By Jon Heyman
August 29, 2011

Blue Jays star Jose Bautista deserves strong consideration for the American League MVP award, and if someone thinks he's the MVP because he's been the best player in the league, that's understandable.

And if someone else thinks Tigers ace Justin Verlander is the AL MVP because they believe he's been the best and most important performer on a likely playoff team, that's reasonable, too.

But for now, I am going to go with the Yankees' home run and run-producing machine Curtis Granderson for MVP.

While I am not completely opposed to a pitcher winning the MVP award, a precedent is long established that the bar has to be very high for it to happen, which helps explain why no pitcher has done so since Dennis Eckersley in 1992. And I am not strictly opposed to a player on a non-contender winning the award, which has happened on occasion (think Alex Rodriguez of the last-place Rangers in 2003) although I admit that's a tougher one for me since the word valuable suggests that the players' achievements did not go for naught and actually helped a team play into October.

Although there is no rule saying pitchers should count any less in any MVP debate, history suggests that they generally have only captured the award either in years in which they put up alltime great numbers (and sometimes not even then; Ron Guidry was passed over in 1978 and Pedro Martinez in 1999, two decisions I disagree with). The last starting pitcher to win an MVP came a quarter century ago, when Roger Clemens won the AL award. That's 50 straight votes without a pitcher winning.

I do buy to some degree the argument against pitchers winning the MVP because pitchers have their own award, and past votes have reflected that others feel that way, too. But I am not willing to completely disregard pitchers, as a rare voter or two has done (Pedro was left of one ballot altogether in '99, helping Pudge Rodriguez win the award).

Players on playoff teams (or at least contenders) for MVP should be preferred. There is a decent amount of precedent for that, as well, though I feel even more strongly about it than most others. In addition to A-Rod, in 1987 the Cubs' Andre Dawson won the award after hitting 49 home runs (equaling the second-highest total in a quarter-century), a rare show of support for a player on an also-ran team, and that may happen when such a player laps the field statistically.

But since the award is for mostvaluable player, and not most outstanding, the effect a player had on the pennant race should be vital. If someone else wants to interpret most valuable as synonymous to best, they can. And if someone else wants to interpret it as being valuable to a particular team, they can, too. But there is plenty of precedent to suggest it means valuable in the league.

Of course, some will argue that precedent shouldn't count, and past mistakes should not be repeated. But I say the players understand going into a season that the criteria counted by most voters includes the team's standing to some degree. Players also know that winning is the goal. And I have yet to see a player on a non-contender publicly claim to be MVP.

Stats are most assuredly a major part of the equation. But they shouldn't be completely determinative. Otherwise, let's just run the numbers through a computer. And rename the award Most Outstanding player. Because there's no way to put a number on the value of leading a team into the postseason, which should be everyone's goal.

Like people, stats are imperfect. Even WAR, which I agree is a very useful stat, is imperfect because it depends on the value placed on other statistics by the person who devises the formula. The ultimate goal of any player is to win, so the value of the individual accomplishments that lead to a pennant should be viewed in that context.

So while Bautista has been the most outstanding player in the league whether you use WAR or OPS or or any other key stat, it's a tough case to make for him as MVP in a year when so many stars are ushering their team into the playoffs.

And while a case most certainly can be made that Verlander is the most valuable, and I certainly wouldn't trash those who think he is the MVP, pitchers with similarly excellent seasons to his generally have had to settle for the Cy Young award. His year has been superb (though a bit short of an alltime great pitching year like Guidry's in 1978, when he went 25-3 with a 1.74 ERA and 248 strikeouts). There are plenty of worthy everyday choices.

Here is my AL MVP ballot through three-fourths of the season, and my other ballots as well.

1. Curtis Granderson, Yankees CF. He has been a run-generating machine, whether he's batting second or third in the star-studded Yankees lineup. He leads the majors in runs by a wide margin (he has scored 26 more times than Jacoby Ellsbury, who's second), and also leads the majors in home runs and RBIs, and the speedster's slugging percentage is higher than anyone but Bautista. He also has turned himself into a major threat against lefthanders. Easily the best performer in arguably baseball's best lineup. Also, while he's not Austin Jackson as a defender, he's not as lost as a couple Detroit people thought he was when he played for the Tigers.

