Here's the idea: We're looking for the Top 100 players in baseball RIGHT NOW. We're not talking about the best in two years. We're not talking about building a team to win over the next 10 years. There are no Stephen Strasburgs here, no Matt Wieters and, frankly, no B.J. Uptons, either. I love B.J. Upton's potential. But the last year and a half ... I just don't think he's quite a Top 100 player.
So the way I tried to think of it was this: Imagine the season was starting again tomorrow and every player was thrown into an expansion draft. You are a general manager. Your owner asks you to give him your dream list, the 100 best players in the game, but the key is you have to win THIS YEAR or you will be fired, and then you will be tarred and feathered, and then you will be forced to spend 10 hours a day for two solid months listening to Steve Phillips tell you how to run a baseball team.
Point is, you better be right.
And, of course, "right" is a relative term, because putting together a list of the Top 100 baseball players is a bit like placing a "Wanted: Really angry e-mails!" ad on Craigslist.
A few other quick thoughts:
1. The list is based on everyone being healthy at the start. But I did try to take into consideration players who might not STAY healthy. In other words, Jose Reyes is healthy for the draft, but you still have to consider that he's coming off a hamstring injury and his speed is his greatest skill.
2. I also took into consideration a player's defensive position. There are a lot of good hitting first basemen, not so many good shortstops or catchers. Jason Bartlett being a good defensive shortstop puts him higher on the list than, say, Jason Bay, who is a corner outfielder.
3. This list is not finished. That's because this list could NEVER be finished. If you gave me this list right now, there is absolutely no doubt I would make 23 changes, slide players up and down, add a couple of players, take away a couple of players. And then if you gave me the list 10 minutes later, I would make 23 MORE changes. No, this list can never be finished. But, eventually, it has to be published.
I better send this in to my editor before I change it again. But I will say I do feel good about my first choice -- I didn't change that one through the entire process.
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1-25 | 26-50 | 51-75 | 76-100 | REACT
1. Albert Pujols, 1B, Cardinals
"Every hitter is human," says pitcher Zack Greinke (No. 4). "Except Pujols."
2. Joe Mauer, C, Twins
Could win his third batting title this year ... no other American League catcher in history has won even one.
3. Hanley Ramirez, SS, Marlins
Advanced stats suggest he's better defensively than people think. Offensively, he leads the league in hitting and might have another 30-30 season.
4. Zack Greinke, SP, Royals
Throws four plus pitches, all for strikes, leads the league with a 2.08 ERA, and has won 10 games for a team that has scored the fewest runs in the AL.
5. Chase Utley, 2B, Phillies
Crushes the ball, plays outstanding defense and, just as a fun side note, has led the league in hit-by-pitch three years running.
6. Alex Rodriguez, 3B, Yankees
Disastrous first half splattered with injuries, rumors and a low batting average ... and the guy STILL has a 145 OPS+, good for seventh in the AL.
7. Tim Lincecum, SP, Giants
The Freak is pitching even better this year (10-2, 2.27 ERA, league-leading 159 K's) than last year, when he won the Cy Young.
8. Dan Haren, SP, Diamondbacks
League is hitting .187 against him and he has a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 137-18. Baseball hasn't seen anything like that since the heyday of Pedro.
9. Johan Santana, SP, Mets
He was 2-4 with a 6.19 ERA in six June starts and people screamed that he was done. But Santana is a demon in the second half ... and sure enough he has not allowed a run in his last two starts.
10. Roy Halladay, SP, Blue Jays
Not sure where he will be pitching ... but he will dominate. A handful of people in the world can throw 93-mph fastballs that sink. A handful of people can pitch with pinpoint control. One man can do both.
11. Prince Fielder, 1B, Brewers
Home Run Derby champ was the youngest player to hit 50 homers in 2007, and he actually has a better on-base percentage than Joe Mauer this year.
12. Carlos Beltran, CF, Mets
Hampered by injuries, but he has been a durable player, and a healthy Beltran remains one of the most complete players in baseball.
13. Ryan Braun, LF, Brewers
Everyone knows about his immense power, but improved plate discipline -- his .388 on-base percentage is more than 50 points higher than last year -- is taking him from star to superstar.
14. Justin Morneau, 1B, Twins
He has already won an MVP, and he finished second last year. But he's having his best season right now -- he leads league in total bases and RBIs.
15. Evan Longoria, 3B, Rays
Got off to a ridiculously good start, but has only been hitting around .200 the last six weeks or so. A nearly complete player at 23 -- one pitcher told me he's the hardest guy in the league to pitch to. Aside: He has never been caught stealing in the big leagues.
16. Kevin Youkilis, 1B, Red Sox
A friend said, "He's having a down year." Right. His on-base percentage (.420) is second in the league, he's fourth in slugging and he's on pace for 32 homers, 112 runs, 106 RBIs.
17. Mark Teixeira, 1B, Yankees
Had a very solid first half, but you kind of get the sense that by the end of the year he will have MVP numbers, and he's a terrific defensive first baseman.
18. Miguel Cabrera, 1B, Tigers
Has been remarkably consistent throughout his career ... he has an excellent shot at his sixth consecutive 100-RBI season, his fifth season with 33 or more home runs, his fourth season of hitting .320 or better.
19. Manny Ramirez, LF, Dodgers
Yes, he's a pain in the neck. Yes, he had the drug suspension. Yes, he will wear on everybody sooner or later. But if you have to win this year -- he's one of the greatest hitters in baseball history.
20. Ichiro Suzuki, RF, Mariners
Revived at 35, he's leading the league with a .363 average and he's hitting with more power than at any point in his career. Has he already secured his place in the Hall of Fame?
21. Felix Hernandez, SP, Mariners
He's only 23, but people have been waiting for four years for him to become one of the most dominant pitchers in the game. It's happening now -- 10 wins, a 2.50 ERA and a 3.5-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
22. Adrian Gonzalez, 1B, Padres
Slumped badly going into the All-Star Game -- went 23 games without a homer. Still, he gets on base, hits with power, plays great defense ... San Diego isn't an easy place to play these days.
23. Derek Jeter, SS, Yankees
Offensively he's having a vintage Jeter season -- .318 average, .395 on-base percentage, 17 stolen bases -- and, defensive stats (which have not been kind to him) show him playing short better than ever.
24. Josh Beckett, SP, Red Sox
When he's on, he's as good as there is in baseball ... and he's been on a whole lot this year. He leads the American League with 11 victories.
25. Pablo Sandoval, 3B, Giants
Kung Fu Panda plays some third, some catcher, some first, he's still only 22, he still swings at almost everything and he hits the ball HARD. One of the most fun young players in baseball today.