BBTN 500: Looking out for No. 1
1. Who do you think should be No. 1?
David Schoenfield (@dschoenfield), SweetSpot: I gave eight players a perfect score of 100, but I believe Ryan Braun should be No. 1, for a few reasons: Pitchers are too much of an injury risk to be considered the best player in baseball, Braun's advantage on defense and baserunning barely pushes him past Miguel Cabrera, and Joey Votto's numbers. You can even argue the future merits of Mike Trout. Well, I'll leave the possibility that there's a 1 percent chance last year was a fluke and he never again comes close to those numbers.
Jerry Crasnick (@jcrasnick), ESPN.com: Justin Verlander. He was linked to Kate Upton, for starters. Beyond that, he's the quintessential modern-day ace. Verlander has six straight 200-inning seasons on his résumé, so he saves bullpens. And his dominance is reflected in strikeout titles in three of the past four seasons. Sure, he was a disappointment against San Francisco in the World Series. But over the course of a 162-game season, nobody does a better job of carrying a staff.
Dan Szymborski (@DSzymborski), ESPN.com: It might be risky to take Mike Trout first in his second full season, but there's no better-rounded player in baseball than Trout. He's a terror at bat, on the bases and in the field, and still one of the youngest regulars in baseball. While he's unlikely to match that 2012 season going forward, if he managed to actually do it 20 years from now, instead of calling Trout the next Willie Mays, we may call Mays the previous Mike Trout.
2. Who do you think will be No. 1?
Schoenfield: I do believe in Mr. Trout, yes I do, and think he'll be considered the best in the game at the end of this season. Even if his bat isn't quite equal to Braun's or Cabrera's (but close, and wouldn't be surprised to see his OBP increase this year even as his average drops a few points), his tremendous range in the outfield and ability to swipe 50 bases makes his overall package the best we've seen since Barry Bonds in his prime.
Crasnick: Verlander. You can quibble over Cabrera's defense, Robinson Cano's willingness to run out every ground ball or the impact of Joey Votto's knee problems on his production. You can even argue the future merits of Trout and Bryce Harper, given their youth and incredible array of skills. But Verlander's stamina, power repertoire, consistency and track record qualify him as practically the perfect starter. I've come to pencil him in as my AL Cy Young favorite each spring by force of habit; it's hard to go wrong that way.
Szymborski: I think Cabrera takes the top spot. Reigning AL MVP award winner, coming off the first Triple Crown season since Carl Yastrzemski, and still in the prime of a career that's obviously heading to Cooperstown. While I picked Trout, Cabrera may be the safer best-in-baseball pick, given that 2012 was far from his first crazy-good year.
3. Who here do you think is most vulnerable to take a big drop next year?
Schoenfield: I hate to say it as a Mariners fan, but King Felix has to face a few obstacles in 2013: The fences have been moved in at Safeco Field, and Mike Morse and/or Raul Ibanez and/or Jason Bay may be seeing extensive time in the outfield behind him. Those factors could lead to a few more hits and a few more home runs. Plus, there's that issue about his velocity dropping off last year and that late-season slump. But Mariners fans aren't worried at all. Nope.
Crasnick: Trout. Hey, I love Trout as much as anybody. But in his rookie season he hit .326 with 30 homers, scored 129 runs and stole 49 bases in 139 games. He also posted the highest wins above replacement since Barry Bonds was giving those kayakers a workout in McCovey Cove. As talented as Trout is, it's a little much to expect him to approach those numbers again this season. If the kid can replicate 2012, he's not just a phenom -- he's a Cyborg.
Szymborski: Votto. I love Votto as a player, but this is quite elite company. He's hit very well in the spring, but that extra little worry, stemming from surgery on his left knee last summer, creates a small bit of additional uncertainty. Given how good you have to be to get into the top 10 of this list, that can be enough to knock Votto off it in the 2014 poll.
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