2. Adrian Gonzalez, Red Sox 1B. He came to Boston with great expectations and he didn't let it bother him a bit, fulfilling every crazy hope. The .345 batting average, the best in baseball, is a bonus, too. Gonzalez also leads the majors in hits and total bases and has driven in 103 runs for the first-place Red Sox.

3. Jacoby Ellsbury, Red Sox CF. He's made everyone forget his injury-plagued 2010 season and turned himself into a power threat and superstar, batting .312 with 23 home runs to go with 36 stolen bases.

4. Justin Verlander, Tigers SP. He's close to winning the pitching Triple Crown, leading the league in wins (20) and strikeouts (218) and ranking second in ERA (2.38). He is also the major league leader in WHIP, hits per nine, starts and innings pitched and is always a threat to throw a no-hitter, something he did back in May.

5. Jose Bautista, Blue Jays OF-INF. No question he's been the best player in the league. His 1.092 OPS is way ahead of the rest. Good at everything on a baseball field.

6. Dustin Pedroia, Red Sox 2B. As recently as a couple weeks ago, Boston people would have said he's their MVP. Embodies a pure ballplayer and is hitting .308 with 17 home runs and 24 steals.

7. Michael Young, Rangers 3B. Best trade that wasn't made was Texas backing away from a deal with the Rockies where they would have gotten Eric Young and one other for the Rangers' perennial leader. Michael Young is batting .336, second in the AL, and has 87 RBIs for the first-place Rangers.

8. Alex Avila, Tigers C. He's better defensively than Tigers teammate Victor Martinez and he has an OPS nearly 100 points higher.

9. Robinson Cano, Yankees 2B. The Home Run Derby winner is one of baseball's best all-around hitters, and while he hasn't been quite as consistent offensively or defensively as he was last year, he's still been darned good. He's batting .303 and has 23 home runs and 95 RBIs.

10. David Ortiz, Red Sox DH. His OPS is actually 18 points higher than Gonzalez's and his .311 average is his highest since 2007.

Others: Yankees SP CC Sabathia, Indians SS Asdrubal Cabrera, Yankees 1B Mark Teixeira, Tigers 1B Miguel Cabrera, Rays INF Ben Zobrist.

1. Ryan Braun, Brewers OF. Terrific all-around players gets slight nod over teammate Prince Fielder. His .999 OPS is tops in the NL.

2. Prince Fielder, Brewers 1B. If this is his going away party, it's been a special one for the free-agent-to-be. He has 29 home runs and 102 RBIs for the NL Central's first-place team and gets points for being a leader in the clubhouse, too.

3. Justin Upton, Diamondbacks OF. Another great trade not made, Upton, whose name was talked about last winter, is the clear star of the upstart D-backs. Upton leads first-place Arizona in batting average, home runs, RBIs, on-base percentage and slugging and is tied for the team-high in stolen bases.

4. Shane Victorino, Phillies OF. His superb all-around season has gone mostly under the radar until lately, but he is eighth in the league in OPS and second in triples.

5. Matt Kemp, Dodgers OF. Best position player in the league following his disappointing 2010 season. His .320 average is 71 points higher than a year ago and he leads the league with 31 home runs.

6. Brian McCann, Braves C. The game's best all-around catcher deserves more plaudits. His .877 OPS and 22 home runs for the NL wild-card-leading Braves should help.

7. Roy Halladay, Phillies SP. The leader of the best rotation going.

8. Craig Kimbrel, Braves RP. The Braves' rookie closer has not allowed a run since June and is one save away from setting a new rookie record of 41.

9. Lance Berkman, Cardinals OF. Superb comeback season surprised just about everyone but Cardinals decisionmakers who signed him in the offseason. Berkman has 30 home runs, his most since 2007, and 81 RBIs, his best total since '08.

10. Albert Pujols, Cardinals 1B. His most incredible feat this was returning after two weeks from broken wrist but his numbers are still impressive: 31 home runs, 78 RBIs and an .895 OPS.

1. Verlander. Just behind Jered Weaver for ERA title (2.38 compared to Weaver's 2.28) that would give him Triple Crown.

2. Weaver, Angels SP. Weaver is third in the league in wins and WHIP and sixth in strikeouts. His new $85 million deal is a winner for Angels.

