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If I can't have Pujols ...

9/18/2009

Today's discussion at Dugout Central boils down to this: If you could build a team around one hitter not named Albert Pujols, who would you choose?
Among the eight panelists, no consensus emerged, with votes going to David Wright, Evan Longoria, Hanley Ramirez, Joe Mauer, Ryan Zimmerman, Miguel Cabrera, and Braves prospect Jason Heyward.

Heyward might be the game's top prospect, but I've got to disqualify him because he is, after all, only a prospect. Like most great prospects, he'll probably become a good major leaguer. Maybe a great major leaguer. But how many prospects stumble along the way, for a season or two? Remember when Alex Gordon was on his way to the Hall of Fame? Remember Delmon Young and Carlos Gomez and Lastings Milledge? I'm not saying those guys compare brilliantly to Heyward. But they can't all be Justin Upton, and they're not. Heyward's only a legitimate candidate if we factor salaries into the equation. And that opens up a whole other can of worms.

Miguel Cabrera's a fantastic hitter, one of the very best in the business. But you can't build your team around a first baseman unless he's the best hitter. And Cabrera's not. Not by much, anyway.

As much as I love David Wright and Ryan Zimmerman, I simply can't see ranking them higher than Evan Longoria, who's as good a hitter as Wright and a better fielder, and as good a fielder as Zimmerman and a better hitter. Oh, and he's younger and plays in the better league. Longoria was the only player in the poll to pick up two votes, and deservedly so.

So we're left with Longoria, Joe Mauer, and Hanley Ramirez. A few salient facts ... Ramirez turns 26 this winter, and is a better shortstop than you might have heard. Mauer's roughly a year older, turning 27 next spring, and has played more than 140 games just once in his career (granted, as a catcher he's got a good excuse). Longoria turns 24 next month.

There's one question we haven't addressed: This team we're building ... for how many years are we building? Do we care about only 2010? Are we looking ahead for five or six years? If we're talking about just one year, then my answer is Hanley Ramirez, because today he's one of the best players in the majors and he plays more than 150 games every season. If we're talking about the next five or six years, my answer is Longoria, because I'm utterly convinced that we've not yet seen his best.

And Joe Mauer? I don't have any idea what to think about Joe Mauer, because we've never seen another player like him.