Your Awards Week Preview

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Starting tomorrow, the Baseball Writers Association of America will announce the winners of the major postseason awards. Tomorrow is Rookie of the Year Awards (both of them), Tuesday is the NL Cy Young Award, Wednesday is both Manager of the Year Awards, Thursday is the AL Cy Young Award, next Monday is the NL MVP and next Tuesday is the AL MVP. All awards will be announced at 2PM Eastern. And of course, we’ll report the winners and analyze the bejesus out of it after it happens.

In the meantime, let’s refresh ourselves on the top candidates and make some predictions while we’re at it:

ROOKIE OF THE YEAR

Who should win: I like Neftali Feliz in the AL, with his dominance making up for the fact that he only pitched 69 innings, but Austin Jackson — much more overall production in less spectacular ways — is a good choice as well.  In the NL it’s a battle between Jason Heyward and Buster Posey. That’s a really close call, as Posey was clearly more valuable defensively because he’s a catcher, but Heyward was pretty good in right too.  Posey was the better hitter thanks to Heyward’s midseason injury and his late swoon, but Heyward played all season, giving him an advantage in overall production. This is probably the toughest call of any award, but if I had to pick I’d probably say Heyward. Yeah, I realize I have a bias, but I’m doing my best to put it aside.  This, for me anyway, is all about that missing month for Posey and the acknowledgment that Rookie of the Year is not about the most valuable rookie, but who had the most outstanding regular season.  All of that said, you won’t hear me complaining if Posey gets it, because the dude was tough stuff this year.

Who will win: Remember: the ballots were sent in before the postseason, so none of the stuff Posey did in the playoffs — or that Heyward didn’t do — counts.  If it did, it would be Posey in a walk.  I think, however, that Heyward will edge him out by a very tight margin.

MANAGER OF THE YEAR

Who should win: I never know what to do with manager of the year. No one can explain a good way to measure the candidates against one another. It usually ends up with a “who did the most with the least” analysis, but there is all kinds of subjectivity that can be brought into that, if for no other reason than it’s hard to figure out exactly what a manager did to make a team overachieve expectations.  We give managers too much credit when they win and too much blame when they lose and likely always will.  Against that backdrop I’ll say that, if I had a ballot, I’d vote for Dusty Baker in the NL and Ron Washington in the AL. Ask me again tomorrow and I might say Bobby Cox and Ron Gardenhire. Ask me on Tuesday and I might say Bud Black and Joe Maddon.  I’m sorta conflicted about the whole thing, really.

Who will win: I’m guessing it will be Baker and Washington. If Bud Black wins, we’ll have to ask if his victory is less about the job he did as manager and more about the pundits’ serious misread of the Padres talent. We all were amazed by them, sure, but maybe we were just wrong, too. Wouldn’t a vote for Black really be about excusing our ignorance of how good that club really was? I mean, the team had a 10-game losing streak late that woofed them out of the playoffs. How many managers win the award when they do that?

AL CY YOUNG AWARD

Who should win: This has been beaten to death already. Felix Hernandez is my choice because wins don’t tell you jack about a pitcher’s value. I won’t rehash the arguments, though, because frankly, I think we’re all tired of it.

Who will win: So much of the Felix Hernandez Truther Brigade’s vehemence was based on our belief that those rotten know-nothings in the BBWAA would get it wrong and give the award to Sabathia. I’ll admit, however, with a month of perspective, we all went a bit nuts on that. The people who vote on the awards don’t write about who should win or lose beforehand. They’re prohibited from doing so. That means all of those people making boneheaded arguments in favor of Sabtahia and David Price are, by definition, non-voters.  I’ve talked to a few writers who have been around this block many times before, and they tend to believe that their voting colleagues actually favor Hernandez. We’ll see, of course, but there is probably some truth to the notion that those who derided Hernandez’s case the loudest are the least representative of the actual voting pool. Color me optimistic: I think King Felix takes this thing.

NL CY YOUNG AWARD

Who should win: Roy Halladay.

Who will win: Roy Halladay.

You were expecting more?  I’m not gonna bother, really, because I think Halladay taking this thing is the easiest call of any award so there’s no use wasting mental effort making a for-the-sake-of-argument case for Ubaldo Jimenez or Adam Wainwright or whoever. Doc was the best. QED.

AL MVP AWARD

Who should win it: Yet another close one, with Josh Hamilton and Miquel Cabrera each being excellent choices. Hamilton will get votes because of his league-leading OPS, his defensive value and the “he carried them to the playoffs” thing, Cabrera will get votes because he had more plate appearances thanks to Hamilton’s late season injury and — oh yeah — had a hell of a year too. If I have a vote I give it to Hamilton, but again, this is not a year where my favored guy not getting it will be an atrocity or anything.

