The MLB All Time Team-Outfielders

ESPN recently did a series where they ranked the top 10 players of all time at each respective position. Now, it’s normal for there to be some dissension between fans and writers-it’s simply in the nature of the game. It’s also difficult to compare players from different eras. Rod Carew once won the batting title hitting under .300, and it’s difficult to judge anything from the dead ball era, because baseball was just funky back then. Players did things you just don’t see now, and I find it hard to believe that the records set back in 1898 were set because the players were so much better.

All of that being said, ESPN’s choices were…interesting. Maybe it’s just me, but not ranking Nolan Ryan as one of the top 10 right handed pitchers and making A-Rod the number three shortstop of all time? Roger Clemens as the 5th best righthander, PED’s and all?

When disagreeing about something, often times a person will defend their point with a “Well then, who else?” argument. If I’m going to criticize, ESPN, I have to back it up. However, to make it interesting, here is my all time 25 man roster. If I had access to every MLB player in their prime to add to my roster, this is how I would play it out. A slightly different take on the greatest of all time mantra. Today, we’re starting with the 80’s pop band, The Outfield.

Left Field

Hank Aaron spent the majority of his days in right field, but he had the speed, range, and arm to play anywhere in the outfield. Left field is typically occupied by the weakest fielder of the trio of outfielders, so anyone who can man center or right can usually handle left.

Aaron is synonymous with the term “Home Run King”, even after Barry Bonds passed him almost ten years ago now. That’s because Aaron conquered the seemingly unreachable Ruthian total of 714, a record that many felt would never fall, and surpassed it by 41, unaided by steroids or anything other than the power of a flick of his wrists.

Yet Henry Aaron is so much more than that. You might know that Pete Rose is the all time hits leader, and the more savvy baseball fans are aware that Ty Cobb, the only other man besides Rose to reach 4,000 hits, resides in second place. (A fact that surely would have rankled him.) Yet few know that it is Aaron, not Honus Wagner or Stan Musial (though Musial is just 140 hits behind him), nor George Brett that occupies the number three spot on the list: It is none other than Hank Aaron. Aaron’s greatness lies in his remarkable consistency: He never once hit even 50 home runs in a season, yet he hit 40 or more 8 times and 30 or more 14 times. 50 home runs was a regular occurrence in the steroid era: players such as Brady Anderson, Luis Gonzalez, Ryan Howard, and Greg Vaughn all reached that plateau, and none of them are anywhere close to the Hall of Fame. Yet the only player from this inflated offensive era in baseball history who even approached Aaron was the man who eventually passed him.

Aaron also spend much of his prime in the high mound era of the sixties than was so dominant for pitchers that the mound had lowered to keep competitive balance-but Aaron still managed to win two batting titles before the mound was lowered. He also collected three Gold Glove Awards-the pinnacle of most players’ careers, but a mere footnote in his.

There are a great number of terrific outfielders-perhaps more so than there are at any other position. Picking three is no easy task, but Aaron was perhaps the easiest selection of them all.

Center Field

William Howard Mays, Junior is considered by many to be the most complete baseball player of all time. Not only could Mays hit for average, hit for power, run the bases, field, and throw, he could do it better than anyone else.

These days, the term 5-tool player is thrown around when a guy hits .300 with 25 homers and 25 stolen bases while being a good defender. Willie would hit .330 with 50 homers and steal 40 bases. Mays won 12 Gold Glove Awards, and he would have won more had the award been instated before 1957. He holds the record for the most putouts in baseball history-and the most iconic catch in the history of the game.

Mays was so good for so long, and his peak value was unlike anyone else. If he didn’t lose two years of his prime to the Korean War, he easily would have easily surpassed 700 and most likely would have passed Ruth himself. The statistics are staggering-but that’s only half the story. What makes Mays special is how he played the game. He was amazingly durable. He was the greatest defensive player ever by many metrics-and one of the best to ever swing the lumber, too.

Many believe that Mays is the greatest to ever step in between the lines. Even those who don’t must grudgingly admit that he was certainly the most complete player to lace them up.

Willie Mays could do it all-and he did.

Right Field

Three of the greatest baseball players of all time, men who defined an era of American history and were revered as household names across the land during baseball’s golden age-didn’t make the list. Ted  Williams, Mickey Mantle, and Stan Musial dominated the 1950’s, yet none of them cracked this list. They were left off in favor of three of baseball’s most hallowed names. The next man on this list is perhaps the most recognizable of them all.

