By season's end, these players will be best of 2013
Some easy choices, like Miggy and Mo, and some close ones, like Puig and Molina
With the All-Star Game in the rearview, there's nothing to do but look ahead. So we at MLB.com decided to do just that.
A panel of experts took a crack at trying to figure out what the team of the season will look like at the end of September. We know about 60 percent of the year's results already, so we have a head start. But we don't know everything yet.
So here's what you need to remember. First, we're not naming the team of the first half; that would be easy, and besides it's what baseball just did at the All-Star Game. And we're not naming the team of the second half; that would be largely guesswork, trying to figure out what's going to happen in 65-70 games.
We're combining the two and attempting to name what we think will be the best full-season squad at the end of the year. That includes both the games that have already been played and the ones that are yet to be played.
Here's what we came up with:
Catcher: Yadier Molina, Cardinals
And right from the top, we get an example of why this is such a difficult task. At this moment, Molina has an edge over the Giants' Buster Posey, since his defensive advantage outweighs Posey's offensive advantage. We don't really know how either player will hit in the second half, but the nod goes to Molina for his all-around game and the fact that he catches quite a bit more than Posey.
First base: Chris Davis, Orioles
At first base, it's a matter of one guy being so far out in front that, even if he fades a bit, he's still likely to be the man at the end of the year. If you were picking a team of the second half only, you'd likely go with the Reds' Joey Votto. But Davis has all those homers (37) and RBIs (93) in the bank. Even if he comes back to earth somewhat -- and that's likely -- it's difficult to see anyone catching him. Including Votto.
Second base: Robinson Cano, Yankees
This one definitely falls under the category of close calls, with multiple legitimate candidates in both leagues. But no one has a stronger record of recent success than Cano, who is enjoying another excellent season and has been helping keep the Yankees offense afloat. There are surely cases to be made for Boston's Dustin Pedroia, Cincinnati's Brandon Phillips and St. Louis' Matt Carpenter, but of all of them, history suggests Cano is the most likely to play at an MVP level over the next 2 1/2 months.
Third base: Miguel Cabrera, Tigers
It's a good thing Cabrera has taken his game to another level, because he has a serious chaser in his own league. The Orioles' Manny Machado is emerging as one of the greatest and most exciting young players in the game. However, Cabrera has moved from magnificent to historic levels of production, and even Machado's defensive advantage doesn't outweigh Cabrera's spectacular bat.
Shortstop: Troy Tulowitzki, Rockies
There weren't many easier calls than this one. The only question is whether Tulowitzki stays healthy. If he does, he is simply the best two-way shortstop in either league, and it's not especially close. He's a first-rate defender and an MVP-quality hitter. Even playing only 64 games, he was the best shortstop in the first half. Give him a full second half and he's extremely likely to be the man for the full season.
Left field: Mike Trout, Angels
From one of the clearest calls to one of the most difficult. Left field is laden with superb choices, from the Rockies' Carlos Gonzalez to the Nationals' Bryce Harper to the man we chose, Trout. Gonzalez has the raw numbers. Harper has the power. But Trout keeps doing what he did last year, showing no sign of slowing down. He also combines superb offense with exceptional baserunning and defense. There isn't a more complete player in the game.
Center field: Andrew McCutchen, Pirates
Here's one case where we deviated from the midseason winner. That would likely be Carlos Gomez, who's having a spectacular year for the Brewers -- or perhaps Trout, who's played a lot of center in the absence of Peter Bourjos. But we're figuring that by year's end, McCutchen will have re-established himself as the game's premier two-way center fielder. He's not far behind right now.
Right field: Yasiel Puig, Dodgers
Here's one where we're likely to take some heat. So be it -- our panel believes in the youngster with the spectacular tools. Nobody really knows where the season or his career will take Puig, but it's going to be awfully fun to find out. His combination of power, speed, and defense means that the sky is the limit.
Designated hitter: David Ortiz, Red Sox
Who else could it possibly be? Ortiz was the best in the first half. He's been the best DH on a yearly basis for the better part of a decade. It's conceivable that somebody could have a spectacular second half and make this a race, but it's not likely.
Starting pitcher: Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers
Here's another case where a midseason tie is broken by track record. At the break, the Mets' Matt Harvey vs. Kershaw is a fair and open debate. But Kershaw's longevity as an elite pitcher wins out here. We simply don't know how Harvey will hold up over his first full big league season.
Relief pitcher: Mariano Rivera
Speaking of track records... Nobody has a better one than Rivera. Guys like the Braves' Craig Kimbrel and the Reds' Aroldis Chapman are tremendous, but it's tough to have more confidence in any reliever finishing the year with a better performance than Rivera.