This winter, I made lists of the top players at each position over the next five seasons (2008 to 2012). Mistakes were made, readers were horrified and corrections were issued. With that experience to guide me, I've now combined all those lists for one uberlist: the top 50 major leaguers for the next five years.
Two important things to remember. One: As a group, baseball players peak in their late 20s, which means that players generally begin to decline in their early 30s (if not slightly sooner). So you're not going to see many players currently in their 30s on this list. Two: Everything counts. Everything includes hitting, fielding, running and everything else we know about (including, but not limited to, police records).
Oh, and one other thing: With one exception, you're not going to find any "prospects" on this list. Jay Bruce and Colby Rasmus may be great baseball players but they've not played an inning in the majors, and even once they reach the majors they might need a year or two or three to become great major leaguers. Which disqualifies them from making our five-year list.
With all that in mind, here they are (and if you're shocked by the No. 1 choice, you haven't been paying much attention)
1. David Wright (25)
Great hitter, good fielder, fine baserunner and last year, at 24, he was the best player in the National League.
2. Hanley Ramirez (24)
Easily takes the prize as baseball's most underrated player; Ramirez toils in obscurity for the Marlins, known only to fantasy baseball owners.
3. Miguel Cabrera (24)
Yes, he's a fantastic hitter (just ask the Tigers, who just gave Cabrera one of the richest contracts ever). But it's worth noting that he's a few months older than Hanley Ramirez and was not -- if you consider baserunning -- the better offensive player last year.
4. Grady Sizemore (25)
Yes, reports of his impending MVP season might have been slightly premature. But Sizemore has the entire package, and he's still a couple of years from his best work.
5. Johan Santana (29)
It's possible that we've seen his best work. On the other hand, his best was the best and now that he's in the National League, even less than his best may be good enough for two or three Cy Young Awards.
6. Ryan Zimmerman (23)
It's not been easy to get a good read on Zimmerman's hitting, but his youth and his defense make him a good bet to play in a bunch of All-Star games.
7. Jose Reyes (24)
As thrilling as Reyes is, it's worth noting that he's almost 25 and his career OPS falls short of the league average (and that's the National League average).
8. Chase Utley (29)
Maybe he's too old with too little potential. But he's also the best second baseman in the game, a brilliant combination of hitting, fielding and baserunning. If he's in the lineup, he's an MVP candidate.
9. Albert Pujols (28)
He would rank a slot or three higher if not for the elbow injury that might land him on the DL for a significant period at some point soon.
10. Alex Rodriguez (32)
Easily the oldest player on this list, but super-duperstars have a habit of remaining highly productive into their middle 30s and there's no reason to think this one won't be a deserving All-Star for years to come.
11. Robinson Cano (25)
It's not completely obvious that Cano deserves to rank quite so highly, but considering his youth and his .314 career batting average, it seems we haven't seen his best yet.
12. Curtis Granderson (27)
Granderson versus Sizemore has been a popular debate since last summer, but Sizemore gets the nod here because he's nearly 17 months younger than Granderson.
13. Troy Tulowitzki (23)
Considering Tulowitzki's massive home/road splits in his brilliant Rookie of the Year season, we may still question his future as a hitter. But we can assume he'll be good and he's already the best defensive shortstop in the majors.
14. Ryan Braun (24)
If this were only about hitting, Braun might be No. 1 on our list. But defense counts, too, and Braun offers no value at all in the field.
15. B.J. Upton (23)
Will Upton cut down on his strikeouts? Will he become an adequate (or better) defensive center fielder? We don't know, but we do know that every team would love to have him.
16. Jimmy Rollins (29)
Some might say he's too old, at 29, to rank this high. Some might say he's too good, as defending National League MVP, to rank this low. Consider: Since taking over as the Phillies' everyday shortstop in 2001, Rollins has never played fewer than 154 games in a season.
17. Brandon Webb (28)
He's not the best pitcher in the National League anymore, but he's durable, he's excellent and his power sinker figures to age well.
18. Joe Mauer (24)
When we look back on this list in five years, Mauer will probably rank a dozen or more spots higher on this list, or a dozen spots lower. It's all about his health, and whether he's still catching.
19. C.C. Sabathia (27)
The 2007 Cy Young winner could certainly rank higher, but we have lingering questions about his heavy build and his heavy workload (last year he totaled 262 innings).
20. Evan Longoria (22)
This might be too high, as Longoria hasn't played a single inning in the majors. It might be too low, as any objective method will choose Longoria as the American League's No. 1 or 2 third baseman over the next five years.
21. Jhonny Peralta (26)
Doesn't get a lot of respect, probably because of his superstar teammates and his questionable defense, but power-hitting shortstops are a rarity.
22. Nick Markakis (24)
Already good and only figures to get better, with a 30/30 season not out of the question in the next few years.
23. Jake Peavy (26)
Defending Cy Young winner has been outstanding away from his pitcher-friendly home ballpark, and his poor 2006 season was due more to poor luck than anything else; nothing not to like here.
