It's been a great year for very young starting pitchers, surprise managers in the American League and Albert Pujols. Here are my midseason award winners:
1. Joe Mauer, Twins. Looks like it'll be three times for an AL catcher winning a batting title, with the previous two winners also being Mauer. Superb pick by former GM Terry Ryan and those great Twins scouts taking Mauer over the higher-priced Mark Prior. Terrific defender. On a level by himself.
2. Jason Bay, Red Sox. Sixteen of his 19 home runs have come with men on base, an outrageous percentage, which explains how he leads the league with 70 RBIs. Great get by GM Theo Epstein to acquire him for the malingering, hCG-using Manny Ramirez. Now the trick will be signing him.
3. Torii Hunter, Angels. Terrific leader and team player has been hot all year, keeping the Angels in a dead-heat situation despite a tragic first half that could have derailed one of baseball's best organizations.
4. Evan Longoria, Rays. Superb all-around player is living up to the glowing projections, both offensively and defensively.
5. Ben Zobrist, Rays. While playing most positions, the versatile Zobrist has come out of nowhere to have a .609 slugging percentage.
AL LVP (Least Valuable Player): Vernon Wells, Blue Jays. A splendid player before signing a $126 million contract, he hasn't been worth a fraction of it ever since. Batting .167 with RISP, .281 with bases empty. Too bad, because it's been a great year for Adam Lind, Aaron Hill, Marco Scutaro and most of the other Blue Jays.
1. Albert Pujols, Cardinals. No contest here. His numbers (33 HRs, 82 RBIs, .336 average) are crazy, even for him. The absolute best.
2. Hanley Ramirez, Marlins. Terrific talent had 10-game RBI streak recently. The Marlins are right in the thick of the race with their perennially tiny payroll and the usual issues (defense, 'pen) thanks largely to this guy.
3. Raul Ibanez, Phillies. A groin injury has kept him out for weeks, yet he's still on the home run and RBI leaderboard. He played so well that folks were disbelieving it was real.
4. Prince Fielder, Brewers. The majors' most valuable vegetarian (I'm not counting Tony La Russa) is back to his form of two years ago with 22 homers, 76 RBIs and a .313 batting average. Teammate Ryan Braun, who has become a terrific left fielder in no time, is another worthy candidate.
5. Brad Hawpe, Rockies. He has been in the center of the Rockies' incredible comeback. His .990 OPS stands out.
NL LVP:Milton Bradley, Cubs. Not only has he played poorly (.245, 6 HRs, 19 RBIs) but he has lost track of the number of outs and moved to No. 1 on Piniella's enemies list.
1. Zack Greinke, Royals. He doesn't have that sub-Gibby ERA anymore (now there's an unbreakable record), but he has generally been the best pitcher in the league. How else to win 10 games with that offense?
2. Roy Halladay, Blue Jays. Generally seen as baseball's best pitcher, and it's hard to argue, what with his almost 1960s-like ability to complete games.
3. Kevin Millwood, Rangers. He has been the horse Rangers owner Tom Hicks envisioned when he signed him to a $60 million, five-year contract. That 2.80 ERA is even more impressive considering his home park.
4. Felix Hernandez, Mariners. Superb talent, and he's gone somewhat under the radar in Seattle.
5. Mark Buehrle, White Sox. A consistent workhorse who deserves some props.
AL Cy Old:Chien-Ming Wang, Yankees. His improvement was often cited in recent outings. But improvement on what? He has a 9.64 ERA. And he's now out with a shoulder issue.
1. Tim Lincecum, Giants. What happened to that slow start? He's 9-2 with a 2.23 ERA and 141 strikeouts. The Giants have to get off their duff and try to lock this guy up.
2. Dan Haren, Diamondbacks. It's practically a crime that he's only 8-5. Dynamic competitor.
3. Johnny Cueto, Reds. Like Millwood, he gets extra points for having a low ERA (2.69) while pitching home games in a hitters' park. May be better than teammate Edinson Volquez.
4. Yovani Gallardo, Brewers. The guy can hit, too. Jason Kendall's prediction of a Cy Young may yet turn out right.
5. Josh Johnson, Marlins. Terrifically talented pitcher is a horse. Dominated both Mets and Yanks. Giants' Matt Cain also worthy of mention.
NL Cy Old: Manny Parra, Brewers. Talented left-hander has been dreadful with a 3-8 record and a 7.52 ERA. Now in the minors even though Brewers badly need pitching (as Braun pointed out).
1. Ricky Romero, Blue Jays. Toronto was ripped for taking the left-hander a spot ahead of Troy Tulowitzki, but he's 6-3 with 2.85 ERA.
2. Elvis Andrus, Rangers. Playing a terrific shortstop and has hung in there nicely on offense (.267, 16 stolen bases).
3. Andrew Bailey, A's. He has 57 strikeouts to go with a 4-1 record and a 2.03 ERA.
4. Rick Porcello, Tigers. He might be the most impressive rookie, as he's doing this (8-6) at age 20. Tigers may have to scale back his innings as the season drags on, though.