3. Sabathia. He is 17-7 with a 2.99 ERA and will cash in on the opt out in his contract. Boston's Josh Beckett (11-5, 2.43 ERA) is not far behind here, though.

1. Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers SP. Has outside chance for pitching Triple Crown in NL, though he's slightly behind for wins (ranking second, with 16) and ERA (third, 2.51) at present.

2. Halladay. His usual season -- 15-5, 2.56 ERA, league-leading marks for complete games and strikeouts per walk, only nets him second place here.

3. Cliff Lee, Phillies SP. Close to a dead heat with teammate Cole Hamels and two-time winner Tim Lincecum

1. Jordan Walden, Angels RP. This 100-mph thrower has 26 saves for pennant contender.

2. Michael Pineda, Mariners SP. Slowed a bit in second half but has 148 strikeouts, putting him slightly ahead of Jeremy Hellickson and Ivan Nova.

3. Hellickson, Rays SP. Superb future coming for the 24-year-old, who has 11 wins and a 3.01 ERA.

1. Craig Kimbrel, Braves RP. Has 40 saves and a 1.70 ERA, making him the easy winner on this ballot.

2. Freddie Freeman, Braves 1B. Lots of key hits for playoff team, and .291 batting average.

3. Vance Worley, Phillies SP. The surprise of the Phillies staff is 9-1 with a 2.65 ERA. A rally by Brandon Beachy could make it three Braves, but the Cubs' Darwin Barney and the Mets' Dillon Gee are also in the mix.

• Sources suggest there has been some difference of opinion over playing time between Reds GM Walt Jocketty and manager Dusty Baker, who has a year to go on his contract. The Reds are over .500 for the first time since early July, but it is curious how much playing time veterans Miguel Cairo and Freddie Lewis are getting in a lost season. Rival execs say they also would have traded Ramon Hernandez before the July 31 trade deadline and employed Devin Mesoraco as catcher. Hernandez was claimed on waivers by a competitor and pulled back by the Reds. He would have helped the Giants, among others.

• The Indians have been among the more aggressive teams in the waivers process. Not only did they claim and acquire via trade old Indians star Jim Thome, potentially providing a nice ending to what looks like a Hall of Fame career, they also claimed Jason Kubel (although they were unable to consummate a trade with the Twins). Reportedly, they also got the claim on B.J. Upton, who is likely to be traded in the winter when several teams will be bidding, including non contenders. The Indians' aggressiveness should be admired. But so far, says a scout, "Ubaldo Jimenez looks like a No. 4 starter'' in the American League.

• Longtime baseball executive Andy MacPhail hasn't said whether he will return as Orioles GM, but the close relationship between owner Peter Angelos and manager Buck Showalter has led some to believe MacPhail will step down. Showalter once told former Rangers owner Tom Hicks he had an interest in becoming a GM one day. But it seems more likely someone is hired if MacPhail leaves, possibly someone with ties to Showalter. That could include John Hart, who hired Showalter in Texas and now works both for the Rangers and MLB Network. Hart started his career with the Orioles, and some could see him doing the GM job again.

• The Dodger have had only two days when their entire infield has been together. Casey Blake seems to be on the verge of retirement.

• Andre Ethier has been at odds with Dodgers management for a while, and he would appear to be a trade candidate in the offseason. Even if he makes it through 2012 as a Dodger, it's hard to imagine him staying beyond that now. Cash-strapped current owner Frank McCourt is not likely to sign longterm deals with all three of his stars, Matt Kemp and Clayton Kershaw, and Ethier seems to be the one least likely to remain a Dodger. Ethier is said by people close to him to have shown interest in playing for the Red Sox, as his close friend Dustin Pedroia has highly recommended the Boston experience to him.

• The Yankees will surely pick up Nick Swisher's $10.25 million 2012 option.

• MLB honchos seem to still be going over the candidacy of prospective Astros owner Jim Crane. Meanwhile, the current owner, Drayton McLane, is said by other owners to be nervous about the sale and also the state of the money that's in escrow at a time the stock market is tanking.

• In addition to all the other names in the mix or the Cubs GM job, which I detailed in this space on Friday, how about longtime Minnesota GM Terry Ryan? He's been a Twins man forever, but he is from southern Wisconsin and this would be seen as a dream job by many.

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