What to make of Pujols at No. 1

Our experts discuss the top 10 of ESPN's top 500 player rankings for 2012

Updated: April 3, 2012, 10:36 PM ET
ESPN.com

With its unveiling of the top 500 players in baseball, ESPN.com is launching Triple Play, a weekday feature that will run throughout the season and include three ESPN contributors answering three topical questions. For now, the feature will focus on the top 500 rankings, but Triple Play's concentration will shift to the daily MLB buzz once the season begins.

Today we'll look at the final installment of the ESPN 500 series, which focuses on players who rank from 1 to 10. Feel free to chime in on Twitter with the hashtag #ESPN500.


1. Which player here is most likely to be out of the top 25 next year?


Mark Saxon (@markasaxon), ESPN Los Angeles
That's a brutal call because it's such an elite group, but I'll say Roy Halladay (No. 2) for exactly one reason: He's the oldest player on the list. Some might say Albert Pujols because his offensive numbers have been down a little the past two seasons. Maybe I've been blinded by what I've seen this spring, but he looks awfully comfortable and awfully dangerous.

Molly Knight (@molly_knight), ESPN The Magazine
Tim Lincecum (No. 9). I've always been a big fan of his, happily ignoring the critics who said his unorthodox motion makes it only a matter of time before his arm falls off. But now Lincecum seems to be acknowledging his own mortality, telling reporters he's going to use his slider conservatively this year because it's too hard on his elbow. (He didn't even throw one this spring.) There's no way this can be interpreted as good news. Lincecum without a slider is still great, but it's hard to figure how he can keep up with the Kershaws, Halladays and the Verlanders of the world while scrapping one of his best weapons.

Josh Worn (@WalkoffWoodward), Walkoff Woodward
While tempted to think of it more as "who is pushed out of the top group due to another player catapulting into the mix," I'd have to go with Lincecum. I may be a cynic, but haven't we waited for a significant injury thanks to his ferocious delivery for years now? Of course, the same can be said for most pitchers.


[+] EnlargeBraun
AP Photo/Paul ConnorsOur panelists were not dissuaded by the PED controversy involving Ryan Braun.

2. Are you surprised Ryan Braun (No. 6) ranks so high in light of the PED controversy?


Saxon: No, because he's the reigning NL MVP and he's been vindicated, right? I guess this season will be his proving ground. Up to now, his performance makes him worthy of the top 10, but he could sink quickly in public opinion if he tails off even a tick.

Knight: No. We were asked to vote on his talent on the field, not the plausibility of synthetic testosterone allegedly growing in his unattended urine. No. 6 is a little low for me, actually. Braun was in my top 3 because he's an absolute machine. Arguably his "worst" season (.335 OBP) saw him hit 37 home runs. It'll be interesting to see if he presses this year in an effort to prove naysayers wrong (which he can't do anyway) and regresses accordingly. I don't think that'll happen, though. He's too good.

Worn: Absolutely not. Look at his stats over the course of his career, especially on a month-by-month basis in 2011, and ask yourself if there is any spike in performance from a player who has never tested positive before. The answer is no.


3. True or false: The panel made the right choice with Albert Pujols at No. 1?


Saxon: True. He's one of the top five hitters of all time and arguably the best right-handed hitter in baseball history. You've got to give him his due until somebody else proves he's better.

Knight: True. He's been a cut above everyone else the last decade. This is fair and just. Just don't expect it to last much longer.

Worn: True. Far be it from me to declare one specific player as a far superior talent than others, but I can't argue with the ranking of the best offensive player since Ted Williams any more than I could argue Miguel Cabrera or Braun. Pujols' track record speaks for itself; his worth ethic and talent is legendary. It's silly to suggest any other name.