Cabrera and Trout lead SI.com's preseason All-MLB team
For the second straight year, we present SI.com's preseason All-MLB team, the top players at each position and the best manager in the game entering the 2014 season. (For last year's team, see below).
Catcher: Yadier Molina, St. Louis Cardinals
Molina isn't just the best defensive catcher of his era, he's up there with Johnny Bench and Ivan Rodriguez among the best of all time. Molina eliminates the running game, with just 73 attempts against him all last year, and he adds a late-blooming bat: .313/.361/.481 the last three years. Molina's defensive edge in both innings caught and controlling the running game gives him an edge over 2012 National League MVP Buster Posey.
First base: Miguel Cabrera, Detroit Tigers
It's a little unfair to the incumbents at the position that Cabrera moves back across the diamond and immediately becomes the best first baseman in baseball. Cabrera is a better defender at this corner, but it's his bat -- he led the American League in batting average, OBP and slugging while winning his second straight MVP award in 2013 -- that makes him great. Pour one out for Paul Goldschmidt and Joey Votto, who get pushed aside by Cabrera's return to first base.
Second base: Robinson Cano, Seattle Mariners
There's a reason the Mariners broke the bank for Cano. The 31-year-old has been a model of consistency, batting above .300 and slugging above .500 with at least 27 homers for four years straight, while missing a total of eight games in that time. That production helped earn him a 10-year, $240 million contract from Seattle in the offseason and his lefty power will be a great fit for the new dimensions at Safeco Field. Cano has built some separation the past few years over Boston's Dustin Pedroia, a star in his own right.
Third base: David Wright, New York Mets
Wright has found his star fading not due to his own play, but by association with the train wreck that is the 2010s Mets. He was on his way to a career-best offensive season last year when a right hamstring injury cut his season short. Wright's defense has even rebounded from a mid-career slump to make him a complete player. If you want to argue for Evan Longoria, you have a case; the margin between him and Wright is very small, and you could consider the two players 1 and 1a at the hot corner.
Shortstop: Andrelton Simmons, Atlanta Braves
It's not just that Simmons is a great defender. It's that by advanced metrics, he had one of the greatest defensive seasons ever, warranting a spot on NL MVP ballots for his glove and arm alone. His low strikeout rate and good power bode well for offensive improvement this season. Coupled with that amazing glovework -- his 41 Defensive Runs Saved were 29 more than 2013's next-best total for a shortstop -- he is the best shortstop in baseball. Colorado's Troy Tulowitzki gets dinged for his lack of complete seasons -- none since 2009.
Leftfield: Alex Gordon, Kansas City Royals
Leftfielders tend to be the guys who are missing something that keeps them from playing center or right. Not Gordon, who combines a corner bat -- .287/.357/.459 the past three years -- with an accurate arm that racks up baserunner kills: 54 in three seasons as a full-time leftfielder. With a number of great leftfielders taking over in center or right this year, there's no clear runner-up to Gordon -- perhaps the Braves' Justin Upton will finally have that breakout season we've all been waiting for.
Centerfield: Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels
The best player in baseball, Trout does everything except throw well. His first two seasons make him among the best players ever through the age of 22 -- and he hasn't even played his age-22 season yet! Now he moves over for a full season at his preferred position, adding even more value to the overall package. MVPlease? Trout is maybe the only player in baseball who could knock reigning NL MVP Andrew McCutchen of the Pirates out of this spot, as the two reprise the Willie and Mickey debates of the 1950s. The Duke? Baltimore's Adam Jones.
Rightfield: Jason Heyward, Atlanta Braves
Heyward occasionally slides over to centerfield for the Braves, and he's not stretched there at all. That's what Heyward is, a centerfielder playing rightfield because he has a cannon for an arm. At the plate, Heyward, who is still just 24, was breaking out when a Jon Niese fastball broke his jaw last August. This year, he'll pick up where he left off. Miami's Giancarlo Stanton and Washington's Bryce Harper will challenge Heyward as the best rightfielder in the NL East -- and all of baseball.
Designated hitter: David Ortiz, Boston Red Sox
Every time it seems like Ortiz is winding down, he hangs another set of numbers out of the 1990s on the board: .309/.395/.564 last year, with 30 homers. Of course, he's better remembered for a World Series in which it seemed he would never make an out. He made just five in six games on his way to a third ring. Full-time DHs are a rare species these days, which makes Kansas City's Billy Butler his generation's Harold Baines.
Righthanded starting pitcher: Yu Darvish, Texas Rangers
It's a pitcher's era, so it's no small thing for Darvish, in just his third season Stateside, to be the best righthanded starter in the game. He combines the velocity of a American hurler with the broad arsenal of a Japanese one. Darvish, who whiffed 277 men last season, could become the first pitcher to strike out 300 batters since Randy Johnson whiffed 334 in 2002. Felix Hernandez, Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander are all right there with Darvish in a deep pool of candidates.
Lefthanded starting pitcher: Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers
The best pitcher in baseball, Kershaw has the lowest career ERA (2.60) of any starting pitcher in the live-ball era. He combines that effectiveness with uncanny durability, with no missed starts in the last four years. Oh, and in his spare time, he helps build orphanages in Africa. It's as if Sandy Koufax and Mother Teresa had a baby. Cliff Lee and Chris Sale are honored just to be in the same paragraph.
Closer: Craig Kimbrel, Atlanta Braves
Short relievers tend to burn hot and fast, and what separates the ones we remember from the other guys is longevity. Kimbrel has struck out 43% of the batters he's faced in his career to date, which spans three seasons. It's what happens now that determines which category he ends up in. Joe Nathan, Greg Holland, Koji Uehara and Kenley Jansen fill up a deep field behind Kimbrel.
Manager: Joe Maddon, Tampa Bay Rays
It's hard to find a manager who blends the interpersonal skills of a players' manager with the roster and game skills of a more aloof one. The Rays found Maddon, and all they have to show for it is four trips to the postseason in the last six years. Maddon is the ideal manager, with deft people skills and an eagerness to work with a modern front office to help use those people as effectively as possible. Cleveland's Terry Francona is not far behind Maddon, nor is Oakland's Bob Melvin.
2013 preseason All-MLB team
C: Buster Posey, Giants
1B: Prince Fielder, Tigers
2B: Robinson Cano, Yankees
3B: Evan Longoria, Rays
SS: Jose Reyes, Blue Jays
LF: Bryce Harper, Nationals
CF: Andrew McCutchen, Pirates
RF: Giancarlo Stanton, Marlins
DH: Billy Butler, Royals
RH SP: Stephen Strasburg, Nationals
LH SP: Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers
CL: Craig Kimbrel, Braves
Mgr: Joe Maddon, Rays