MLBPA’s “Heart and Hustle” award has amusing candidates

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Today the MLB players association released the list of 30 candidates for their annual “Heart and Hustle” award that’s “presented to an active player who demonstrates a passion for the game of baseball and best embodies the values, spirit, and traditions of the game.”

A few things about the candidates list stood out to me …

• Matt Kemp is the Dodgers’ candidate, which is pretty extraordinary given that his own general manager publicly criticized his lack of hustle throughout the season. His heart must be off the charts to make up for it. Or something.

• Dustin Pedroia is the Red Sox’s candidate. His “heart” was so big that he missed the final 40 games of the season after trying to play through a foot injury that worsened. He did show a lot of “hustle” by taking infield reps from his knees while on the disabled list.

• Pablo Sandoval is the Giants’ candidate, which is a remarkable accomplishment for a 5-foot-11, 250-pound man who runs the bases like he’s wearing skates.

• I’m not sure if Twins candidate Nick Punto deserves the “heart and hustle” award but I’d certainly be in favor of giving him the “false hustle” award for sliding head-first into first base on every close play this decade.

• Of the 30 candidates listed, 17 of them can probably be described as “white guys.” Most of the time in surveys about “hustle” or its various synonyms Caucasians unfortunately tend to dominate, but in this case that’s right around MLB’s overall “white guy” population. Not surprisingly, the inaugural winner of the award back in 2005 was David Eckstein, but in fairness Albert Pujols was the winner last season.

Jonny Venters is still pitching

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Lefty reliever Jonny Venters was among a handful of players the Rays signed to minor league contracts, Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times reports.

Venters, 32, hasn’t pitched in the majors since 2012 and has logged just 27 2/3 innings in the minors in the meantime due to a continuous battle with his elbow. According to David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Venters has undergone four — four! — Tommy John surgeries.

When he was healthy, Venters was a fearsome late-game option for the Braves. He posted a 1.95 ERA with 93 strikeouts in 83 innings in 2010, and a 1.84 ERA with 96 strikeouts in 88 innings in 2011. His first-half performance in 2011 earned him a spot on the National League All-Star roster.

Venters has spent the last two years in the Rays’ system and he’ll try to make it a third.