5. Nolan Reimold, Orioles. Fits with Adam Jones and Nick Markakis to give the O's a great outfield of future.
1. Colby Rasmus, Cardinals. After a poor spring he's showing the talent everyone saw in him last spring (10, 32, .282).
2. Tommy Hanson, Braves. He's off to a 4-0 start. With Jair Jurrjens he gives the Braves a good shot to steal the division.
3. Casey McGehee, Brewers. Smart pickup from the rival Cubs, he's fitting into a tough Brewers lineup since Rickie Weeks went down, with a .343 average, six home runs and 27 RBIs.
4. Andrew McCutchen, Pirates. Pittsburgh made room for him by trading Nate McLouth, and he has responded by hitting .300 with six stolen bases in six attempts and five triples.
5. Ronald Belisario, Dodgers. Has a 1.18 WHIP and 46 Ks.
1. Cito Gaston, Blue Jays. Numerous injuries and a killer division.
2. Don Wakamatsu, Mariners. Did anyone expect Seattle to be hanging in this well?
3. Terry Francona, Red Sox. Good every year. Maybe the perfect personality to manage.
4. Ron Washington, Rangers. Hands up -- who expected Texas to be threatening like this?
5. Jim Leyland, Tigers. Earned an extension with his work so far this season. Joe Girardi and Mike Scioscia also doing fine jobs early.
Maury Wills Award (Worst Manager): Eric Wedge, Indians. Everything that can go wrong has gone wrong. Just got the vote of confidence, as GM Mark Shapiro diplomatically blames himself more than Wedge.
1. Joe Torre, Dodgers. Enough with the quibbles about his use of the 'pen. Everything he has done and said has been golden.
2. Fredi Gonzalez, Marlins. He has the personality and patience to deal with a team of young, immature kids.
3. Tony La Russa, Cardinals. Their one-man lineup has "finally caught up to them,'' in the words of one AL executive. But they're still right there.
4. Ken Macha, Brewers. Even without CC Sabathia or Ben Sheets, and with Parra suffering through a rough stretch (one scout said he believes his high innings total from 2008 did him in), the Crew is again a threat.
5. Jim Tracy, Rockies. The turnaround was stark and complete. The Giants' Bruce Bochy also deserves mention.
Bud Harrelson Award (Worst Manager): Lou Piniella, Cubs. No team with Milton Bradley is cake to manage. But by any standard this Cubs season has been a disappointment.
1. Dave Dombrowski, Tigers. The trade of Matt Joyce for Edwin Jackson was maybe the best of the winter, and the drafting of Rick Porcello in 2007 was a coup. Adam Everett and Gerald Laird are working out, too.
2. Jon Daniels, Rangers. The switch of Elvis Andrus to shortstop was a gutsy move. Cheap, effective pickups like Darren O'Day have been key for a strapped team. They're set up nicely for the future, too, with more young talent than just about anyone (Derek Holland, Neftali Feliz, Julio Borbon and Justin Smoak head a long list).
3. Theo Epstein, Red Sox. Baseball's best front office rarely makes a misstep. The Bay trade worked as well as possible. Brad Penny has been useful. And I'd still bet on John Smoltz.
4. Brian Cashman, Yankees. Sure, he has the most money to spend. But beyond the necessary CC Sabathia and Mark Teixeira signings, low-cost additions like Ramiro Pena and Francisco Cerrvelli have worked, too. The decision to keep Phil Hughes also looks a little better a year later.
5. J.P. Ricciardi, Blue Jays. He has assembled a very talented team but is undone by injuries and that division every year. Lots of good jobs in the AL: also Jack Zduriencik (Mariners) and Andrew Friedman (Rays).
Hawk Harrelson Award (AL Worst Executive): Mark Shapiro, Indians. Very bright guy, and two-time major league executive of the year. His Indians have gotten very unlucky. But let's face it, very little has worked. The bullpen has been an abomination, and the rotation isn't much better. The Kerry Wood contract, with two years at $20.5 million plus a third year if he closes 55 games this year and next, does not look good now.
1. Ned Colletti, Dodgers. Tough to argue with baseball's best team at $100 million (minus a few dollars saved when Manny Ramirez was suspended). A trying winter paid off ultimately. Lots of surprise contributors on the pitching staff (Belisario, Jeff Weaver) have helped.
2. Dan O'Dowd, Rockies. Some were calling for his head early. But this is one impressive hitting team. Plus, think about the fact that Huston Street alone would be worth more on the trade market than Matt Holliday. And that Tracy-for-Clint Hurdle move has worked wonders to this point.
3. Ruben Amaro, Phillies. The Ibanez deal alone merits his mention.
4. Michael Hill, Marlins. Year in and year out, the Hill-Larry Beinfest front office makes do on a puny payroll.
5. Brian Sabean, Giants. He has timed a good year very well, as his contract expires at year's end. Rebuilt 'pen with worthwhile pickups like Jeremy Affedlt.
Ed Wade Award (NL Worst Executive): Jim Bowden, formerly of the Nationals. His collection of outfielders who can't catch and pitchers not quite ready for prime time has left little doubt that he's the winner (or is it loser?). Word is the Nats higher-ups want to get so far away from Bowden that they don't want to consider GM candidates (or perhaps even managerial candidates) with any serious ties to him.
