• Archive:  
Updated: July 25, 2010, 10:21 PM ET

Value doesn't just come from big names

By Steve Berthiaume
They are the players you'd take if you had to make a list. Not necessarily superstars or future Hall of Famers, perhaps not even All-Stars, but players you repeatedly see making an impact on the game when you watch a lot of baseball every day.

They are the spark plugs, the get-it-done guys, the ones who make you look up at the television when the game breaks open and say, "THAT guy ... AGAIN?" It's a list you keep in the back of your head. I wouldn't begin my hypothetical "dream team" with these guys, but I'd want every one on this list because the bottom line is this: They win games. Here are a few, in no particular order …

Eric Hinske
If the Braves make the postseason this year, and there's certainly no reason to think they won't at this point, Hinske will have played in four straight postseasons with four different teams. He's the kind of guy who gets you to the playoffs because he hits, he hits for power and he hits in the clutch. In Atlanta this season, he's played left field, first base, third base and designated hitter. Hinske was the American League Rookie of the Year in 2002 with Toronto, where he hit .279 with 24 homers and 84 RBIs and looked as though he might become an All-Star Game regular. Hinske, however, could never consistently reproduce those numbers as an every-day player, but now that he's 32 and has settled into his role, he's become a highly sought-after type of professional who could extend his career for quite a while.

Willie Bloomquist
He isn't a big nickname guy and would just shake his head when former teammate Coco Crisp started calling him "The Silent Assassin" -- but the nickname fits. Bloomquist has spent his career under the radar, but you can be sure he's on the list of major league general managers who will spend this final week before the trade deadline looking for that last piece to tie it all together. He's in his ninth big league season and has hit .263 for his career. He's an excellent baserunner with 102 career steals; he's been caught only 25 times. Bloomquist stole 25 bases for the Royals last season. This season in Kansas City, he's played right field, center field, third base, second base, left field, first base, DH and shortstop. Plenty of contenders would like to get him this week.

Brett Gardner
I love watching this guy play baseball. He flies around the field and gives you everything he's got. After the Yankees acquired Curtis Granderson, Gardner seemed to begin the spring as some sort of uncertain outfield piece. Now he's hitting about 60 points higher than Granderson, has 26 stolen bases and is leading the Yankees in OBP. Nick Swisher was the Yankees' All-Star outfielder, but it's Gardner who seems to be the real pulse of that unit.

Shin-Soo Choo
I get that Cleveland is last in the AL Central, but Shin-Soo Choo leads the Indians in batting average, hits, home runs, RBIs and OBP. He's one of baseball's quiet power threats and is an underrated defender. I've never been to Pusan, South Korea, where Choo is from, but I'm guessing it's different from Cleveland. Too often, foreign players who have to make those cultural transitions aren't given enough credit for handling that aspect of life as a major league player. He deals with that every day, deals with life on a last-place ballclub, but every time I watch the Indians, Shin-Soo Choo is either hitting a home run or making a diving catch in right field. If you don't want him, I'll gladly take him.

Michael Young
Ask a group of baseball fans for their top 15 or 20 major league players. I'll bet not too many will include Michael Young. He tends to get overlooked because he's not flashy and doesn't do a "look-at-me" dance every time he homers. Instead, he just puts his head down and goes about his business. I'm not selling Michael Young as undervalued here, he's a $13 million-a-year player. It would just be nice if more $13 million players were more like Michael Young. He came up as a second baseman, moved over to shortstop, and then after winning a Gold Glove at short, moved again over to third base, all because it was a better fit for his team. He's hung in with the Rangers through some lean years and never griped publicly or started a media campaign to get himself out of town. Now, he's a big reason why Texas might just win the AL West. Here's a great example of what Michael Young brings to his team: Texas played a big four-game series against the division rival Angels last week. It was something of a litmus test for the Rangers. Would they wilt under the pressure of the division race or would they show themselves to be the genuine front-runner? Michael Young homered in each of the first three games against the Angels, including last Friday when his homer was the only run of the game. Impressive.

Aubrey Huff
No one wanted this guy this winter. The Giants, who needed a bat -- and STILL do for that matter -- finally brought in Huff, who had to accept a $5 million pay cut just to have a job. The reaction around baseball seemed to be underwhelming at best, but now Huff is leading the Giants in batting average, hits, homers, RBIs and OBP. He's also divided his defense among first base, left field and right field. Right field in San Francisco is no joke, with the wind, that triangle in right-center and the bricks and the water behind you, but the fact Huff has been able to put some time in there says a lot. The Giants are getting quite a lot in return for their $3 million investment on Huff.

Steve Berthiaume is a host for "Baseball Tonight."

Baseball Tonight Live

"Baseball Tonight" analysts, ESPN.com writers and SweetSpot Network bloggers chatted and gave their in-game opinions throughout the day's games -- all in Baseball Tonight Live.

Touch 'Em All

Who went deep? Keep track of all the home runs hit each day on "Baseball Tonight" and the Baseball Tonight Clubhouse page. For more, check out the Home Run Tracker page.


You must be signed in to post a comment

Already have an account?