Albert Pujols, Pedro Martinez lead all-time Dominican Republic team
On Sunday afternoon, the Blue Jays made history just by handing in a lineup card. Toronto's starting nine against Boston included six players born in the Dominican Republic: Jose Bautista, Melky Cabrera, Edwin Encarnacion, Juan Francisco, Jose Reyes and Moises Sierra. That set a major league record for most Dominican-born players in a lineup, and served as a reminder of the considerable impact Dominican players have had on the game in the 56 years since Tigers third baseman Ossie Virgil became the first Dominican-born major leaguer on June 6, 1958.
Nearly 600 men born in the Dominican Republic have played in the major leagues since Virgil's debut, and of the 880 players to appear in a big leaguegame this season, 90 of them have been Dominican. That's more than 10 percent of the current major league population from a country whose population is little more than 10 million , and those figures don't include players of Dominican descent born in the United States, such as Alex Rodriguez.
With all of that in mind, we've assembled an All-Star team of the greatest Dominican major leaguers of all time, many of whom are among the best players in the game right now, and some of whom are among the best ever at their positions.
1B: Albert Pujols
The greatest Dominican player of all time is also one of the greatest hitters the game has ever seen. Pujols ranks 10th among players of all nationalities with a career 165 OPS+ (minimum 3,000 plate appearances), is 26th and climbing in career wins above replacement (94.2 bWAR) and just became the third Dominican-born player to reach 500 career home runs (joining Sammy Sosa and Manny Ramirez, not to mention Rodriguez, who was born in New York to Dominican parents). This April, the 34-year-old Pujols has reestablished himself as one of the game's best active hitters as well. He enters Monday's action second in the majors in home runs with nine and fourth in the American League in OPS.
2B: Robinson Cano
Including Rodriguez, three of the four best-paid players in major league history have been Dominican, with Cano joining that group this winter by signing a 10-year, $240 million contract that matched the one Pujols signed with the Angels prior to the 2012 season. All Cano did to earn that contract was lead the major leagues in bWAR from 2010 to 2013 (29.8)
SS: Miguel Tejada
Tejada won the 2002 American League Most Valuable Player award, made six All-Star teams, played in 1,152 consecutive games from to 2000 to '07, and was a key player on the early 2000s Moneyball A's that made four straight posteasons. Despite all of that, it was tempting to go with Tony Fernandez here. Fernandez isn't all that far behind Tejada in career bWAR and JAWS, made five All-Star teams, won four gold gloves and was never associated with performance-enhancing drugs. Tejada, meanwhile, was named in the Mitchell Report, plead guilty to lying to Congress about major league drug use in 2009 and is currently serving a 105-game suspension for amphetamine use. Fernandez was also the first in a wave of players to reach the majors from San Pedro de Macoris, a city of less than 200,000 people on the southern coast of the Dominican Republic that has produced more than 75 major leaguers, including Fernandez, Cano, Sammy Sosa and Alfonso Soriano. The best active Dominican shortstop is either Hanley Ramirez or Jose Reyes, depending on which one is on the disabled list at any given time.
3B: Adrian Beltre
The best-fielding third baseman in the majors in his prime, Beltre isn't the same defensive star at the age of 35 that he once was, but he has hit .314/.359/.543 in four-plus seasons since escaping Safeco Park, averaging 32 home runs and 100 RBIs over the last four years, and is mounting a surprising late-career push for Hall of Fame consideration. Beltre should collect his 2,500th hit this season, could reach 400 home runs as well and thanks in large part to his outstanding play in the field over the course of his career, is already well above the Hall of Fame standard for third baseman according to JAWS.
C: Tony Peña
Carlos Santana's transition to third base in Cleveland leaves the Rockies' Wilin Rosario and the Cubs' Welington Castillo to battle it out over the title of the best active Dominican catcher. No one is close to rivaling Peña for the All-Time team, however. Miguel Olivo is the only other Dominican catcher to have caught more than 600 games in the major leagues; Peña caught 1,950. A defensive specialist for the Pirates, Cardinals and Red Sox, among others, Peña won four Gold Gloves, made five All-Star teams and played in the World Series for the Cardinals and Indians. He later managed the Royals for two-plus seasons, leading them to their only winning season in an 18-year span in 2003, and has been a coach with the Yankees since 2006.
RF: Vladimir Guerrero
This is a dead-heat between Vlad the Impaler and Sosa. JAWS has Sosa ahead by a score of 51.0 to 50.2, but his alleged performance-enhancing drug use, including a reported positive test in 2003, breaks the tie the other way.
Sosa is the only major league player to hit 60 or more home runs three times, all of which (66 in 1998, 64 in 2001, and 63 in 1999) rank as the three highest single-season home run totals by a Dominican-born player. He is also one of just eight players with 600 or more career home runs, and the only one of those eight born in the Dominican Republic (though he trails Rodriguez among all players of Dominican descent). He won the National League MVP award in 1998.
