Miguel Cabrera Getty

And the MVP Awards will go to …

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Awards week concludes tonight when, at 6PM Eastern, the winners of the MVP Awards, as voted on by the Baseball Writers Association of America, will be announced on MLB Network.  Let’s break it down:

The Finalists

American League:  Adrian BeltreMiguel CabreraRobinson CanoJosh Hamilton, Mike Trout

National LeagueRyan BraunChase HeadleyAndrew McCutchenYadier MolinaBuster Posey

The Favorites:

Everyone agrees that the AL Award is going to come down to the Tigers Miguel Cabrera and the Angels Mike Trout.  The National League is thought by most to be a three-horse race, with either the Giants Buster Posey, the Brewers Ryan Braun or the Cardinals Yadier Molina poised to take home the hardware.

The Arguments:

The American League MVP has been argued about for a couple of months now.  If you’re familiar with the arguments, you’re likely tired of them. If not, know that it comes down, as these things so often do, to a difference of opinion about what constitutes value.

Those who support Miguel Cabrera note that he did something which hadn’t been done for 45 years: win the Triple Crown by leading the league in batting average (.330), home runs (44) and RBI (139), all while leading the Tigers to the playoffs.  He is given extra credit by his supporters for moving to third base after playing at first base for several years, and such a move is no small trick, historically speaking.

The Trout supporters, meanwhile, point to his overall game, noting that his offensive numbers were almost as good as Cabrera’s — he hit .326 with 30 homers and 83 RBI and posted an OBP of .399 and slugged at a .564 clip — but that he (a) was a fantastic baserunner, stealing 49 bases in 54 attempts; and (b) played elite defense in center field as well, while Cabrera’s time at third base was decidedly lackluster, even if it was admirable.  While the Angels, unlike the Tigers, did not make the playoffs, Trout supporters argue that this wasn’t Trout’s fault, as he was not with the team for the first month of the season. They also note that, playoffs or not, the Angels won more games than the Tigers did, while playing in a tougher division. If you ask them, they’ll also tell you that the quality of the team a player is on should not have any bearing on his qualifications for an individual award like the MVP.

The National League arguments are less contentious. The defending MVP, Ryan Braun, had another fantastic season, leading the league in homers (41), runs (108) and OPS (.987). Posey, meanwhile, led the league in batting average (.336) and OPS+ (172), which adjusts OPS for the ballpark in which he played (Posey’s home park, AT&T Park, is rougher on hitters than Miller Park in Milwaukee).  Posey also catches and does it well, which gives him more defensive value than Braun.  The Cardinals Yadier Molina, for his part, is perhaps the best defensive catcher in living memory. And while he did not lead the league in any offensive categories, he posted a fantastic offensive season hitting .315/.373/.501 while hitting 22 homers to accompany that other-worldly defense behind the plate.

There are some other, less statistical arguments for and against these fellows as well. Posey came back in 2012 after a gruesome leg injury. Braun, the 2011 MVP, was dogged by a positive (but ultimately overturned on appeal) PED test at the end of last year, which will likely cause many voters to discount his case and/or punish him for what happened in the offseason.  Molina doesn’t have a narrative case like that, unless some voters give him a bit of extra value for helping lead the Cardinals to the playoffs after they lost future Hall of Famer Albert Pujols to free agency. That’s not likely to be a major factor, however.

The Prediction:

Ultimately MVP voters are going to be unable to resist voting for a Triple Crown winner and are going to be unable to cast votes for a guy in Ryan Braun who many view as tainted by PEDs. Molina will, as he so often has been over the course of his career, be overlooked and underrated.

As such, Miguel Cabrera and Buster Posey,this writer predicts, will take home the hardware and it won’t be particularly close.  Tune it to MLB Network at 6PM tonight — or just come here to HardballTalk — to find out for sure.

The deeper implications of the A.J. Ellis trade

LOS ANGELES, CA - MAY 17:  Clayton Kershaw #22 of the Los Angeles Dodgers heads to the dugout at the end of the first inning against the Los Angeles Angels at Dodger Stadium on May 17, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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The trade of a light-hitting backup catcher is normally about as inconsequential as it gets. The trade of A.J. Ellis by the Dodgers to the Phillies, however, is anything but that. Indeed, it may be the public manifestation of long-simmering, well, maybe “feud” is too strong a word, but a definite butting of heads between the team’s front office and its best player.

