There. I said it.

He isn’t the offensive force of Jose Bautista or on the kind of roll that might land Justin Verlander the AL MVP award but, for my money, there isn’t a player in the American League I’d take over Evan Longoria.

Since bolting on the American League scene in 2008, Evan Longoria has been the most valuable in the AL, with more than 25 Wins Above Replacement according to Fangraphs. Longoria is one of the very best defensive third-baseman in the game and a patient, powerful hitter. In 2011, Longoria dropped his strikeout rates while boosting his walks. He has 28 home runs in just 123 games, on track for the second 30-home run season of his career.

On top of his obvious physical gifts, Longoria has a knack for turning up in big spots. While these chances are not distributed equally, Longroia flashes the leather in key moments as well as at the plate. With the Rays facing near-elimination this weekend in Boston, Longoria reached base 10 times in 19 plate appearances with two big home runs, re-inserting his Rays into the American League wild card race.

For his career, the Rays cornerstone sports a .404 wOBA in high leverage situations – when it matters most. Not bad for a player whose team has playoff appearances in 2 of his 3 big league seasons. The Phillies managed to shut down the Rays slugger during the 2008 World Series and, unsurprisingly, the Rays scored just over two runs per game and lost the Series in six games.

Evan Longoria is the complete package – the very best of the best. I refuse to believe that, given the opportunity, you could make a better choice to build a team around. The Rays front office gets a lot of credit for all its ingenuity and savvy, but the 25 WAR they get from Longo goes a long way to making them look smart. The Extra 2%? How about the difference if the Rockies draft Longoria number 2 overall? Tulowitzki and Longoria as the left side of your infield? That might have worked out pretty good, me thinks.

With his 26th birthday still in the future and signed to one of the most team-friendly deals in sports history through 2016 (potentially), Longoria and the Rays aren’t likely to part ways any time soon. The Rays pipeline of talent continues to churn out high-ceiling pitchers and support players for the best player in the American League.