Most of the time, when the season starts, everyone just wants to talk about the best young players in the game. People are generally enamored more by watching tooled up young studs than guys that are nearly as old as my Dad. It's not surprising, I find minimal pleasure in watching my Dad do any kind of baseball activity, and he wasn't even all that good in his twenties. What can I say, most people aren't Satchel Paige (Hey, I've seen that first name before!), or even Julio Franco.
But even as we leave the Steroid Era, and the jacked up performances from elderly stars that were a hallmark of it, there are still some exceptional ballplayers playing out the string in the best way possible. So in honor of some of the guys who have managed to thrive through the late-90's and beyond, here's the unofficial All 35-And-Older Team:
To note, these players were all 35 or older and signed with an MLB club as of today, April 13. Because I decided to exclude guys who aren't playing this year or who haven't signed with a team yet, you won't see the likes of Joe Nathan, Jermaine Dye or Pedro Martinez.
Catcher: Jorge Posada, New York (AL) - 38
There wasn't a lot of competition here. Posada is probably one of the most underrated players of the decade, which is shocking because he's a Yankee. But I really don't think that people have realized just how unique of a player Posada is, and how rarely catchers can stay at the position and produce offensively for as long as he has. Most of the time, catchers aren't too useful by the time they're 35. The year after Posada turned 35, he put up a 7.0 fWAR in 144 games.
First Base: Todd Helton, Colorado - 36
Helton was pretty much a no-brainer, his main competition being the likes of DH Jim Thome. For some reason, what Helton did in 2006 and 2008 seems to leave a bigger imprint on the public's memory than what he did last season and in 2007. He's no longer mentioned as one of the game's better first baseman, but he continues to put up great numbers for the Rockies. One of the best players of the decade, he posted a 3.7 fWAR in 2009 and has averaged 3.4 fWAR over the past three seasons.
Second Base: Mark DeRosa, San Francisco - 35
I know he doesn't really play much second base anymore, but the alternative options here were seriously underwhelming. I'd feel pretty comfortable betting that DeRosa's advantage with the bat would make up for David Eckstein's slight defensive advantage, and considering they're both gritty white guys, Eckstein can only get so much credit for his nymph-like magic presence.
Third Base: Scott Rolen, Cincinnati - 35
Probably the hardest position to decide on, because Chipper Jones was so damn good for so long. But unless Jones can bounce back from a relatively rough 2009, Rolen's glove would seem to make him a more valuable asset at this point. Rolen still has one of the better gloves in the league, while Jones' is decidedly below average. If Jones is only slightly better offensively, which was the case last season, then it would seem that Rolen is now the better of the two best NL third basemen of the decade.
Shortstop: Derek Jeter, New York (AL) - 35
He's almost 36, and he's coming off a season where he was worth more than seven wins. I don't think we need to waste any more time on this one.
Outfield: Ichiro Suzuki, Seattle - 36
Outfield: Mike Cameron, Boston - 37
Outfield: Bobby Abreu, Los Angeles (AL) - 37
If you wanted a list of three of the most consistent outfielders of the decade, you could probably start with these three. Suzuki and Abreu's exploits have been well-publicized, while recently Cameron has appropriately gotten more recognition for what's been a very impressive career. All three are still league average or better offensively, and an Abreu/Cameron/Suzuki outfield would be quite solid defensively. All of these guys have very different styles, but they've all continued to be above-average everyday players for years.
Designated Hitter: Manny Ramirez, Los Angeles (NL) - 37
Even though there are a lot of good hitters that are 35 or older, Manny is seemingly a no-brainer here. Routinely a +40-60 bat throughout his prime, even if he maintains his work from 2009 he's still one of the better hitters in the game. I like guys like Vlad Guerrero and Jim Thome, but Manny was one of the best players in the game as recently as two years ago and he really hasn't fallen off that much. CHONE projects him at +28 per 600 PA, which still makes him a top notch hitter.
If this was a real team, the starting rotation would be the weak spot, no doubt. Lowe, Kuroda and Pettitte project as above average starters still, but nobody is expecting a 4+ WAR season or a run at the Cy Young or anything. Millwood and Wakefield both project as below average, though Millwood's projections are more bullish, but this really reflects how few starters maintain good production into their late-30's. Kuroda could be the best of the group, but he's surrounded by injury questions that have prevented him from emerging as a top starter in the NL. It seems that at this point, pretty much every top starter has either seen his performance decline significantly or can't stay healthy as they hit their mid-to-late 30's.
Closer: Mariano Rivera, New York (AL) -
He leads all active pitchers in career WAR according to Rally, and hasn't had a fWAR below 2.0 in the FanGraphs era (2002 to present). He hasn't posted an FIP over 3 since 2000, and has had just one season with an ERA over 2 in the last seven seasons. He's the best reliever of all-time, and he's still arguably the best in the game even now. Like Jeter and Posada, this one is pretty easy.
Overall, the offense looks pretty good, but run prevention would likely be an issue. Depth in the starting rotation would be a huge issue, and few up-the-middle players maintain both their offense and their defense this late into their careers. If we did a list like this ten years ago, it would likely be far more impressive, as PED's clearly affected the way that players declined as they aged. But even today, when PED use is supposedly curbed, there are still some pretty good players that are damn close to being old enough to be my dad.