Advance Report

MVPs on the rebound, rookie managers, the growing youth movement—and other things to look for in '14
March 31, 2014

Comeback Kids?

Miguel Cabrera won the AL MVP award, his second straight, and Joey Votto finished sixth in NL voting. Other than that, 2013 was a bad time to be a former MVP. It's not just that Dustin Pedroia (tied for seventh in the AL) and Buster Posey (20th in the NL) were the only other ex-MVPs to receive votes—it's that so many sluggers were shadows of their former hardware-hoisting selves. Can these ex-MVPs put together bounce-back years?

RYAN BRAUN

Brewers 2011 NL MVP

2013 Disaster. A nerve injury in his right hand caused him to miss 26 games in June and July; on the morning of July 22, his OPS (.869) was more than 100 points lower than his '12 mark. Then things got bad—Braun was suspended for the rest of the season for his connections to the Biogenesis clinic.

2014 Braun has much public relations work to do—he heard boos at Brewers camp—and turned 30 in November. But when healthy, the 2012 NL MVP runner-up can still rake: For what it's worth, he batted .440 and slugged .800 over his first 31 spring plate appearances.

REBOUNDABILITY Strong bets: Braun bounces back ... and hears no congratulations from Dino Laurenzi.

ALBERT PUJOLS

Angels 2005, '08 AND '09 NL MVP

2013 He had career lows in nearly every offensive category and failed to receive an MVP vote for the first time in his 13-year career. There were reasons for his slump, though: He was playing through a crippling case of plantar fasciitis in his left foot, an injury that ended his season on July 26.

2014 Pujols looked much more nimble in camp—even if his customary power has been slow to return. If healthy, he should be productive. The Angels sure hope so. They owe the 34-year-old $212 million over the next eight years.

REBOUNDABILITY Assuming he has two good feet, Prince Albert will put the best one forward.

JOSH HAMILTON

Angels 2010 AL MVP

2013 A year after finishing fifth in MVP voting as a Ranger, Hamilton flopped in Anaheim after signing for five years and $125 million: He hit 21 homers (after 43 in '12) and his OPS fell from .930 to .739. He even looked like less of a player—he was 25 pounds lighter thanks to a juicing regimen and gluten-free diet.

2014 Hamilton is bulkier—he lifted heavier weights and eased gluten back onto his plate—and confident he can return to his MVP-caliber self. Don't be shocked if the 32-year-old starts slowly: A calf injury kept him out of spring games until March 17.

REBOUNDABILITY Hamilton might be eating cookies again, but does he have the bat speed to hit them?

JIMMY ROLLINS

Phillies 2007 MVP

2013 The shortstop played 160 games but settled into the decline phase of his career: His six home runs and .667 OPS were career lows, and his 22 stolen bases were his fewest in a full season since '03.

2014 It was a rocky camp for the 35-year-old. Manager Ryne Sandberg benched him for a handful of Grapefruit League games, and Rollins responded to trade rumors by announcing that he is "untradable"—a reference to the fact that as a player with 10 years' experience and at least five with his current team, he can veto any deal.

REBOUNDABILITY Could the 5'8" Rollins beat Michael Carter-Williams on the boards? Possible. Not likely.

RYAN HOWARD

Phillies 2006 NL MVP

2013 After winning his MVP, he finished in the top 10 in each of the next five years. Everything changed in October 2011, when he tore his left Achilles tendon in the NLCS. Last year his season ended in July with a torn left meniscus. Final numbers: 80 games, 11 homers, .784 OPS.

2014 Howard struggled this spring and seemed to have trouble generating power with his weakened lower half. Sandberg even experimented with lineups that dropped the 34-year-old from fourth to fifth. Howard hasn't started a regular-season game outside of the cleanup spot since 2008.

REBOUNDABILITY Getting back to MVP levels? Let's see Howard play 100 games first.

Modern Immaturity

Where have you gone, Julio Franco? Last year, Orioles third baseman Manny Machado made 710 plate appearances in his age-20 season (his age on June 30; Machado turned 21 on July 6). That was the most playing time by anyone that young since 1962—further evidence that baseball has become A YOUNGER MAN'S GAME. Over the last 10 seasons the number of players 24 or younger has been on the rise, while the population of those on the other side of 30 is shrinking.

Please Don't Recycle

It's one of the game's hottest trends, almost as popular as wearing cuffless pants and rubbing Adrian Beltre's head: managers' getting jobs without big league managing experience. The Cubs (Rick Renteria), Tigers (Brad Ausmus), Reds (Bryan Price) and Nationals (Matt Williams) have rookie skippers this year. Renteria managed in the minors, but the other three have never filled out a lineup card in pro ball. What can they expect? Here's how the eight experience-less managers hired for full seasons since the end of 2010 fared in their first years.

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200

175

150

125

100

75

50

Players 30 and older

Players 24 and younger

2004

2005

2006

2007

2008

2009

2010

2011

2012

2013

*MINIMUM 100 PLATE APPEARANCES

PHOTOPhotograph by MIKE MCGINNIS/GETTY IMAGES PHOTOMIKE MCGINNIS/GETTY IMAGES (BRAUN) PHOTOMORRY GASH/AP (PUJOLS) PHOTOLISA BLUMENFELD/GETTY IMAGES (HAMILTON) PHOTOJONATHAN DYER/USA TODAY SPORTS (ROLLINS) PHOTOAL TIELEMANS/SPORTS ILLUSTRATED (HOWARD) PHOTODAVID E. KLUTHO/SPORTS ILLUSTRATED (UMPIRE) PHOTOPORTER BINKS FOR SPORTS ILLUSTRATED (MACHADO) PHOTODAVID J. PHILLIP/AP (WILSON) PHOTOSCOTT AUDETTE FOR SPORTS ILLUSTRATED (JETER) PHOTOBRAD MANGIN FOR SPORTS ILLUSTRATED (NEW BILLY HAMILTON) PHOTOMARK RUCKER/TRANSCENDENTAL GRAPHICS/GETTY IMAGES (OLD BILLY HAMILTON) CHART

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)