Who will win: I think Hamilton gets it, but it will be close. There are a lot of other viable options for those who would vote against him because of the playing time, such as Robinson Cano and Evan Longoria, so I think the anti-Hamilton vote — to the extent we can call it that — will be split.  Really, though, I’m more interested to see how the downballot candidates do this year, because it might give us a bit of a read on how much the BBWAA is weighing defense these days.

NL MVP AWARD

Who should win: Joey Votto and Albert Pujols had outrageously similar seasons. Really, if you switched their batting lines over at Baseball-Reference.com or something, I bet it would be weeks before any non-obsessives noticed something was amiss.  Pujols is a better defender, but I have a hard time getting animated about defensive differences at first base unless they’re just tremendous.  I give it to Votto, for the reasons explained in the “who will win” section below.

Who will win: Votto, for two reasons. First, his team beat the Cardinals for the division crown, and when all things are equal — as they are here — BBWAA voters will reward the player on the better team. Second, writers like a good story, and more importantly, they like a fresh story. Albert Pujols has hardware already, and for as nice a guy as he is, he’s a bit familiar by now while Votto is new blood in these debates.  I normally discount both of those things when it comes to the awards, but I’d be lying if I said that they didn’t tempt me in this case. Sure, if you can make an argument that clearly puts Pujols above Votto on the objective merits I’ll listen, but I just can’t see it right now. With nowhere else to turn, I find myself seduced by the narrative considerations.  Votto is the man.

While it has become great sport to deride the BBWAA, they’ve actually gotten a lot better at awards choices in recent years.  It’s been a long time since we’ve had a Mo Vaughn or Juan Gonzalez-style clunker in one of the biggies.  And this year, apart from the much-debated AL Cy Young Awards, the candidates all seem pretty plausible.  If I had to guess, I’d say that all of the winners will be deserving ones.  Which will be no fun for blogging purposes, but will be more than worth it.

Seattle Mariners to make a “full-court press” for Shohei Ohtani

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Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto said in a team-sponsored podcast the other day that the M’s will make a “full-court press” for Shohei Ohtani. To that end, Dipoto said that the M’s would be willing to let the two-way star to pitch and to hit, which is something Ohtani is interested in doing in the United States. Not all clubs are likely to let him do this, with most likely seeing him as a starting pitcher only.

Ohtani, who is expected to be posted by his Japanese team, the Nippon Ham Fighters, possibly as early as today, can sign with anyone he wants. He is, however, subject to the international bonus pool caps, so the bids on him will be somewhat limited. The Texas Rangers and New York Yankees have the most money available: $3.535 million for the Rangers and $3.5 million for the Yankees. The Twins ($3.245 million), Pirates ($2.266 million), Marlins ($1.74 million) and Mariners ($1.57 million) are the only other teams with more than $1 million left. Twelve teams — including the Dodgers, Cubs, Cardinals and Astros — are limited to a maximum of $300,000, having met or exceeded their caps for this signing period already.

Ohtani, however, is said to be less motivated by money than he is by finding the right situation. While a lot of guys say that, the fact that Ohtani is coming over to the U.S. now, when his financial prospects are limited, as opposed to waiting for two years when he is not subject to the bonus caps and could sign for nine figures, suggests that he is telling the truth. As such, a team like the Mariners that is willing to allow him to hit and pitch could make up for the couple of million less they have in bonus money to spend.

As for how that might work logistically, Dipoto said that the team would be willing to play DH Nelson Cruz a few days in the outfield to accommodate Ohtani, allowing him to DH on the days he’s not pitching. That might be . . . interesting to see, but given how badly the Mariners could use a good starting pitcher, they have an incentive to be creative.

Ohtani, 23, suffered some injuries in 2017, limiting him to just five starts and 65 games as a hitter. In 2016, however, he hit .289/.356/.547 with 22 homers in 342 at-bats and went 11-3 with a 3.24 ERA, and a K/BB ratio of 146/51 in 133.1 innings as a starter.

Five clubs have more money to spend on Ohtani than the Mariners do. None of those teams are on the west coast, which some Asian players have said in the past they preferred due to faster travel back home. The Mariners, owned for a long time by a Japanese company which still retains a minority interest in the club, and long the home for high-profile Japanese players such as Ichiro and Hisashi Iwakuma, likely have a better media and marketing reach in Japan than most other teams as well, which might be a factor in his decision making process. Is all that enough to sway Ohtani?

We’ll find out over the next couple of weeks.