Discussion

The shifting landscape in baseball

Updated: January 29, 2012, 1:06 PM ET
By Buster Olney

The other day, a smart baseball official noted the shifting landscape in the game. "It's becoming more and more difficult to find good everyday position players," he said. "It used to be that good young pitching was harder to come by, but now I think it's getting more difficult to find the position player who can do everything to stay in the lineup every day."

Such as hitting effectively, against both right-handers and left-handers. Such as playing sound defense (unless you happen to be an AL designated hitter). Such as remaining healthy.

In other words, the volume of prospects projected to play 150 games and have 600 plate appearances annually is diminishing. This is why the ability of Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder to be in the lineup every day was one of the major selling points of their free agency, and why the Seattle Mariners operated in the face of conventional wisdom and traded a young starting pitcher with No. 1-type stuff -- Michael Pineda -- for Jesus Montero, who is expected to be a strong everyday offensive player at catcher or designated hitter.

None of this is happening overnight. General managers still would give their pinkies for Clayton Kershaw. But since Major League Baseball and the players' association got serious about drug testing in 2006, run production has decreased, good pitching is more easily acquired and elite power hitters have become more scarce. In 2011, two hitters reached 40 homers -- Jose Bautista, with 43, and Curtis Granderson, with 41. In 2005, there were nine. In 2001, a time generally regarded as the pinnacle of the steroids era, there were 12.

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