24. Dustin Pedroia (24)
Was Pedroia over his head last season? Yeah, maybe a little bit. But he's only 24 and should have better years at the plate while giving the Red Sox solid defense at second base.
25. Ian Kinsler (25)
Kinsler was over his head last April when he hit nine home runs, but he'd have hit more than 11 over the next five months if not for an injury. He is a good bet for 25-30 homers per season if he can stay healthy.
26. Carlos Beltran (30)
Yes, he's old for this list. No, he may not be a Hall of Famer. But Beltran's broad range of skills may well allow him to remain among the game's elite for at least five more seasons.
27. Victor Martinez (29)
For years there's been talk about Martinez playing first base or perhaps DH-ing. But with Ryan Garko at first base and Travis Hafner at DH, the Indians need a catcher, and Martinez is among the very best.
28. Kelly Johnson (26)
Johnson's been a second baseman for less than two years, but has made the switch from the outfield with great skill and established himself as one of the National League's top second basemen.
29. Nick Swisher (27)
He may not get a lot better, but he's already plenty good and should hit a bunch of homers now that he's joined the White Sox.
30. Corey Hart (26)
Essentially lost among the Brewers' other homegrown stars, Hart has a decent chance of outdoing all of them (with the exception of Ryan Braun). And if he can someday take over in center field, he'll be even more valuable.
31. Dan Haren (27)
He may not be a Cy Young candidate, but he's started 34 games in each of the last three seasons, he's thrived in the hitters' league and he's young enough to improve.
32. Mark Teixeira (27)
Saddled with noncontending teammates for most of his career, Teixeira's flown mostly under the radar. That's going to change soon, as his impending free agency means he'll soon sign a headline-making new contract.
33. Russell Martin (25)
Martin's that rarest of beasts, a durable catcher with a high on-base percentage and good wheels and he's got some real power, too.
34. Josh Beckett (28)
We're still not sure about Beckett's health; if we were, Beckett would rank quite a bit higher on this list than he does.
35. Adam Jones (22)
Never got a real shot with the Mariners, but now he'll give the Orioles two-thirds of a fantastic, young outfield.
36. Carl Crawford (26)
We're still waiting for his first big year, but it's just a matter of time as Crawford improves a little bit every year. One of these years, maturity plus health will equal MVP candidate.
37. Justin Verlander (25)
He's won 35 games in two seasons and might, with the departure of Johan Santana, be the most talented pitcher in the American League. But we still need to see him pile up the innings before we anoint him the league's best.
38. Adrian Gonzalez (25)
It's easy to miss how well Gonzalez has played for the Padres, because his home ballpark's not doing him any favors. But he's been quite good and has plenty of room for improvement.
39. Hunter Pence (24)
Destroyed minor league pitchers, didn't miss a beat after joining the Astros last spring and would rank higher if he hadn't shifted from center field to right.
40. Prince Fielder (23)
One might argue that a 300-pound first baseman doesn't belong on a top 100 list, even if he did hit 50 home runs and is only 23 years old. For the moment, we're inclined to give the big guy the benefit of the doubt.
41. Matt Holliday (28)
Last year was almost certainly his career year, but he's well-suited to Coors Field and figures to be an outstanding hitter for another two or three years, at least.
42. Brian McCann (24)
Would rank a lot higher if he batted .333 every year (as he did in 2006), but figures to spend the next few years battling Russell Martin for starting berths in the All-Star Game.
43. Justin Upton (20)
Would rank a lot higher if we were looking 10 years down the road instead of five. Upton is going to be a big star, but it might take him two or three seasons to get there.
44. Dan Uggla (28)
He came out of nowhere two years ago and proved last year that he wasn't a fluke, but Uggla's not going to get better and there are legitimate questions about his defense.
45. Ryan Howard (28)
He's obviously a devastating hitter, but he has virtually no value when he's not in the batter's box and may average more than 200 strikeouts per season over the next five years. And at 28, he may already have played his best.
46. Melky Cabrera (23)
We're still waiting for Cabrera's first .400-plus slugging percentage and he's not an on-base wizard, either. But he's solid in center field, has held his own as a hitter and at 23 figures to get significantly better.
47. Justin Morneau (26)
It's possible that Morneau will never again hit like he did in 2006. But on the other hand, he's young enough that we should expect more big seasons, with perhaps a 40-homer campaign on the way.
48. Alex Gordon (24)
The only thing to not like about Gordon is that he hasn't actually done it yet, at least not in the majors. But no one doubts that he will.
49. Matt Kemp (23)
You have to wonder, just a little bit, about a player who can't convince his team to give him an everyday job. And Kemp's .342 average with the Dodgers last season was a bit of a mirage.
50. Asdrubal Cabrera (22)
Cabrera might be a stretch here, as much of his value is wasted at second base (by most accounts he's a fine shortstop). But at 22, he's already good enough with the bat to play second base, and a shift to shortstop would just be gravy.