First-quarter awards: AL MVP

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justin morneau trot.jpgSame drill as the NL award. Let’s begin with VORP.
1. Justin Morneau – 28.8
2. Kevin Youkilis – 22.4
3. Robinson Cano – 21.8
4. Doug Fister – 21.7
5. Miguel Cabrera – 21.1
6. Evan Longoria – 20.7
7. Shaun Marcum – 20.3
8. Vernon Wells – 20.2
9. David Price – 19.7
10. Ricky Romero – 19.7
11. Matt Garza – 18.9
12. Ty Wigginton – 18.8
13. John Danks – 18.6
14. Vladimir Guerrero – 18.5
15. Jeff Niemann – 16.7
16. Phil Hughes – 16.2
17. Nelson Cruz – 16.0
18. C.J. Wilson – 16.0
19. Paul Konerko – 15.5
20. Carl Crawford – 15.2
And move right on to RAR
1. Justin Morneau – 30.4
2. Kevin Youkilis – 21.8
3. Robinson Cano – 19.9
4. Evan Longoria – 19.7
5. Vernon Wells – 19.5
6. Carl Crawford – 19.2
7. Alex Rios – 19.2
8. Magglio Ordonez – 19.1
9. Ricky Romero – 17.5
10. Austin Jackson – 16.8
11. Dustin Pedroia – 16.2
12. Shin-Soo Choo – 16.1
13. Miguel Cabrera – 15.7
14. Ben Zobrist – 15.5
15. Franklin Gutierrez – 15.3
16. Francisco Liriano – 14.9
17. Joe Mauer – 14.7
18. Jon Lester – 14.3
19. John Danks – 14.0
20. Alex Rodriguez – 13.8
WARP and RAR are in much better agreement here than in the NL, at least as far as the hitters go. Cabrera is the big change, as the UZR component of RAR rates him poorly.
I agree with RAR that none of the pitchers are seriously in the mix here. RAR actually has Romero as the league’s most valuable pitcher to date, but that’s not taking schedule strength into account and Romero has had it about as easy as any AL pitcher.
Here’s how they rank by OPS:
1. Justin Morneau – .362/.477/.681 – 1158 – 29 RBI
2. Kevin Youkilis – .324/.459/.593 – 1053 – 26 RBI
3. Miguel Cabrera – .340/.428/.603 – 1030 – 38 RBI
4. Paul Konerko – .262/.372/.631 – 1003 – 30 RBI
5. Ty Wigginton – .305/.369/.617 – 986 – 27 RBI
6. Evan Longoria – .323/.389/.589 – 978 – 37 RBI
7. Robinson Cano – .338/.390/.588 – 977 – 28 RBI
8. Vernon Wells – .301/.359/.596 – 955 – 32 RBI
9. Vladimir Guerrero – .342/.372/.551 – 923 – 35 RBI
10. Luke Scott – .283/.348/.575 – 923 – 20 RBI
11. Joe Mauer – .344/.410/.500 – 910 – 20 RBI
12. Jose Bautista – .242/.352/.556 – 907 – 33 RBI
It’s a clean sweep for Morneau. And I agree that he’s the league’s MVP to date. However, I don’t think it’s as overwhelming as RAR or OPS suggest. Morneau’s suddenly stellar walk rate has let to remarkable OBP, but he’s hitting just .273 with a .455 slugging percentage with runners in scoring position, which is why he has the rather modest RBI total. He’s 0-for-5 with a walk while hitting with the bases loaded this season.
Compare that to Cabrera, who is hitting .426/.534/.660 with RISP. He’s also 4-for-6 with the bases loaded. There’s the difference in RBI right there. Morneau has one RBI in six plate appearances with the sacks packed. Cabrera has 10 in seven plate appearances.
Youkilis also has fewer RBI, but in his case, it’s much more a matter of an opportunity. He hasn’t had a single plate appearance with the bases loaded. He has, however, hit .303/.510/.606 in 33 at-bats with RISP.
As for the other contenders, Longoria is at .340/.387/.547 with RISP, while Cano is at .326/.392/.581.
I’m not really liking the idea of placing three first basemen in the top three, but I think that’s the best arrangement for now. There’s little evidence that either Longoria or Cano is playing Gold Glove-quality defense at the moment, and Mauer did miss a week earlier this month.
First-quarter AL MVP
1. Morneau
2. Cabrera
3. Youkilis
4. Longoria
5. Cano

2016 Winter Meetings Preview

NATIONAL HARBOR, MD - FEBRUARY 26: The Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center is seen along the Potomac River February 26, 2014 in National Harbor, Maryland.  (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
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The baseball world will descend on Washington D.C. — well, the Maryland suburbs of Washington, at the Gaylord Resort at National Harbor — this weekend for the 2016 Winter Meetings. There’s a lot of work to be done.

