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Every year, even though no one asks me, I create what I think is the best possible team. The only stipulations are that the combined salary of all 25 players must be less than $25 million, the average annual salary New York Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez earns, and, because that was too easy, each player must be earning less than $1 million this year. (My salary figures came from ESPN.com and Cot’s Baseball Contracts.) Without further ado, here’s my offense. (Look for the pitching staff next week.)

Starting Players
C Brian McCann, Atlanta Braves – There’s not much anyone can say about this guy that isn’t a compliment. His aptitude at calling games is exemplary, as witnessed by John Smoltz, the Braves’ ace, saying that McCann would be his personal catcher in 2005. Offensively, Joe Mauer and Victor Martinez are his only peers. The Braves’ backstop finished last year with a .333 batting average, 24 homers, and 93 RBIs. His plate discipline is what sets him apart. His Cost: 666,667

1B Prince Fielder, Milwaukee Brewers – Fielder once hit a batting practice home run into the upper deck at cavernous old Tiger Stadium. That was when he was 12. In his first major league season, at the tender age of 22, the Brewers’ first baseman clubbed 28 homers and drove in 81 runs. He’s quietly establishing himself as a future 35/100 guy. His Cost: $415,000

2B Robinson Cano, New York Yankees – Despite missing 40 games last season with a hamstring injury, Cano is turning himself into an elite talent. If you need proof, check out his .365 batting average and .635 slugging percentage after the All Star Break last year. Those rate stats are Albert Pujols-ian. While his defense may cause him to move to left field next year, Cano is at least an average second baseman for the time being. His Cost: $490,800

SS Hanley Ramirez, Florida Marlins – Even though he suffered through some old left shoulder tenderness this previous winter and he’s listed day-to-day with an injured hamstring, Ramirez is a great player. In the leadoff spot last season, he stole 51 bases, hit 17 homers, and scored 119 runs. While he’s not currently “ahead of Miguel Tejada at that age,” as FoxSports writer Kevin Hench suggested, Ramirez is definitely making a name for himself. His Cost: $402,000

3B Ryan Zimmerman, Washington Nationals – After 67 games into his professional career, this University of Virginia product received the called to the major leagues. And he hit. Zimmerman posted a .397 batting average, before falling to a still-respectable .287 over the entire 2006 campaign. More impressive was the production he showed: 20 homers, 110 RBIs, and the talent to win a Gold Glove at third base. His cost: $400,000

LF Nick Markakis, Baltimore Orioles – This youngster provides manager Sam Perlozzo with plenty of options. Markakis is talented enough to man all three outfield positions and play them well. In the lineup, he is capable of hitting third, though his power is not quite developed. A prediction of his 2007 would be a .300 average with 20 homers. His cost: $400,000

CF Grady Sizemore, Cleveland Indians – This is the best guy nobody really talks about. In the lead off position for the Tribe last year, Sizemore showed he can steal a base (22 of those), hit for power (28 homers), hit for a decent average (.290), play solid defense, and throw runners out. That’s a solid five-tool player. It’s only a matter of time before he becomes known as the best overall center fielder in the major leagues. His cost: $916,667

RF Jeff Francoeur, Atlanta Braves – Many people point to his .293 on-base percentage last season as an indicator that he’s hurting more than he’s helping his team. However, there’s 29 major league clubs that would love to get their hands on this guy. The cause of the low OBP is a result of not getting ABs during the World Baseball Classic, in which he rode the bench in favor of big-name players. He’ll improve across the board this year, which is saying a lot. His cost: $427,500

Bench
C Josh Willingham, Florida Marlins – This may be cheating due to the fact that Willingham stars as a left fielder for the Marlins now, not as a catcher. However, he came up through their system as a backstop, so he gets the nod here. His statistics from his first full major league season say it all: .277/.356/.496 with 26 home runs and 74 runs driven in. His cost: $380,000

1B Lyle Overbay, Toronto Blue Jays – Here may be the most underrated player in all of baseball. Defensively, Overbay handles himself very well around the bag and saves his team many runs. He can also produce a few runs, too. The Blue Jays’ first baseman produces a ton of doubles, clubs a few home runs, and gets on base. His cost: $400,000

SS Jhonny Peralta, Cleveland Indians – In the 2005-06 offseason, Peralta grew two inches in height and gained a few pounds. It left him feeling out of sorts last season, and he saw his OPS drop from .886 to .708. He should be more comfortable this year. One more reason for his decline in ’06 was his vision. During day games he was fine, but night games caused him problems all of last year. He complained of not being able to see the catcher’s signs, which led to a bad year defensively. Furthermore, he hit .285 during the day and .244 at night. Expect improvements in both areas. His cost: $750,000

OF Matt Murton, Chicago Cubs – The Cubbies made two bad moves this offseason in relation to outfielders. One of them was signing Alfonso Soriano to such a huge deal, but that’s another article. The other was signing Cliff Floyd. Why would they bother with an injury prone, declining player when Murton represents an upgrade? He got on base at a .365 clip last season and is ready to improve himself at the plate. His cost: $415,000

OF Nick Swisher, Oakland A’s – Let’s hope the reason for his success last year was his hair: Swisher is donating his lengthy locks to cancer patients. In 2006, Swisher played primarily as the team’s first baseman, but he has the glove to play a corner outfield position. The fact that he hit 35 homers, drove in 96 runs, and got on base 37.2% of the time makes him a good player to have riding to bench. His cost: $400,000

Lineup
SS Hanley Ramirez
2B Robinson Cano
CF Grady Sizemore
1B Prince Fielder
C Brian McCann
RF Jeff Francoeur
3B Ryan Zimmerman
LF Nick Markakis

Total cost of offense: $5,796,967