Guerrero won the AL MVP in 2004, had three other top-four finishes in the MVP voting, made nine All-Star games, won eight Silver Sluggers, collected 2,590 hits and 449 home runs, and entertained as one of the game's best bad-ball hitters and with one of baseball's best outfield arms. Guerrero officially retired at the start of this season, but Jose Bautista has been the best active Dominican rightfielder since his breakout season of 2010.
CF: Cesar Cedeño
If catcher is the thinnest position on this team, then the second-thinnest position is centerfield, which goes easily to former Astro Cesar Cedeño. From 1972 to 1976, his age-21 to -25 seasons, Cedeño hit .298/.365/.485 (143 OPS+) while averaging 55 stolen bases a year and winning the Gold Glove all five seasons. His age-21 and -22 seasons, the first two during that stretch, held nearly as much promise as Mike Trout's first two full campaigns. After the latter season, however, Cedeño was involved in the accidental shooting death of his mistress back in the Dominican Republic and, by many accounts, was never the same player thereafter. The best active Dominican centerfielder is late-blooming Carlos Gomez.
LF: Manny Ramirez
From 1995 through 2010, a span of 16 seasons, Ramirez hit .315/.414/.591 (157 OPS+) while averaging 34 home runs and 110 RBIs per season, making 12 All-Star teams, winning nine Silver Sluggers, finishing in the top-six in the MVP voting seven times and helping his team to the playoffs in 11 of those seasons. His 165 RBIs in 1999 remain the most ever by a Dominican-born player. His 29 postseason home runs are the most by a player of any nationality, and not one of them is included in his total of 555 career round-trippers. Ramirez was simply one of the best hitters in baseball during one of its most hitter-friendly eras. Unfortunately, he couldn't resist the temptations of that era, and his multiple positive performance-enhancing drug tests ended his career ahead of schedule and are likely to keep him out of the Hall of Fame. The best active Dominican leftfielder is either Starling Marte or Melky Cabrera, though Soriano deserves mention for his career value.
DH: David Ortiz
Ortiz hasn't passed Puerto Rico's Edgar Martinez as the greatest designated hitter in major league history in terms of overall value, but he does own the all-time records for most games (1,645), hits (1,780), home runs (386) and RBIs (1,258) as a designated hitter. Despite being 38, he would appear to have a good chance to reach 500 home runs before he retires (he needs 64 more to get there). Ortiz is also one of the most accomplished postseason hitters of all-time, the author of numerous memorable postseason moments and has been a central part of three Red Sox world championship teams.
SP: Pedro Martinez
Juan Marichal is the only Dominican-born player in the Hall of Fame, but Martinez, an eight-time All-Star who is in the discussion for the best pitcher of all time, should join him there next year. From 1997 to 2003, the heart of the juiced era, Martinez posted a 2.20 ERA, 0.94 WHIP and 5.59 strikeout-to-walk ratio, the first of those translating to an absurd 213 ERA+ over seven seasons. Martinez also struck out 11.3 men per nine innings over that span, topping 300 strikeouts twice despite never throwing as many as 250 innings in a season. Martinez won three Cy Youngs, was the runner-up two other times and in the top-four two times beyond that. Among pitchers with 1,000 or more innings pitched, he is second all-time in ERA+ (154) behind only reliever Mariano Rivera, is third in career strikeout-to-walk ratio (4.15) and strikeouts per nine innings (10.0) and is 17th all-time in pitching bWAR despite ranking 163rd in innings pitched. The best active Dominican starting pitcher is Johnny Cueto, though Bartolo Colon's long and impressive career makes him worth mentioning.
RP: Armando Benitez
Benitez edges out Francisco Cordero for this spot despite the latter being the all-time Dominican saves leader with 329. Benitez, despite his reputation for volatility and his high walk rates, was legitimately dominant over a five-year span, posting a 172 ERA+, striking out 11.1 men per nine innings and averaging 34 saves a season from 1999 to 2004. He even drew some misplaced MVP votes in '04, the year he led NL with 47 saves for the Marlins, and he made two All-Star teams. As for the best active Dominican reliever, it's a toss-up between Rafael Soriano, Fernando Rodney and Joaquin Benoit.
Manager: Felipe Alou Alou, who made his major league debut just two days after Virgil, became the first Dominican-born manager when he took over as the skipper of the Montreal Expos on May 22, 1992. Alou spent eight full seasons at the helm of the Expos, overseeing the team's strong finish in 1993 and what was arguably the greatest Expos team of all time in 1994. In 2003, after a year as the Tigers' bench coach, he took over as manager of the San Francisco Giants and led them to a 100-win season and the NL West title. In total, he spent parts of 14 seasons as a major league manager, compiling a 1,033-1,021 record, one dragged down by Montreal's dismantling in the wake of the '94 strike. He has served as a special assistant to Giants general manager Brian Sabean since 2007. None of the 30 current managers in the major leagues are Dominican.