Babe Ruth would probably make this list as a pitcher, had he stuck with his original position. Instead, he became the most revered slugger the game has ever known. (Madison Bumgarner, this could be you.)

Ruth’s untouchable 714 has now been passed twice, but that doesn’t make it any less special. It wasn’t just the ball that created the lack of home runs in the dead ball era-it was the approach. Everybody tried to hit like Ichiro because it was the most consistent way of garnering success at the plate. Anyone who tried to launch moonshots ended up with a can of corn instead. Ruth changed all of that.

After leading the league with 11 homers (seriously), Ruth shocked the baseball world when he swatted 29 the next year. That was more homers than entire teams hit back in those days. Those who figured that it was a once in a lifetime fluke were drastically mistaken when Ruth nearly doubled his total and smacked 54 the next year. That was nothing short of unheard of in those days. None of the great home run hitters who followed him would have done what they did without one George Herman Ruth.

As baseball and advanced statistics evolve, it becomes even more clear how dominant Ruth was. Sabermetrics love Ruth, grading him as the best ever with their sacred OPS statistic, which combines on base percentage with slugging percentage.

Just think of how many homers Ruth could have hit had he started his career in the outfield with the live ball they use today. 800 is not out of the question. Four years to hit 86 home runs when he was young would have been a piece of cake.

Ruth’s weight problem made him no great shakes in the outfield, but the other parts of his game are often overlooked. Would you believe me if I told you Ruth’s career batting average is well ahead of Tony Gwynn, Honus Wagner, and Wade Boggs? That it’s just .002 points behind Ted Williams and Ichiro is almost 30 points behind?

Something that seems impossible is seen as a “Ruthian Task.” For all of Mays and Aaron’s greatness, they never made it into common vernacular in the way Ruth did. He epitomized all the grandeur and success of the Roaring 20’s, and did his best to distract a nation from the desolation of the Great Depression.

Ruth was not without his numerous faults-but there were almost none when he stepped inside the batter’s box.

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Giants Gamble on Even Year Magic and the Overvaluing of Elite Relievers

The Giants paid the market price for reliever Will Smith, which doesn’t mean they didn’t get ripped off. It just means they got no more ripped off than the Cubs or Indians or Nationals did when trading for Aroldis Chapman, Andrew Miller, or Mark Melacon. The amount of value given up for elite relievers in the 2016 market is unprecedented. The moves made by the Indians and Giants were incredibly short sighted. The Cubs get somewhat of a pass because Addison Russell has shortstop locked up for the foreseeable future and the Nationals should be credited for getting an actual closer. But the Giants and Indians mortgaged the farm and bet that 2016 would be their year, and paid a heavy price for it.

(CBS Sports)

It all comes back to the Yankees and their historically dominant bullpen, the likes of which hadn’t been seen…ever. All the Yankees needed was six solid innings from their starters in most games this year, a mark that at least the first three pitchers in a  MLB rotation should be able to hit consistently, and they would be sitting pretty as a Wild Card team. That didn’t happen, as the Yankees featured one of baseball’s worst starting fives and a mediocre record led to the availability of a trio of dominant relievers. Suddenly, every team with a halfway decent starting rotation and any semblance of playoff hopes pictured these guys on their team and dreamt of October dominance.

(Wikipedia)

I blame the Indians, perhaps drunk on the idea of Cleveland sports success following the Cavaliers NBA Finals victory. They dealt Clint Frazier, one of the best prospects in all of baseball, among others, and got in return maybe 130 innings over the rest of this year plus the next two seasons. Look, Miller is a great pitcher. A dominant pitcher, and has the potential to be a huge piece in a World Series team. But Frazier has the potential to be a franchise player for 10 years instead of two. Frazier gives you so much more than Miller can, just by the nature of their respective positions. Now, part of the value of Miller is that he is a known commodity and Frazier is not. It’s possible that Frazier gets hurt or never becomes the player most scouts and experts believe he has the potential to be. But the smart money is on him becoming an everyday player and a potential All-Star. That’s just too much to give up for a player whose role could be filled by most league average starters! When you add that to the fact that the Indians play in the weak AL Central and, even with Miller, less talented and less experienced than both Texas and Boston, the move makes even less sense. The move makes the Indians better in the short term, but not by enough to truly make them World Series contenders.

