He's a former Rookie of the Year and American League MVP. He's a two-time Gold Glove winner. With those credentials, there's little debate surrounding Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia's status as a premier second baseman.
But Robinson Cano also fits that description. The Yankees second baseman is a perennial MVP contender, a fixture in the All-Star Game and also possesses strong defensive skills with a Gold Glove to show for it.
Add in Rays second baseman Ben Zobrist and the American League East could boast the top crop of second basemen in baseball.
1. Robinson Cano, 2B, Yankees
2011: 28 homers, 118 RBIs, .302 average, .533 slugging and .882 OPS (159 games)
It's a tight race for the top spot, but Cano gets the nod. The 29-year-old enjoyed another MVP-caliber year in 2011, which included setting a career-high in RBIs. Since his average regressed a bit, it emphasized the importance of improving his plate discipline. But it doesn't change the fact he's a dangerous power hitter. Considering Cano is in his prime — barring injury– he could potentially top his home run numbers.
2. Dustin Pedroia, 2B, Red Sox
2011: 21 homers, 91 RBIs, .307 average, .474 slugging and .861 OPS (159 games)
The 28-year-old flashed his power in 2011, launching a career-high in home runs and RBIs. Pedroia improved offensively while maintaining his defense stability, earning his second career Gold Glove. After doctors removed the screw from his left foot — which resided there for over a year after a previous surgery — in September, he could be poised for another strong year.
3. Ben Zobrist, 2B, Rays
2011: 20 homers, 91 RBIs, .269 average, .469 slugging and .822 OPS (156 games)
Just when it appeared that Zobrist's 2009 season was a fluke, he dismissed the notion, tying his career high in RBIs. According to FanGraphs.com, Zobrist's Wins Above Replacement last season was 6.6, slightly behind Pedroia's total of 8.0. If it wasn't for a low batting average, Zobrist could have easily heightened the debate for the best second basemen in the division.
4. Kelly Johnson, 2B, Blue Jays
2011: 21 homers, 58 RBIs, .222 average, .413 slugging and .717 OPS (147 games)
After starting last season with Arizona, Johnson received a fresh start when he was shipped to Toronto. Through 33 games with the Blue Jays, Johnson elevated his batting average to .270, which is promising for the club. A full season with the team could help Johnson regain the form he displayed in 2010, where he owned a .284 average and clubbed 26 home runs.
5. Robert Andino, 2B, Orioles
2011: 5 homers, 36 RBIs, .263 average, .344 slugging and .670 OPS (139 games)
Andino isn't guaranteed the second base job by Opening Day. If Brian Roberts recovers from his concussions — and we know how unpredictable those are — then Andino will be relegated to the backup role. Either way, it doesn't change the ranking. As he spelled Roberts in 2011, Andino enjoyed his best season, setting personal marks in home runs, RBIs and runs. Now 34, Roberts is slated to be healthy, but his potential production hangs in the balance.