The race for this year's American League MVP is wide open--and a few teams havemore than one worthy candidate
How odd is this year's race for the American League's Most Valuable Player? TheTigers own the league's best record and yet don't field a single player worthyof mention in the MVP discussion. The Indians' Travis Hafner is the league'stop slugger (he leads in OPS and ranks second in slugging percentage, homersand RBIs), but the unsung DH probably won't break the top five in voting.Strangest of all in this wide-open race: Each of the presumptive front-runnersfor the award--Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter, Twins catcher Joe Mauer, Red SoxDH David Ortiz and White Sox DH Jim Thome--has a teammate who might be moredeserving of the honor. Here's why (all stats through Sunday).
David Ortiz (.287average, 47 home runs, 121 RBIs, .400 on-base percentage, .633 sluggingpercentage) versus Manny Ramirez (.326, 34, 100, .442, .628)
Ortiz may lead the majors in highlight-reel hits, but Ramirez leads his club inon-base percentage and ranks second in slugging percentage. And Ramirez isactually better in the clutch. He is better than Ortiz with runners on base(.332 average and a .630 slugging percentage for Manny to .289 and .568 forPapi), with runners in scoring position (.325, .617 to .286, .420), and withrunners in scoring position with two outs (.365, .712 to .217, .434). Eventhough opposing teams give Ortiz, who bats in front of Ramirez, better pitchesto hit, Ramirez has still put up monster numbers as the cleanup batter despitelittle protection: Boston's number 5 hitters are second to last in the majorsin average (.236) and last in homers (10) and slugging percentage (.357).
Joe Mauer (.356,10, 73, .434, .514) versus Justin Morneau (.319, 32, 110, .372, .586)
Mauer deserves the attention because of the position he plays--the 23-year-old,who is poised to become the first AL catcher to win a batting title, masterlyhandles a young staff. However, his best friend on the team, Morneau, is thefearsome power threat the Twins have sorely lacked over the last two decades.On pace to become only the 10th player in the last 50 years to hit .320 with 40home runs and 140 RBIs, the 25-year-old first baseman is the AL's leader intwo-out RBIs and Minnesota's first 30-home-run hitter since 1987. "If itwasn't for Morneau, we wouldn't be in it," says centerfielder Torii Hunter,whose Twins were the wild-card leaders at week's end. "Morneau's by far ourMVP."
Derek Jeter (.337,12, 81, .413, .480) versus Johnny Damon (.300, 22, 73, .372, .518)
With the Yankees in control of the AL East, Jeter has a good chance to earn hisfirst MVP--though the shortstop had better offensive seasons in '99 and 2000.Jeter has played Gold Glove defense at a premium position, but the morevaluable player in the Bronx has been Damon. In the season's second half thefirst-year Yankee outhomered (11 to seven) and outslugged (.611 to .514) Jeter.Damon, who went 10 for 23 with eight RBIs in the Yankees' sweep of the Red Soxtwo weeks ago, has also been a huge upgrade defensively in centerfield."He's getting to balls that a lot of people wouldn't get to," Yankeesstarter Mike Mussina told the New York Daily News in June.
Jim Thome (.294,36, 91, .413, .615) versus Jermaine Dye (.326, 38, 102, .391, .649)
Thome is baseball's comeback player of the year. Says an AL executive,"He's taken that team to another level offensively. At the start of theseason nobody knew what to expect from him. But he's been a force." Dye,however, is stealing Thome's spotlight in the clutch, hitting .309 with a .636slugging percentage in close and late situations. The rightfielder terrorizesboth righthanders (.311, 26 homers) and lefthanders (.358, 12 homers). Lastyear's World Series MVP, Dye has done his damage hitting fifth in Chicago'sorder. "I don't want to take anything away from other players," saysWhite Sox manager Ozzie Guillen, "but Jeter has people behind him all yearlong to protect him. [Dye] has A.J. [Pierzynski] and [Joe] Crede behind him.The protection we have is good but not great like the other guys have."
Is He a Fish Outof Water?
Marlins managerJoe Girardi could win NL manager of the year--and he could also be the firstfired in 2006. Despite fielding the cheapest and youngest team in the majors,the first-year skipper had led his squad to a 63--66 record through Sunday,only three games out in the wild-card standings. But Girardi's future inFlorida is unclear after owner Jeffrey Loria refused to say that he wanted the41-year-old back for next year. "We'll sit down at the end of the seasonand figure out the best plan," said Loria, who has clashed with his managerthis season. But where might Girardi go if he is dismissed? Manager Dusty Bakeris not expected to return to the Cubs next season, prompting speculation thatGirardi, a Peoria, Ill., native who played seven seasons with the Cubs, couldbe headed to Chicago's North Side.
Extra Mustard byBaseball Prospectus
What makes Marlinsshortstop Hanley Ramirez so attractive so scouts? The 22-year-old rookie has awell-balanced skill set and is already a member of an elite group of shortstopswho have stolen 40 or more bases and hit 10 or more home runs in a season.Since World War II, Luis Aparicio (1964), Bert Campaneris (1970), DaveConcepcion (1974), Rafael Furcal (2005), Barry Larkin (1988 and 1995), Ramirez(2006), Jose Reyes (2006), Alex Rodriguez (1998) and Jimmy Rollins (2001 and2005) are the only ones to have accomplished that feat. Rollins, the only othershortstop to achieve those numbers as a rookie, is most comparable to Ramirez.In his first full year in the majors Rollins had a .274 batting average, 29doubles, 14 home runs, 46 steals, 48 walks and 108 strikeouts. Ramirez, throughSunday, was hitting .275 with 29 doubles, 12 home runs, 41 steals, 46 walks and106 strikeouts. The difference? While Rollins is only 5'8", Ramirez is6'3" and still growing. That means Ramirez has the potential to develop hispower-hitting ability and join Rodriguez and Larkin as the only shortstops inthe 30-30 club.
• More from TomVerducci and Baseball Prospectus at SI.com/baseball.
SI asked general managers and executives from 11 ALteams to pick their top MVP candidate from each of four contenders: the Red Sox(David Ortiz or Manny Ramirez); the Twins (Joe Mauer or Justin Morneau); theWhite Sox (Jermaine Dye, Paul Konerko or Jim Thome); and the Yankees (JohnnyDamon, Jason Giambi or Derek Jeter). The closest vote was between the Twinscandidates (Mauer got seven votes; Morneau, four). Dye (eight) beat out Thome(three) for the White Sox. Jeter, who received nine votes (Giambi got two), andOrtiz (nine) were big winners, but the choices were not easy. "[Jeter]because he's the captain," said a G.M., "but I'm almost tempted to gowith Damon. He's a pain to face." Another G.M. was torn between Ortiz andRamirez. "[Lose either] one, and it's a different team," he said.
Though not MVP front-runners, (from left) Dye, Damon, Ramirez and Morneaudeserve consideration.