The Yankees’ best outfield prospect since Bernie Williams. (MLB.com)

The Miller and Chapman trades had huge ramifications throughout the league. Despite the Chapman trade being rational for both sides, it led to a series of irrational moves throughout the league. At the forefront of these is the San Francisco Giants trade for Will Smith. Smith is basically a poor man’s Miller, a left handed relief pitcher who can eat an inning and is effective against both lefties and righties. The Giants had a need for a left handed reliever after an injury to Josh Osich, and Osich was already inconsistent to begin with. It’s just that I’m not convinced that Steven Okert or Ty Blach would do that much worse than Smith, and effectively for free. The Giants gave up catcher Andrew Susac and pitching prospect Phil Bickford for Smith. Susac has real potential, but he has struggled coming off an injury and the Giants have found a backup catcher they really like in Trevor Brown. This allows Susac to get regular playing time and fulfill his potential. Fine. A solid player, but expendable. Bickford, however, is an astronomical price for a slightly better than average reliever. Bickford was the Giants’ first round pick a year ago and the consensus top rated prospect in their system. He had an electric debut in Single A and looked to follow in the footsteps of Matt Cain, Tim Lincecum, and Madison Bumgarner as the next homegrown Giants starter. With Peavy and Cain aging and no guarantee that Johnny Cueto sticks around after 2017, Bickford and Tyler Beede, the Giants 2014 first round pick, looked to play a big role in the Giants future. Yet Bickford is gone now, at least six years of Major League control, most likely as a starter, and in return the Giants got a decent set-up man. I’m sure that Bobby Evans and Brian Sabean found the price to be high. But really, with the precedent set in the Miller and Chapman deals, there was no way the Brewers were going to make the deal without Bickford.

The Giants sold the farm for Will Smith. (MLB.com)

Now, Bickford is still fairly low in the minors and a lot can change between now and whenever he makes his MLB debut. There are concerns about the recent loss of fastball velocity and his effectiveness against Major League hitters. But still-every prospect has concerns until they prove they can be effective at the highest level, and this was the highest rated prospect in the system. Most of the time, guys like that work out to be at least average MLB starters. In my piece this morning, I pointed out how most elite relievers are just starters who couldn’t cut it. Now teams are trading away players who they don’t even know if they can cut it or not.

If they can’t, just turn them into a reliever and trade them for a guy that can cut in a few years.

Now, in all seriousness, not every failed starting pitcher can be a reliever at Miller’s level. But most relievers are players who weren’t effective enough as starters. That’s how Mariano Rivera and countless others started.

Will Smith is good. But there’s a low chance that he’s better than Bickford will ever be. A couple years ago, a Bickford and Susac type of package would net a No.2 starter in return. This crazy market has led to franchise altering trade that will affect the MLB for the next 15 to 20 years. Those who stay out of it on the sellers end will be deeply disappointed, and the buyers may find that the best trade is the one you don’t make.

The Smith deal has a greater chance of actually playing a part in delivering a World Series, but Miller is better than Smith by more than the difference in potential between Frazier and Bickford. When you consider that the Giants threw in an everyday MLB player, the Brewers got a better deal than the Yankees, but not by much. At first glance, the Giants got fleeced here.

There are players who can ignite a franchise and help a team win a World Series. Players that get hot with the bat and energize a clubhouse. Dominant starters whose value increases exponentially with the ability to go with a three man rotation in the playoffs. Closers who can anchor the back end of a bullpen. But middle relievers won’t be the centerpiece of a World Series Champions team. And it’s not worth giving up your top prospect for anything but a centerpiece.

How Brian Cashman Can Re-Ignite the Yankees Dynasty

Brian Cashman probably deserves the Executive of the Year Award just for convincing Yankees ownership that it was necessary to sell at the trade deadline. In dealing Aroldis Chapman and Andrew Miller, Cashman has infused the historically dominant franchise with the young talent necessary for a rebirth of the Bronx Bombers. However, there’s still work to do in order to make the Yankees championship contenders once more.

