11/15/10 10:00 AM EST
'Best of the Rest' an impressive squad
Players on sub-.500 teams deserve recognition for great seasons
By Anthony Castrovince / MLB.com
But one guy you don't hear a great deal about nationally is Johnson, the 26-year-old ace of the Marlins who led the National League with a 2.30 ERA and a 182 ERA+ (ERA adjusted to park factors). Johnson's 11-6 record was nothing to get excited about, but five of his losses were in games in which he received two or fewer runs of support. He allowed just seven homers, 155 hits and 48 walks in 183 2/3 innings over 28 starts, and he struck out 186. A strain in his mid-back in mid-September cut short Johnson's season, but with a contract running through 2014, he could front the Fish for a long time to come. CLOSER: Joakim Soria, Royals Under any circumstances, a 1.78 ERA in 66 appearances and 43 saves in 46 opportunities are the kinds of numbers that put someone among the game's premier closers. And Soria, unquestionably, is in that realm. But then you remember that Soria saved those 43 games for a Royals team that won just 67, so he closed out 64.2 percent of Kansas City's victories. He converted a club-record 36 consecutive saves and at one point threw 23 2/3 straight scoreless innings of relief. Give this guy a team that wins 90-plus and he might challenge Francisco Rodriguez's single-season saves record of 62. Soria hopes to get that team before the end of his club-friendly contract, which runs through 2014. The Royals seem to view him as an untouchable in trade talks, and why not? Soria has the best save percentage (93.1) of any pitcher in baseball since becoming the club's full-time closer in July 2007, and he has just one more blown save over the past two seasons combined than his hero, Mariano Rivera, had this year alone. CATCHER: Geovany Soto, Cubs The Cubs had plenty of reasons to worry about Soto after his sophomore slump of 2009, when his batting average dropped from .285 to .218 and his OPS fell from .868 to .702. But the 27-year-old Soto lost weight and rebounded nicely this year, despite again dealing with injuries. His .890 OPS was the highest among all catchers with at least 300 at-bats, and his on-base percentage, which hovered around .400 most of the season, ended at a respectable .393. Soto's season ended in mid-September, when he had arthroscopic surgery to clean out his right shoulder joint. If that procedure helps him remain healthy in 2011, then the Cubs, starting fresh with manager Mike Quade, are in good shape behind the plate. FIRST BASE: Adam Dunn, Nationals Ten years into his Major League career, Dunn has never been on a playoff team. In fact, the only winning team he's ever been on was the 2008 D-backs, who acquired him in a midseason trade and finished second in the NL West. So consider Dunn's inclusion here among the Best of the Rest a sort of lifetime achievement award. Over the past seven seasons, Dunn has averaged 40 homers and 101 RBIs with a .914 OPS and a 135 OPS+. He strikes out a ton and he's shaky defensively, so he certainly has his critics. But on some level, you have to admire the Big Donkey's consistency. We'll find out at what level general managers admire it when Dunn, a free agent, signs his next contract. In the meantime, because he's never won a Silver Slugger, rarely tasted contention and only once been labeled an All-Star (way back in 2002), we salute Dunn here. As an aside, while we're in the first-base portion of our salute to those who performed in the face of adverse team outcomes, here's hoping the AL MVP voters didn't short-change Miguel Cabrera -- owner of a 1.042 OPS, 38 homers, 126 RBIs and 45 doubles -- simply because of his Tigers' 81-81 showing. We'll find out next week. SECOND BASE: Kelly Johnson, D-backs
Johnson was non-tendered by the Braves nearly a year ago. Then he signed a one-year deal with a D-backs team that wound up going 65-97. Johnson didn't get the shot at the playoffs that he would have had Atlanta kept him, but he did get to show his old club what it was missing.Johnson's 26 homers, 71 RBIs, 13 stolen bases and .865 OPS in 154 games were all career-highs. It is safe to assume he won't be getting non-tendered this time around. THIRD BASE: David Wright, Mets Wright's good buddy and former youth-league teammate, Ryan Zimmerman, beat him out this year for the Silver Slugger honor, which Wright has won twice. We know Wright well because, well, he plays in New York. But give him some credit for rebounding from a notable power slide in 2009. He revamped his offseason routine, began using a more compact stroke and batted a respectable .283 with an .856 OPS, 29 homers (after just 10 last year) and 103 RBIs. SHORTSTOP: Hanley Ramirez, Marlins Only the Rockies' Troy Tulowitzki was more productive among shortstops this year. Despite the distraction that came from a much-publicized benching early in the year and an elbow injury that eventually forced a mid-September shutdown, Ramirez turned in a slash line of .300/.378/.475 while hitting 21 homers, 28 doubles and two triples with 76 RBIs and 32 stolen bases. This was considered a down year, which tells you all you need to know about Ramirez's production. With Ramirez, Johnson and a ton of young talent in tow, you might not be seeing any Marlins on this list next year. LEFT FIELD: Josh Willingham, Nationals Admittedly, slim pickings at this position, given our previously listed prerequisites. But until he underwent season-ending knee surgery in late August, Willingham, who took over the Nats' starting left field duties last year, was putting together a decent season. He hit .268 with 16 homers, 19 doubles, 56 RBIs, an .848 OPS and 129 OPS+ in 114 games. He's another piece of hope for a Nats team that needs it. CENTER FIELD: Andrew McCutchen, Pirates Yeah, yeah, so babies born the last year in which the Pirates had a winning record are now old enough to vote. But if you think the Bucs are totally devoid of excitement, you haven't watched McCutchen play. And his presence ushers in hope that the drought in Pittsburgh will soon end. In two big league seasons, McCutchen, who recently turned 24, has hit .286 with 103 extra-base hits and a 120 OPS+. This season, he banged out 16 homers, including 11 from the leadoff spot, and he swiped 33 bags. He has lightning in his legs and his bat. There's a lot to like here. RIGHT FIELD: Shin-Soo Choo, Indians Already a veritable rock star in his native South Korea, Choo is slowly but surely becoming a household name among baseball fans in the United States. In 2010, he became the first player in Indians franchise history (and we're talking about a 110-year history here) to bat .300 with 20 homers and 20 stolen bases in consecutive seasons. "Big League" Choo also finished the year with a .401 on-base percentage -- the fourth-highest mark among AL qualifiers. Toss in his 14 outfield assists and you have a well-rounded, five-tool player who can help you in a lot of ways. Choo is trying to help himself by representing his native land in the Asian Games, knowing a military exemption is awaiting him if the South Korean squad captures baseball gold. DESIGNATED HITTER: Luke Scott, Orioles Vlad Guerrero and David Ortiz are the bigger names, but Scott actually had the highest OPS of any qualifying DH in 2010, with a .902 mark. His park-adjusted OPS+ was 142. It appears the 32-year-old Scott is just coming into his own as a Major League hitter. He had nine homers and a .996 OPS in August of a lost season, right around the time Buck Showalter arrived and instilled new hope for the future in the O's and their fans. In fact, with a slash line of .284/.368/.535, 27 homers and 78 RBIs for the season, you could argue that Scott could have/should have beaten out Guerrero for the AL Silver Slugger for DHs. But playing in Baltimore, on a team that won just 66 games, doesn't do much to raise one's profile. And that's why we salute him and the others here, with the Best of the Rest.