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.

Joe Morgan is asking Hall of Fame voters to keep PED users out

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Hall of Famer Joe Morgan has never equivocated on his belief that users of performance enhancing drugs should not be allowed into the Hall of Fame. Whenever he has been interviewed on the subject he has been steadfast in his stance that PED users are not worthy of induction.

This week he has taken a further step: he has sent a letter to all of the Hall of Fame voters, asking them to keep PED users out.

In his letter — the entirety of which you can read over at Joe Posnanski’s blog — Morgan says “if steroid users get in, it will divide and diminish the Hall, something we couldn’t bear.” By “we,” he’s clearly referring to Hall of Fame members. While he does not name any player he would like to see voters keep out, he spends a lot of time talking about how PEDs are bad for baseball, PED users cheated the game and how he and many other Hall of Famers do not want to see them elected. He invokes “youngsters” and refers to the Hall of Fame as “special” and speaks to the “sanctity” of election. It’s the moral argument against PED use we’ve been hearing for a goof 15 years or so.

It’s also hopelessly naive and comes far too late in the game to be a useful plea.

As we’ve noted many, many times, there are already PED users in the Hall of Fame. Amphetamine users to be sure, but even if you want to give them a pass, there are steroid and/or HGH users too. In case you forgot about that, allow me to remind you about the time Hall of Fame voter Thomas Boswell appeared in Ken Burns’ “Baseball” documentary update “The Tenth Inning” and explicitly said that he personally witnessed a current Hall of Famer drink a PED-laden shake:

“There was another player now in the Hall of Fame who literally stood with me and mixed something and I said “What’s that?” and he said “it’s a Jose Canseco milkshake”. And that year that Hall of Famer hit more home runs than ever hit any other year. So it wasn’t just Canseco, and so one of the reasons that I thought that it was an important subject was that it was spreading. It was already spreading by 1988.”

Boswell tends to keep pretty silent about that come Hall of Fame voting time in December, but he has never backed off the claim either.

Less reliable, but still never refuted, were the stories of Patty Blyleven, former wife of Hall of Famer Bert Blyleven, who said that she knows of a Hall of Famer who took PEDs as well, and who continues to nonetheless publicly rail against PED use. There are likewise other Hall of Famers of whom baseball writers are strongly convinced — or know for a fact — took PEDs but about whom they’ve never reported because no one would go on the record about it or corroborate it in a way that satisfies prevailing journalistic standards. Go ask a BBWAA member about why it took Jeff Bagwell so long to get into the Hall of Fame. Or simply go back and read what they said about him a few years ago.

Going beyond those cases are the cases of a host of players — players who have been on the ballot for years —  about which we’ll never, ever know. Do we know for sure that any of the guys currently on the ballot who played before drug testing never took PEDs? Of course not. In light of that all Morgan can ask is for voters to keep players of an entire era out. Which is a completely unreasonable and unfair request.

In the absence of guidance from the Hall of Fame or Major League Baseball, BBWAA voters were somewhat inconsistent with alleged PED users for a time, but they’re beginning to coalesce around a set of rough standards:

  • If you tested positive for PEDs or were disciplined for PEDs after the testing program was fully online like Manny Ramirez and Rafael Palmeiro did, you’re not getting in. Figure Alex Rodriguez will fall in this group one day too;
  • If you were strongly and convincingly associated with PEDs in the pre-testing era like Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, the road you have to go down is going to be pretty bumpy, but you may, possibly, get in one day if you were an overwhelmingly great player;
  • If you were seen as one-dimensional like Mark McGwire or Sammy Sosa and either admitted to PED use or were suspected of it, welp, sorry. We’ll leave why Sosa is suspected of it to another post.

All of this is will likely change slightly over time. Bonds and Clemens have recently gotten over the 50% voting threshold and could gain some steam with the voters. Alex Rodriguez was good enough and his post-career image rehabilitation has been such that he may get more support than most post-testing PED guys one day. Maybe McGwire and Sosa will get new looks down the road by some iteration of the Veteran’s Committee. After that, there aren’t a lot of guys who are seriously in the Hall of Fame discussion with credible PED claims against them.

Which is to say that history is sorting itself out, for better or for worse. Sorting itself out in a way that renders Morgan’s views on the matter — whether you consider them well-founded or otherwise — too little, too late and, given what we know and do not know about PED users, rather useless.