It’s important to maintain historical perspective to outline the future for the Yankees. In the early days of Major League Baseball, the Yankees (0r New York Highlanders, as they were previously called) were not considered to be one of the league’s preeminent franchises. It wasn’t until 1923-54 years into the history of organized professional baseball-that the Yankees won their first championship. It was 20 years after the first World Series, a gap that seems unthinkable now. Of course, this launched an era of dominance unprecedented up to that point and never duplicated by another franchise.

The Yankees latest dynasty culminated in 6 pennants in 8 years and 5 championships in 15 seasons. All five championships were made possibly by the “core four”, a quartet of Yankees legends that ushered in a new dynasty following an uncharacteristic 15 year drought without a World Series appearance. The Yankees need their next “core four”, and the current seller’s market gives them their best chance to do so.

Cashman picked Chapman up for cheap due to his off the field troubles, yet managed to flip him for arguably the best shortstop prospect in the game. Andrew Miller’s true value lies in October, so he was essentially wasted on the Yankees, and Cashman managed to acquire Clint Fraizer, who could be the Yankees’ best outfielder since Bernie Williams.

Gleyber Torres, the centerpiece of the Chapman deal, is crucial to the future of the Yankees. Didi Gregorious and Starlin Castro are actually a nice middle infield duo, especially when you consider the bargains that both players were. The great thing about natural shortstops, who all three players are, as well as fellow top prospect Jorge Mateo, is that they can really play anywhere on the diamond save for perhaps catcher, first base, or centerfield. This gives the Yankees a ton of lineup flexibility. Cashman should consider trading Gregorious right now. His value is peaking in his best professional season and the Yankees have a surplus of young shortstops. A middle infield of Castro and Rob Refsynder isn’t terrible, especially considering that the Yankees are headed nowhere in 2016.

The obvious candidate to be traded is Carlos Beltran, a borderline Hall of Fame player who continues to crush the ball in his age 39 season. While Beltran is a great player, he is vastly overrated due to the short porch in right field giving him several home runs he wouldn’t have otherwise. In fact, Beltran has hit zero home runs as a left handed hitter outside of Yankee Stadium. An interested suitor is the Texas Rangers, who can hide his defense by using the DH and are in win-now mode as they attempt to stockpile enough talent to beat the Red Sox in the playoffs. It’s really a two team race in the AL, as Cleveland doesn’t have enough postseason experience to get it done this year.

It’s critical that Cashman wrangles Luis Ortiz, Yohander Mendez, or Dillon Tate out of a deal with Texas. Giving up a prospect of their own-think Mateo or Wilkerman Garcia-in order to get two of those three would be a well worth it. It’s no secret that pitching wins championships. The Yankees did it with Clemens, Pettitte, and El Duque in the late 90’s and signed CC Sabathia to lead the way in 2009. With none of the current crop of starters who are young enough to still contribute the next time the Yankees are contending profiling above a No. 3 starter, it’s important that Luis Severino figures it out and capitalizes on his vast potential and that the Yankees grab a high profile pitching prospect in this current frenzy.

With Aaron Judge, Greg Bird, Fraizer, and Torres all looking like potential high end MLB players, the future is bright for the first time in quite a while for the Yankees. The best part of this is how comically overvalued relief pitchers are in this market. Most of the time an MLB starting pitcher-even a below average one-can get through the first inning without too much trouble. It’s once you get to the second and third time through the lineup that the hitters start figuring out tendencies and timing, and it becomes important to adjust and adapt to continue to throw off the hitter’s timing. So in reality a struggling starter can be an effective reliever most of the time. That’s what starters are so much more valuable than relievers and reliever are usually starters throughout their time in the minors. The best example of this is Miller himself, a former top prospect who owned a career 4.36 ERA as a starter. Not terrible, but nothing to write home about. Yet as a reliever he is the centerpiece of a deal that could revive the Yankees dynasty.

If Cashman gets an opportunity to trade Betances for a high end starting pitching prospect, he should pull the trigger. An elite bullpen does you no good if you’re not playing baseball in October.

This is all extremely necessary because of the recent rise of the Red Sox, who look like World Series favorites this year. Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts, and Jackie Bradley Jr. are all young and look to be All-Stars for a long time. Baseball isn’t the same without the Yankees as a contending force and the longstanding rivalry has lacked the energy and importance of previous years.

Credit to Cashman for getting prospects that will allow the Yankees to contend in less than five years, and doing it while maintaing a league average team. The team still needs to do more if they truly want to return to their glory days.