I figured I'd get a head start on the new year by updating a list I haven't updated in a while: The Master List of the 20 most valuable players in Cleveland sports.
To refresh, I rank each player based on three main areas:
What does the player mean to his organization?
Is this the type of player the team thinks they can build around? Does he help them win games? Does he increase the legitimacy of the organization? How much would losing this player hurt his team?
What does the player mean to the fans and city?
How much does having this player boost Cleveland's collective morale? Is he a fan favorite?
What is the player's marketability?
Does the player get the name of himself, his team and the city out in the regional or national spotlight? More importantly, does he do it in a positive way (call this the Albert Belle rule).
I last updated this list in August '06. Previous rankings are listed in parenthesis.
1. LeBron James (1)
Yankee hats aside, he's still the first true superstar to wear a Cleveland uniform since Jim Brown. Rooting for the Iranian national soccer team wouldn't change that.
2. Grady Sizemore (2)
His stats fell off in '07, but he still remains a huge fan favorite, and is an exciting defensive centerfielder who now has a Gold Glove to his credit.
3. C.C. Sabathia (12)
He's the first Tribe pitcher since Gaylord Perry to win the Cy Young Award, but in reality, he might be the best Tribe starting pitcher since the heyday of Bob Lemon and Early Wynn in the mid-'50s. Too bad it took until the eve of free agency for C.C. to finally realize that potential.
4. Derek Anderson (NR)
This is what I call an arrival. Four and a half months ago, Anderson was antimatter. Now, he is not-so-arguably the biggest reason for the Browns' turnaround and is lauded as one of the rising quarterback stars in the NFL. Unfortunately, if the Browns miss the playoffs, everyone will remember his four-pick performance against Cincinnati and not what he did in the Browns' nine wins to date.
5. Joe Thomas (NR)
It's been a while since a Browns rookie has made this kind of impact, let alone a rookie offensive lineman. In one season, Thomas has established himself as an elite left tackle, helped solidify a previously-terrible Browns offensive line, was named a Pro Bowl first alternate, and has even caused some cash registers to ring with sales of his No. 73 jersey.
6. Fausto Carmona (NR)
Like Anderson, Carmona stormed onto the scene following a colossal failure. Carmona rebounded from his 10-loss 2006 to post 19 wins in '07 and finish fourth in Cy Young balloting. The 1-2 ace punch he provides along with C.C. is what sets the Indians apart from every other American League team save for Boston.
7. Braylon Edwards (16)
He has largely eliminated the dropped passes that have plagued him since entering the NFL, and has become one of the NFL's most exciting playmakers. In earning his first Pro Bowl invite, Edwards has become the player GM Phil Savage envisioned when he selected him third overall in 2005.
8. Victor Martinez (6)
His drop has little to do with his own performance and more to do with what those above him have accomplished. Martinez is still one of the game's best offensive catchers and was the Indians' go-to guy in clutch situations for most of the '07 season. A highly-underrated aspect of Martinez's skill set is his ability to quarterback a pitching staff. Pitchers seem to quickly gain confidence in Martinez's ability to handle a game.
9. Travis Hafner (3)
After holding strong in the third spot for the first two sets of Master List rankings, Hafner takes a hard fall after a statistically-lackluster '07. But he's still the only true power hitter in the Indians' lineup and he is thoroughly marketable with a nickname like "Pronk," so he stays in the top 10.
10. Jamal Lewis (NR)
Even though the Ravens didn't want him back, having Lewis chewing up yards for the Browns late in games still feels like we're stealing a bit of Baltimore's thunder -- especially as current Ravens running back Willis McGahee continues to not impress. Lewis might not be a long-term solution as a feature back, but he might be more than a one-year reclamation project. He's easily the best power back we've seen around these parts since Kevin Mack.
11. Kellen Winslow (NR)
Since returning to health last year, Winslow has become a pass-catching machine and one of the league's elite tight ends. The motorcycle crash did permanent damage to his knee, so we'll likely never see a 100-percent healthy Winslow. But as he famously once said, "My 90 percent is still better than any other tight end out there." He's just about proving himself right. Only Tony Gonzalez and Antonio Gates are in Winslow's class. If Winslow can have Gonzalez's longevity, he'll follow Kellen Sr. to Canton.
12. Zydrunas Ilgauskas (8)
With as many bricks as the Cavs chuck at the hoop, how can a 7'-3" guy not be valuable? He cleans the offensive glass, flashes to the top of the key on defense despite his obvious speed disadvantage, and all he asks in return is to be fed the ball on a few pick-and-fades so he can get his 10-15 points per night. He's not a star player, but he'll always be a key ingredient on a winning Cavs team.
13. Eric Steinbach (NR)
Like Joe Thomas, his next-door neighbor in the Sunday trenches, Steinbach isn't an athletic specimen. He's kind of slow, and allegedly wears arm and leg braces to give opponents the illusion that he's more banged-up than he actually is. But when it comes to blocking technique, you won't find many better in the game than Steinbach. To know that he and Thomas might comprise the left side of the Browns line for the next seven-to-10 years is downright heartwarming.
14. Daniel Gibson (NR)
He's not really a starting point guard. He is a bit too small to adequately cover most starting guards in the NBA. But when LeBron feeds the man they call "Boobie" the ball, and he squares to shoot that hair-trigger three, you can feel pretty confident it's going in. More so than, say, Sasha Pavlovic.
15. Rafael Betancourt (NR)
Where, oh where, would the Indians bullpen have been without the services of Everyday Raffy? Joe Borowski ducked and dodged his way to 45 saves, but only because Betancourt and the set-up boys consistently got leads to the ninth inning.
16. Josh Cribbs (NR)
He's one of the best return men in football, which is extremely important when playing the field position game. He also tends to put himself right in the middle of the fray to make or assist tackles on kick coverages. But to move up this list, Cribbs is going to have to make the jump from special teams legend to difference-maker on offense.
17. Phil Dawson (11)
OK, gripe about his leg strength. But Dawson has two game-winning field goals to his credit this year, and would have had a third if not for a last-nanosecond timeout in Oakland. I might also add that he deserves a lobster dinner for the two field goals he kicked against Buffalo in a blizzard.
18. Asdrubal Cabrera (NR)
It remains to be seen whether he will become a longterm member of the Tribe infield, but during the '07 push to the playoffs, he combined pesky hitting with fantastic defense to become a player worth bookmarking.
19. Drew Gooden (13)
His jumper is money from the baseline, and he's a good enough rebounder and defender when he puts his mind to it. But that's the rub, as it always has been with Gooden. He's easily the Cavs' most athletic big man, but inconsistency seems to be part of his genetic makeup.
20. Jhonny Peralta (NR)
Amazing what a little corrective vision surgery can do. After a dismal '06 both in the field and at the plate, it was discovered that Peralta had stopped wearing his contact lenses because they were uncomfortable. After the surgery, Peralta regain his '05 form at the plate and once again became solid, if less-than-spectacular, playing shortstop, baseball's most demanding defensive position.
Off the list: Reuben Droughns, Ted Washington, Charlie Frye, LeCharles Bentley, Larry Hughes, Kamerion Wimbley, Leigh Bodden, Anderson Varejao, Willie McGinest, Shin-Soo Choo, Shannon Brown
Knocking on the door: Brady Quinn, Eric Wright, D'Qwell Jackson, Casey Blake, Ryan Garko