While almost all of the clubhouse drama in Los Angeles has surrounded a talented but aggravating corner outfielder currently toiling in the minors, Dylan Hernandez of the Los Angeles Times wrote last night that the Ellis trade could very well be seen as the front office’s shot across Clayton Kershaw‘s bow:

Kershaw’s preference of Ellis was the subject of a longstanding tug-of-war between Kershaw and the front office, which wanted Yasmani Grandal behind the plate as much as possible . . . Some players interpreted the trade as a message from the front office.

This isn’t Kershaw’s team. It’s not Corey Seager’s team or Adrian Gonzalez’s, either.

It’s Friedman’s.

The notion that Kershaw likes to pitch to Ellis is pretty well-known, but the idea that it was so strong a preference that it created a dispute as to whether he has final say over a roster spot is news, at least to people who aren’t around the Dodgers all the time. Hernandez is a good columnist and is particularly well-plugged in to the Dodgers after many years of being their beat writer for the Times. He wouldn’t throw the notion of there being something of a power struggle in this regard out there all willy-nilly in order to stir the pot or something. I don’t doubt for a second that something bigger than most of us have seen is going on here.

As for the trade itself: yeah, it’s pretty debatable as to whether it makes any kind of sense. Carlos Ruiz is likely an upgrade over Ellis, but it’s a pretty marginal upgrade when you consider how few plate appearances the Dodgers backup catcher will make for the rest of the year. It’s especially marginal if you assume, as Hernandez and others assume, likely with reason, that the loss of Ellis is going to harm morale. At least in the short term before they get to know Ruiz well (worth noting, though, that he comes pretty highly recommended from Kershaw-caliber aces for all the same reasons Ellis does). I can see a lot of reasons not to make that deal even for an extra hit or two a week that Ruiz may give you over Ellis.

All of which speaks to what we don’t know. What we don’t know about the mind of Andrew Friedman and whether or not there is something more going on here than is immediately apparent. About the relationship between him and Kershaw and, for that matter, him and the rest of the team that would cause him to make a deal that plays as poorly with his own players as this one does. It could be something about Ellis. It could be something about Friedman’s relationship with Kershaw. It could be something totally unrelated to any of that, such as offseason plans and the roster in 2017 (Ruiz has a team option for next year, Ellis is a pending free agent). Unless or until Friedman speaks or a reporter gets someone to shed more light on this, there will continue to be questions.

In the meantime, I’ll grant that there are certainly different rules which apply to superstars than mere mortals, but veto power over a trade and/or playing time for other players isn’t typically one of them. If, as Hernandez suggests, there was a sense that Kershaw and Friedman didn’t see eye-to-eye on that and it wasn’t otherwise being resolved, it makes Friedman’s move somewhat more understandable.

World Baseball Classic pools, venues announced

SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO - MARCH 10:  Miguel Cabrera #24 of Venezuela gets a hit and drives in a run against Spain during the first round of the World Baseball Classic at Hiram Bithorn Stadium on March 10, 2013 in San Juan, Puerto Rico.  (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
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Yesterday the folks who run the World Baseball Classic (i.e. the Rand Corporation, in conjunction with the saucer people, under the supervision of the reverse vampires, the Illuminati and the Trilateral Commission) announced the groupings and venues for next springs’s tournament. It breaks down thusly:

  • Pool A will play in Tokyo, featuring Australia, China, Cuba, and Japan;
  • Pool B will play in Seoul, featuring Chinese Taipei, Korea, the Netherlands, and either Brazil, Israel, Great Britain, or Pakistan (final participant to be determined at a qualifying tournament in New York next month);
  • Pool C will play in Miami, featuring Canada, the Dominican Republic, Colombia, and the United States;
  • Pool D will play in Guadalajara, featuring Italy, Mexico, Puerto Rico, and Venezuela.

A winner and a runner-up will advance from each pool following a round-robin competition. That will result in a second round robin made up of Pool A and B — which will be called Pool E, because it HAS to be complicated — and which will be played in Tokyo. Meanwhile, Pool C and D’s representatives will make up Pool F, who will play in San Diego at Petco Park.

The winner of Pool F will then take on the runner-up of Pool E in a semifinal at Dodger Stadium, while the winner of Pool E will face Pool F’s runner-up there as well. The winners of those matches will play in the WBC final, also at Dodger Stadium.

Got it? Good.

Now we wait. And listen to people tell us how much we should care about the World Baseball Classic between now and March.