Big League Stew - MLB

As the decade winds down to its final days, Big League Stew is reflecting on the biggest baseball happenings of the 2000s. Next up is our all-decade team, a group that includes four of the five players pictured above and more deserving Yankees than most non-New Yorkers probably want to admit. Which player didn't make the cut? Read on.

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Catcher: Jorge Posada(notes), New York Yankees

If Joe Mauer's(notes) career starts a few years earlier, this spot isn't up for debate. Instead, our catcher talk comes down to longevity and an argument of offense (Posada) vs. defense (Ivan Rodriguez(notes)). With 208 homers and a .878 OPS from 2000-09, we'll go with Posada (even if A.J. Burnett(notes) is threatening us with a cream pie and telling us to go with Jose Molina(notes)).

Posada was a major contributor to his team every single season while his veteran competition tailed off in the mid-'00s. As one commenter pointed out, it was Rodriguez backing up Posada when the two were on the same Yankees team in 2008 and not the other way around. 

In the conversation: Rodriguez, Mauer, Mike Piazza(notes)

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First base: Albert Pujols(notes), St. Louis Cardinals

Here's your best player of the decade. Since breaking in with the Cardinals at the start of the 2001 season, Phat Albert has compiled stats that will end up placing him in the discussion of the best hitters of all time and earning admiration from unlikely places. He hit 366 homers in the 2000s, hit over .325 in all but one season and recorded a decade OPS+ of 172. He won the MVP award three times (with more honors likely on the way) and was by far the best player on a Cardinals team that won one World Series, five division titles and one wild card. 

In the conversation: Todd Helton(notes), Carlos Delgado(notes), Ryan Howard(notes), Mark Teixeira(notes), Prince Fielder(notes)

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Second base: Jeff Kent(notes), San Francisco Giants

Kent didn't make too many friends and fans during his time in baseball, but it's hard not to cozy up to his production at the plate. The 2000 MVP averaged 24 homers, 36 doubles and 94 RBIs over his nine seasons during the '00s and formed one of the better 1-2 punches of the era with San Francisco frenemy Barry Bonds(notes). Philly fans can make a good argument for Chase Utley(notes), but he ultimately fell into the same service-time trap as Mauer. 

In the conversation: Chase Utley, Craig Biggio(notes)

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Shortstop: Derek Jeter(notes), New York Yankees

Should this spot have ultimately belonged to the man to Jeter's right? Maybe, but The Captain commanded such stubbornness respect in New York that Alex Rodriguez(notes) had no choice but to man third base upon arriving in the Bronx in 2004. Jeter posted the second-most hits of the decade, hit .300 or above during eight seasons and hit 16 homers during postseason play. He recently passed Lou Gehrig for the most career hits as a Yankee and Luis Aparicio for most career hits as a shortstop, all while providing a measure of integrity, honor and stability during what was otherwise a tough time for baseball.   

In the conversation: Miguel Tejada(notes), Hanley Ramirez(notes)

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Third base: Alex Rodriguez, New York Yankees

Were it not for that mischievous cousin Yuri, the debate between A-Rod and Albert for player of the decade would be one of baseball's all-time best. The PED admissions certainly hurt Rodriguez, but if we're viewing them through the lens of the times, they're comparatively staggering. A-Rod hit a league-high 435 homers in the '00s, was named AL MVP after three seasons and hit 30 homers and 100 RBIs or more in all 10 seasons. He became the fastest player to 500 home runs in 2007 and, in 2009, he kicked the monkey off his back with a memorable performance in a postseason that saw the Yankees win their first title since 2000.

In the conversation: Chipper Jones(notes), Scott Rolen(notes) 

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Left field: Barry Bonds, San Francisco Giants

I've seen where some writers have left Barry Bonds off their all-decade team. The omission may have been the result of him missing 2005 with injuries and then not playing after 2007. Or maybe it was the huge scandal that followed him wherever he went after "Game of Shadows" was released. I understand why people might make those stances, but if you're going to include players like A-Rod and Manny Ramirez(notes) on your list, you can't make an argument as to why Bonds wasn't included.

The controversial one went on one of baseball's all-time tears from 2001-04, winning four straight NL MVPs while being intentionally walked 284 times (including an incredible 120 intentionals in 2004). Bonds' OBP during the '00s was .517. There's no way to create an all-decade team of players who we are certain did not take steroids, so any exercise that doesn't include Bonds is rather pointless.  

In the conversation: Manny Ramirez, Gary Sheffield(notes)

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Center field: Ichiro Suzuki(notes), Seattle Mariners

OK, so I'm getting a little creative with my lineup here to make sure it includes Ichiro and a great leadoff hitter. Hey, the Mariners actually started him for 266 games in center field (the lion's share of the contest coming in 2007), so let's go with it.

Ichiro was the all-time hits leader (2.030) for the decade (despite not arriving in America until 2001) and won batting titles in 2001 and 2004. He set a new major league record by surpassing the 200-hit mark in nine straight seasons and he played Gold Glove defense every year at Safeco Field. He began a stream of Japanese position players to MLB and his influence in making American baseball more popular in Japan cannot be denied. Quite simply one of the most enjoyable players we were lucky enough to watch in the 2000s.

In the conversation: Carlos Beltran(notes), Jim Edmonds(notes), Torii Hunter(notes) 

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Right field: Vladimir Guerrero(notes), Los Angeles Angels

Vladimir Guerrero seems destined to wear Jim Rice's "most feared hitter in his era" moniker, but he has better stats to back up the label. Despite a dropoff at the end of the decade, the 2004 AL MVP hit .323/.392/.569 with 315 homers, 324 doubles and 1,037 RBIs during the '00s. It could be painful to watch him swing at every pitch that came his way, but no one provided a bigger "wow" factor when he connected (which was often).

In the conversation: Bobby Abreu(notes), Magglio Ordonez(notes)

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Designated hitter: Manny Ramirez, Boston Red Sox

We'll use our DH slot to take Manny Ramirez's defense out of left field. When he wasn't too busy doing his Manny being Manny act for the fine folks of Boston, Ramirez hit .313/.415//590 with 310 homers and 984 RBIs and he consistently performed in a pressure-filled market. He helped Boston to its first two World Series titles since Moses was wearing short pants and most likely filled more column inches than any player not named Rodriguez or Bonds.

In the conversation: David Ortiz(notes), Jim Thome(notes)

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Starting pitchers:  Pedro Martinez(notes) and Randy Johnson(notes)

Thank god for needing both a right-handed and left-handed starting pitcher. Were it not for that requirement (which we just made up), we'd actually have to pick between Pedro and the Big Unit, who both posted all-time seasons in the early part of the decade and then picked their spots in the latter half. When it comes to Pedro, we'll always have 2000, when he posted a 1.74 ERA and made every start at Fenway Park a citywide event. For Johnson, we'll remember the strikeouts (2,182 since 2000) and his three straight NL Cy Young awards (four, if you're counting 1999).

In the conversation: Roy Halladay(notes), Johan Santana(notes)

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Relief pitcher: Mariano Rivera(notes), New York Yankees

This picture says pretty much everything that needs to be said, don't you think? If you need more, there's his 2.08 ERA and 397 saves during the 2000s, numbers that made sure the Joes never had to chew antacid while making the ninth inning call to the bullpen. Trevor Hoffman(notes) will be a no-doubt Hall of Famer, but it speaks to Rivera's domination that the Padres/Brewers closer still comes in a distant second during this discussion.

In the conversation: Hoffman, Billy Wagner(notes), Francisco Rodriguez(notes)

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