Premature Proclamation
August 21, 2006

There's more than a month left in the season yet the MVP award seems to be the big topic these days.  Despite the fact that the award is almost always decided in September, people have begun to argue over "who should be the MVP".  I'm guessing most of the buzz in the AL is driven by the Yankee media machine which is responsible for about 90% of the drivel that infects baseball.  There's still almost a quarter of the season left to be played; it's way too early to start counting votes.  In 1993, Lenny Dykstra was widely viewed as the no doubt NL MVP in August.  The final tally turned out differently as Barry Bonds won his second consecutive and third overall that year.  The point is it's quite premature to engage in serious discussion about the most valuable players in each league.  Still, it's worth noting the strange direction the discussion has moved.

The most amusing candidate so far is Derek Jeter.  Offensively, he's no better than Carlos Guillen and defensively, at least according to the Dewan Fielding Bible, he's one of the worst in the majors.  He's not even the best shortstop on his own team.  So are his boosters just overly enamored with his batting average?  I don't get it.  If any shortstop deserves MVP consideration, it has to be Carlos Guillen.  He's the engine that drives the team with the best record in baseball.  Since the writers refuse to look at the MVP as the best player award, instead preferring ethereal requirements that have become cliché, like team leader on a winning team... well, no player better epitomizes that than Carlos Guillen.  Jeter is no better than the second best shortstop candidate in the AL, even in the "intangible" categories he usually dominates in the minds of writers. 

David Ortiz' candidacy makes more sense to me than Jeter's because he's leading the league in homers and RBI and has come up with a ridiculous number of big hits this year.  Still, there's an argument to be made that he's not the best DH in the league so how can he be MVP?  And after this weekend's drubbing, the Red Sox aren't a playoff team so there's little chance he can win regardless of herculean efforts. 

As an aside, I have to wonder what Terry Francona was thinking during the final innings of Sunday's game.  I don't have a problem with him bringing in Timlin to start the 8th or Javier Lopez to face the lefties that inning.  Jonathan Papelbon can not pitch every relief inning so someone else in the Red Sox bullpen has to start getting hitters out.  It's just unfortunate that Boston doesn't have any other guys like that.  But that's not Francona's fault; it's Theo Epstein's.  No, what I don't get is why with the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth, when you've already pinch hit for Gabe Kapler, why he didn't also pinch hit for Doug Mirabelli?  Mirabelli is easily the worst hitter on the team when Willie Harris isn't on the roster, and he had Javy Lopez on the bench.  Yes, Lopez is not a good defensive catcher, but he's most definitely a better hitter than Mirabelli, plus a) if he gets a hit or somehow reaches base the point is moot, and b) with the way the Boston bullpen has been pitching, is a catcher's defense or ability to call a game really Boston's most pressing concern?  They issued 4 bases loaded walks this weekend.  That doesn't sound like a catcher problem.  Mirabelli had faced Rivera just once previously in his career and drew a walk.  That wasn't going to happen again; there's no way Rivera would have walked in the winning run against a .198 hitter.  Lopez had a lifetime .267 batting average against Rivera in 15 at bats so at least he a modest history of success.  Unless Lopez was in a coma, not pinch hitting for Mirabelli made no sense especially with elimination from the playoffs for all intents and purposes on the line.  Boston is now five games behind the Twins for second place in the wild card and six and a half behind the Yanks with only four games head-to-head left.   They'll have plenty of free time to ponder this weekend in October; they're done.

But back to the MVP talk... the guy with probably the strongest candidacy at this point is probably Joe Mauer, who is the best catcher in the AL with little debate.  Plus he, along with Justin Morneau, have been the key offensive components to the Twins rise in the wild card race.  He's also get a very good chance to be the first catcher in AL history to win a batting title and the third backstop ever to do it, following Bubbles Hargrave and Ernie "the Schnozz" Lombardi.  How can you not win MVP when you're running with that company?  But can voters overlook the guys with the 40-50 homers and give it to a guy who will likely finish with a mere 15 homers?  Probably not.  Unless that guy's name is Jeter.  Mauer has a higher average, on base and slugging percentage, plays a physically more demanding and strategically more important position yet Jeter is viewed as an equally good or perhaps even better candidate.  Y'see how ridiculous this is? 

Still, the writers inability to understand or even define the term "valuable" is not where I want to focus my energy on this topic.  I wanted to throw out another name that has escaped mention and a type of player that really hasn't been considered for the post season award since Pete Rose was playing.  The guy I'd like to toss into the discussion is Mark DeRosa.  No, I don't think he'll win, nor does he necessarily deserve to.  But think about it.  Managers have to give just about every regular a day off every once in a while.  Usually, the guy they turn to is one of a hundred Ramon Vazquez' of the world to fill that day's role.  In Texas, however, it doesn't matter which all-star Buck Showalter decides to rest on any given day.  He pencils in a guy who has produced as well or better than his regulars all season.  Hank Blalock needs a day off, no problem; Mark DeRosa.  Michael Young or Mark Teixeira or future all-star Ian Kinsler... again, no problem.  Mark DeRosa.  He's played everywhere but catcher and center field.  His .325 average is 5th best overall in the AL and .896 OPS is 17th best.  He's played 26 games at second base and no AL second baseman has an OPS within 100 points of him.  He's been so good that he's pretty much been an everyday player despite not playing the same position more than three or four days in a row.  If we're talking about how valuable a player is to his team, how can it not be incredibly valuable to a team when a manager can rest any player at any position and not lose anything offensively from his replacement? 

Maybe stuff like that isn't as valuable as diving into the stands for a foul ball.