Twenty free agents from a class of 191 have signed thus far. Among the notable: Yoenis Cespedes, Edinson Volquez, Neil Walker, Josh Reddick, Bartolo Colon, and R.A. Dickey. That, of course, leaves a ton of notables left, including Edwin Encarnacion, Justin Turner, Joe Bautista, Aroldis Chapman, Kenley Jansen, Mark Trumbo, Mark Melancon, Rich Hill and a host of others. Here is our rundown of this offseason’s top free agents if you’re curious. As you have come to expect from us, we’ll have a writeup of everyone who signs, faster than almost anyone else will.

Despite the sheer number of available free agents, this is an historically thin free agent class in terms of talent. That means that, for a team to improve significantly, they may be better served by making a trade. We’ve seen a couple already, most notably the deals which sent Taijuan Walker to the Diamondbacks, Jaime Garcia to the Braves and Brian McCann to the Astros. Most experts believe there will be plenty more this winter, and the ball could really get rolling on that in the next week with guys like Andrew McCutchen, Chris Sale, Chris Archer, Jay Bruce, Curtis Granderson and Brandon Phillips on the block.

Another major activity of the Winter Meetings is the Hall of Fame Veterans Committee vote. Except, this year, there is no Veterans Committee, at least in name. It’s now the “Today’s Game” committee. Here are links to breakdowns of the candidacies of all ten men on the ballot the new committee will consider:

Harold Baines
Albert Belle
Will Clark
Orel Hershiser
Mark McGwire
George Steinbrenner
Davey Johnson
Lou Piniella
John Shuerholz
Bud Selig

Trade deals, free agent negotiations and Hall of Fame votes take place behind closed doors at the Gaylord Resort. One of the major public activities of the Winter Meetings is when all 30 of the managers meet and greet the press. This year’s new faces are Torey Lovullo with the Diamondbacks, Rick Renteria with the White Sox and Bud Black with the Rockies. Brian Snitker, now the permanent manager of the Braves, will get his first go-around at the managerial cattle call. I’ll be in the scrum for a lot of these guys — they do them two at a time so I can’t see everyone — and will let you know if they say anything fun.

Outside of the transactions and the Hall of Fame stuff, we have the more mundane Winter Meetings business. And a lot of it. Indeed, the vast majority of the people at the Meetings aren’t there for transactions. They’re there to network, seek jobs and discuss the business of baseball like any other industry convention. Ever year we hear about a rule change or a proposal for future rule changes at the Meetings, though this year’s brand new Collective Bargaining Agreement should overshadow that. We’ve already discussed the major points of that and, yesterday, I speculated that, as time goes on, the way this agreement was reached could lead to some serious strife going forward, particularly on the union side. Expect to hear some anonymous rumblings about all of that in the next few days, from players, agents and other interested parties who may not be all that pleased with how it goes.

The final event of the Winter Meetings is the Rule 5 Draft, which will take place at 8am on Thursday morning. You likely have no idea who most of the players who will be selected are, but here’s a good place to start your research on that. If your team takes someone in the draft, the most important thing to know is that he’ll either be on the big league roster all year or he’ll have to be returned to his original team. Well, they could be stashed on the disabled list with phantom injuries so they won’t have to be returned, but no team would ever do that, would they? Perish the thought.

So, yes, there’s a lot to be done. I’ll be on the scene at National Harbor, bringing you all the best hot stove business we have to offer and, as usual, some more fun odds and ends from baseball’s biggest offseason event. As they used to say in radio, tune in to us and rip off the dial. Or, at the very least, keep a tab open to us and refresh a lot.

The Padres non-tendered RHP Tyson Ross

SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA - APRIL 04:  Tyson Ross #38 of the San Diego Padres walks off the field as he's taken out of the game in the sixth inning of a baseball game against the Los Angeles Dodgers on opening day at PETCO Park on April 4, 2016 in San Diego, California.  (Photo by Denis Poroy/Getty Images)
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Per a report by MLB.com’s AJ Cassavell, the Padres non-tendered right-handed starter Tyson Ross on Friday, cutting loose their top ace after three seasons with the club.

Ross, 29, was sidelined for the bulk of the season with inflammation in his right shoulder and underwent thoracic outlet surgery in October. His injuries limited him to only 5 1/3 innings in 2016, during which he gave up seven runs and struck out five in a 15-0 blowout against the Dodgers.

Prior to his lengthy stint on the disabled list, the right-hander earned 9.5 fWAR and pitched to a 3.07 ERA and 9.2 K/9 rate in three full seasons with the Padres. He avoided arbitration with a one-year, $9.625 million deal prior to the 2016 season after leading the league with 33 starts and delivering a 3.26 ERA and career-best 4.4 WARP over 196 innings in 2015.

The Padres appear open to bringing Ross back to San Diego, reported Cassavell, albeit not at such a steep cost. Cassavell quoted Padres’ GM A.J. Preller, who was reportedly in trade talks involving Ross but unable to strike a deal, likely due to the right-hander’s recent health issues. Preller denied that those same health issues factored into the club’s decision to non-tender their ace.

With the move, Ross became one of 35 major leaguers to enter free agency on Friday.