussina are all in the last stages of their fine careers. Other than Palmeiro, whose future remains uncertain, there was no sadder exit than that of Roberto Alomar, an almost sure-fire Hall of Famer who hit the skids drastically since he was traded from Cleveland in 2001. Alomar, once the most spectacular defensive second baseman in the game, walked away from the sport for good after a brief go at it with the Devil Rays this spring.
Will Vladimir Guerrero be a Hall of Famer? What about Chipper Jones? Regardless, both added to their already fine career credentials (Jones less so than Vlad). So did a group of other stars who are absolutely destined for Cooperstown, including Mariano Rivera, Pedro Martinez, Randy Johnson, Manny Ramirez, Jeff Kent, Gary Sheffield, Ken Griffey Jr. and Greg Maddux, Craig Biggio and Tom Glavine.
This offseason has proved to be nothing if not dramatic. From the unceremonious changing of the guard in Los Angeles, to Theo Epstein's sudden exit from Boston, to the latest Florida Marlins fire sale, this winter's off-stove has been lively. Add in shopping sprees by the Blue Jays (A.J. Burnett, B.J. Ryan, Troy Glaus, Lyle Overbay) and Mets (Billy Wagner, Carlos Delgado, Paul LoDuca), some pro-active tweaking by the World Champs (Jim Thome, Javier Vazquez), and the high-price for middle relief (Bobby Howry, Braden Looper), and it's been a dizzying time of it so far ... and spring training is still six weeks away.