After trading Mark DeRosa to the Cardinals for Chris Perez and a player to be named later, the Indians are now said to be dangling starter Carl Pavano and closer Kerry Wood -- neither of which is a surprise. But sources indicate shortstop Jhonny Peralta can be had, as well. Peralta has followed a big spring with a disappointing season.
One AL executive called Peralta a "solid'' player, fairly faint praise for a shortstop that was once seen as a home-run threat. However, diminishing power (only four home runs) has turned him into a fairly average player this year, a shortstop with so-so range or a third baseman with below-average power. The Red Sox would seem to be a candidate, but they have hopes for a Jed Lowrie return, and journeyman Nick Green is actually having a better year than Peralta.
"I think they'd listen on anyone,'' one competing executive said of the Indians. Listen, yes. However, there's still a lot of doubt as to whether they'd seriously consider trades for either Cliff Lee or Victor Martinez, who have club options for 2010 for $9 million and $7 million, respectively.
The Indians do not want to create the impression that they are giving up on 2010, too, so it would take an overwhelming offer to land either of those players. In Lee's case a contract extension seems unlikely. But Shapiro believes he can still trade Lee a year from now and get a decent haul for him. That may come from the fact that Shapiro got a decent return for CC Sabathia with a little more than a half-year to go. However, while Lee's very good, he's also no Sabathia.
The Royals, despite all their issues, have several pitchers that interest teams. Their closer, Joakim Soria, would be of particular interest in a market devoid of closers or even exceptional setup men. But so far the Royals have resisted any temptation.
It also appears that the Royals are reluctant to trade Gil Meche, though the Phillies have been connected to Meche. The one pitcher the Royals seem willing to move appears to be right-hander Brian Bannister. According to one competing executive, in fact, they are "pushing Bannister.''
Bannister, who's 6-6 despite the Royals' weak offense, actually isn't such a bad fallback choice for teams interested in a starter in what appears to be a much weaker market than anyone envisioned.
• Pedro Martinez intends to sign somewhere this coming week, according to a person close to him. This remains a tough one to pick. The Rays are one team thought to be in the mix and the Phillies have discussed Martinez internally. The Cubs have been unable to do anything with their ownership situation unsettled, and while the sale is reportedly about to go through, it may be too late for them to take action on this front. The Yankees do not seem to be in the mix (even with the loss of Chien-Ming Wang), while the Brewers and Cardinals are seen as being on the periphery. The Brewers missed the last public workout, as Pedro was slightly late (he was on Pedro time), and the scout bailed.
• The A's' pickup of Scott Hairston continues to make them the most unpredictable team. Not many last-place, small-market teams do much buying, but they traded three players to get Hairston. The likelihood is they still trade Matt Holliday. But don't rule anything out with these guys.
• Nolan Ryan is said to be in one of at least four groups trying to buy the Rangers from Tom Hicks, who tried very hard as an owner and seems finally to be getting the hang of it. However, Hicks is in financial distress after a failed investment in the Liverpool soccer team and various other reverses. Some folks think he may need to sell the NHL's Dallas Stars as well as the Rangers.
• There was said to be "little progress" in trade talks involving Doug Davis and the Brewers. A source said Milwaukee was hindered by a lack of pitching prospects. Davis has an 0.86 ERA over his last three starts, so he'd make a worthwhile acquisition for anyone. But the Diamondbacks haven't ruled out trying to sign Davis to an extension, according to people familiar with their thinking.
• Shortstop whiz Jose Iglesias is in negotiations with the Red Sox on a deal that sources say will pay him $8 million, or just a little bit more. Scouts liken the Cuban defector to Ozzie Smith for his hands and arm. "Deluxe,'' one AL exec said. However, his range is seen as only slightly above average, and there are questions about his hitting. Shortstop has been the one position of frustration for the Red Sox.
• Aroldis Chapman, the left-hander who just defected from Cuba, is seen as a rare talent, one of the big three of under-25 star pitchers not currently in the majors (along with Stephen Strasburg and Yu Darvish). Though Chapman is "not as polished'' as Strasburg, according to an AL executive, his status as a free agent after all the paperwork is done means he's likely to get more money than Strasburg, who has better control and a better breaking pitch. Both are said to throw 100 mph.
• Best of luck to good guy Xavier Nady in coming back from his second Tommy John surgery. A second ligament replacement surgery doesn't come with the same sort of 90 percent guarantee a first one does. But it is possible to come back from such a surgery.
• Yankee Stadium isn't playing any longer lately. But if you think something will have to be done, consider how much it is benefiting the Yankees, who have 78 home runs at their new place. They are a team of fly ball hitters and strikeout pitchers. So it suits them.
• There was a little birthday celebration for Yankees owner George Steinbrenner at Legends Field last Thursday (Steinbrenner's 79th birthday was Saturday). People there say Steinbrenner was responsive. He goes in to the office no more than once a week now, as it is well known that he has slowed considerably.
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