When the “best” player who “unquestionably provides the most value to his team” is not the MVP

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I take it back. Heyman’s MVP column was not all that convoluted after all. That’s because I just read Buster Olney’s and I can’t recall anything as confounding. And that’s with 98% of it being excellent.

It’s behind a paywall so you may not be able to read it. But I will do it justice in summary. Really — I am not adding my own gloss here. This is a faithful summary of Olney’s reasoning:

    • Doing something because “that’s the way it’s always been done” is stupid;
    • Voting for MVP award winners based on them being on a winning team is the way it’s always been done and that’s stupid. Writers do it, though, because they are slaves to this precedent which started in the 1930s.
    • It shouldn’t be this way. The MVP should go to the best player regardless of how his team finishes in the standings.
    • “I also think [Mike] Trout is the best player in baseball, and he unquestionably provides the most value to his team of any player in the sport.”
    • He then says that if he had a vote he’d vote for Miguel Cabrera because “the MVP voting is chained to the past, for now: That’s the way we’ve always done it.  Because the criteria hasn’t changed — and until it does, the precedent should continue to carry interpretative weight.”

I repeat: all of that precedent is stupid. It should no longer stand. But it binds me, Buster Olney, to say Miguel Cabrera is the MVP despite the fact that I think Mike Trout is “the best player in baseball, and he unquestionably provides the most value.”

I’m sorry. We’re through the looking glass here.

I tweeted the upshot of this post a few minutes ago. Here was Buster’s response to me:

I guess I can get why he might consider my criticism of his stunning incoherence here to be a personal attack (though he’s the one calling people names). However, I personally see it as an instance in which one of the most influential opinion makers in all of baseball is making a strong argument that he himself is afraid to follow.

Question: If Buster can’t listen to his own reason and conscience with respect to this matter, why should anyone else?

Evan Longoria: ‘I just kind of feel sorry for the Rays fan base’

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The Rays were busy over the weekend, trading starter Jake Odorizzi to the Twins, designating All-Star outfielder Corey Dickerson for assignment, and then picking up C.J. Cron in a deal with the Angels. The Rays saved about $4 million — Odorizzi’s $6.3 million less Cron’s $2.3 million salary — and picked up a prospect. They’re still on the hook for Dickerson’s $5.95 million salary until they can find a trade partner, which seems likely.

Those are some head-scratching moves if you’re a Rays fan or a member of the Rays. Dickerson hit .282/.325/.490 with 27 home runs, 62 RBI, and 84 runs scored in 629 plate appearances last season, part of which resulted in his first trip to the All-Star Game. Designating him for assignment is strictly a financial move, assuming he can be traded. The Rays are currently operating with a payroll below $70 million. This comes just a week and a half after Rays ownership proposed the public footing most of the bill for the club’s new stadium. And the Rays had traded third baseman Evan Longoria — then the face of the franchise — to the Giants earlier this offseason.

Longoria expressed sympathy for Rays fans for having to put up with this. Via Andrew Baggarly, Longoria said of the curious Dickerson move, “I just kind of feel sorry for the Rays fan base. … I’m not going to take too many shots but it’s pretty obvious that guy is a valuable player and didn’t deserve to be DFAd. Corey was our best player last year.”

Longoria isn’t quite on the money there. By WAR, Dickerson ranked fifth among position players on the team, according to Baseball Reference. FanGraphs is also in agreement. Still, it’s indisputable that Dickerson, who turns 29 years old this May, more than pulled his weight. The Rays do not have a surfeit of starting outfielders, so it wasn’t like they were making room for other capable players. Mallex Smith, who put up a .684 OPS in 282 PA last year, is slated to start in left field at the moment. Designating Dickerson for assignment, as well as trading Longoria and Odorizzi, were simply cost-cutting decisions.

The Rays’ M.O. has been part of the problem leading to the current stagnant free agent market (sans Eric Hosmer‘s eight-year deal on Saturday). Teams like the Rays, Phillies, Reds, and Tigers have been explicitly putting out non-competitive teams in order to facilitate a rebuilding process. Longoria is right to express sympathy for Rays fans, who see their favorite team worsening a roster that went 80-82 last year. The Rays haven’t finished at .500 or above since 2013 and doesn’t figure to halt the streak this year.