The best player in baseball over the past five years has been Mike Trout. And if I can go ahead and give something away, I expect that the best player in baseball over the next five years will be Mike Trout. I'm thinking in terms of wins above replacement, or WAR, which is the simplest way to distill overall value into a single number. Sure, WAR has its problems, but it has everything included except the intangibles. I'll leave measuring intangibles to somebody else.
Writing about the best players in baseball over the next half-decade comes down to equal parts math and guesswork. Whenever you're supposed to look forward, it can be instructive to look back. Here are the top 10 players since 2013:
Out of that group, eight players were terrific in 2012. But with Kluber and Donaldson there was very little warning. Both were late bloomers, with Kluber learning a sinker in Triple-A and Donaldson overhauling his swing. There's simply nothing I can do to be able to predict random breakouts such as those. The same would apply to someone such as J.D. Martinez. Sometimes we don't get indicators, aside from a player being in the majors or the high minors in the first place.
So going forward, I'm trying to think about the best probabilities. I'm not going to pick a non-prospect in Triple-A at random. Instead, we're going with players who have already shown they're good, emphasizing two things: youth and being a position player. Youth because we're focusing on value from 2018 through 2022, and baseball players just don't age very well. Being a position player because as a general rule, don't trust pitcher health. There is one pitcher included in the top 10, but I couldn't bring myself to add another. There's just too much risk, and just about every pitcher's body is a ticking time bomb.
I should note that this is independent of contract status. This is an article about the best players, not the players most valuable to their teams, which is a different question. There are certain players it pains me to leave out: My five honorable mentions are Jose Ramirez, Chris Sale, Mookie Betts, Nolan Arenado and Ozzie Albies. Those five extremely valuable players narrowly missed the top 10.