After an exciting World Series in which the San Francisco Giants battled the Anaheim Angels right to the end, baseball’s last big moment before it takes backstage to football, basketball and hockey for the winter is the announcement of the Most Valuable Player and Cy Young Awards.
The candidates for this year include three former Cy Young winners, including four time winner and three time reigning National League winner Randy Johnson. The last six American League MVPs have been won by a player in the West, which does not look to change this year. Alex Rodriguez is still looking for his first MVP award, but he is in tight competition with Miguel Tejada. The Giants’ Jeff Kent and Barry Bonds were the winners of the 2000 and 2001 NL MVP awards, and after Bonds’ monster season, the award will be by the Bay once again. In my opinion, the following players and pitchers are most deserving of consideration for the MVP and Cy Young Awards.
American League MVP
1. Miguel Tejada, shortstop, Oakland Athletics
If Tejada was not considered in the same class as fellow AL shortstops Derek Jeter, Nomar Garciaparra, and Alex Rodriguez before the season, he certainly is now. He was the key factor in helping the A’s forget about the departure of Jason Giambi. More importantly though, his timely hits eventually extended Oakland’s record winning streak to 20 games, propelling them to a division title.
2. Alex Rodriguez, shortstop, Texas Rangers
His 57 homers led the Majors, and his defense has come a long way in recent years. If this was the award for “best player,” he would win hands down. But despite the best offensive production in baseball, A-Rod shouldn’t be considered “valuable” until his team improves. After all, without him Texas still would have finished in last.
3. Alfonso Soriano, second base, New York Yankees
Soriano’s offensive output during the 2002 season, arguably the best ever for a second baseman, earned him a spot as a potential candidate for MVP. The main arguments against him are his frequent strikeouts and infrequent walks, as well as his superior supporting cast that inflates his statistics. He won’t win it this year, but he will be in the running for years to come.
4. Jason Giambi, first base, New York Yankees
In Oakland, Giambi was the focal point of opposing pitchers. With the Yankees on the other hand, they have many other concerns. But where he loses key points is his ineffective fielding. Although he still wants to play the field everyday, unless he improves dramatically, his DH position will become more permanent, lowering his value to his team.
5. Torii Hunter, center field, Minnesota Twins
Hunter was so unknown before this season that he wasn’t one of 250 players picked on draft day in my fantasy league, enabling me to claim him during his torrid April start. The Minnesota Twins ? and the Equinunk Hicks ? rode Hunter’s hot start to a division lead they didn’t relinquish. His influence on his team was perhaps the biggest in baseball, and any outfielder that can win a Gold Glove while playing in the Metrodome gets my vote as an MVP candidate.
American League Cy Young
1. Barry Zito, Oakland Athletics
The biggest question regarding Oakland’s pitching prior to the season was who would emerge as the ace of the staff. Tim Hudson was inconsistent, and Mark Mulder got injured early in the season, allowing Barry Zito to take charge in Oakland. He led the majors in wins, was among the leaders in strikeouts and ERA, and at times was nearly unhittable. This could be the first of many Cy Young Awards for Zito.
2. Pedro Martinez, Boston Red Sox
He rarely threw more than 100 pitches in a game and started only 30 games, but his record and ERA speaks for itself. He is still the most feared pitcher in the AL, but he had a few starts that were atypical of a healthy Pedro and more like the Pedro that struggled through last season’s injuries.
3. Derek Lowe, Boston Red Sox
A single game does not define an entire season, but for Derek Lowe, April 27 put his awful 2001 season behind him, proving that he could be a great starting pitcher. His no-hitter against the Devil Rays set the tone for the rest of the season, in which he re-emerged as a prominent pitcher, albeit a starter instead of a closer this time around.
NATIONAL LEAGUE MVP
1. Barry Bonds, left field, San Francisco Giants
If anyone could drop their home run total by 27 and still post outstanding offensive numbers, Bonds did it this year. Although he “only” hit 46 home runs, his 198 walks shattered the major league record he set last season, and his .370 batting average was the highest of his career. But even another MVP award won’t compensate for the Giants’ World Series meltdown.
2. Albert Pujols, left field, St. Louis Cardinals
After an unbelievable rookie season, Albert Pujols had another great year, leading the Cards to the playoffs despite their suffering through the losses of longtime broadcaster Jack Buck and star pitcher Darryl Kile in a matter of days. His ability to play the outfield, first base, and third base makes Pujols even more valuable to his team.
3. Vladimir Guerrero, right field, Montreal Expos
Playing in front of Little League crowds in 57,000 seat Olympic Stadium can be tough, but Vladimir Guerrero doesn’t seem to mind too much. He fell just one home run shy of joining the 40-40 club, and his play kept the Expos in the playoff running until early August.
National League Cy Young
1. Randy Johnson, Arizona Diamondbacks
Year after year, the Big Unit makes his case that he is among the greatest pitchers in baseball history. He posted the highest win total of his career, and his lowest ERA in a full season in the NL. Other pitchers may have great seasons, but no one dominates or scares opposing batters the way Johnson does.
2. Curt Schilling, Arizona Diamondbacks
Most years, 23 wins and a 3.23 ERA with 316 strikeouts is enough for the Cy Young Award. This season, Curt Schilling wasn’t even the best pitcher on his own team. He shared last year’s World Series MVP with Randy Johnson, but this time around he just wasn’t quite as good as his D-Back counterpart.
3. Eric Gagne, Los Angeles Dodgers
Saved 52 games and had the lowest ERA in baseball, but because closers only pitch 80 innings per season, they just aren’t as important as starters that pitch as many as 250 innings.
4. John Smoltz ? Atlanta Braves
As usual, a Brave is a finalist for the Cy Young award. After recovering from Tommy John surgery, Smoltz successfully converted from a dominant starter to a dominant closer to help ease the pain in his elbow. His 55 saves were the most in NL history.
Swidler can be reached at email@example.com.