The Week Ahead: And the winners are ...
BBWAA awards highlight the days ahead while Hot Stove chatter continues
There's nothing going on this week in baseball, is there? It's the offseason, after all. As soon as the Giants' victory parade through San Francisco ended, hardball hounds didn't have anything to bark about until Spring Training, right?
Monday began a significant week on the calendar of America's Pastime -- one fans have been arguing and discussing for months. It's the week when the Baseball Writers' Association of America award winners will be revealed, when the most serious individual hardware is being brought out on a daily basis.
Monday: American League and National League Jackie Robinson Rookie of the Year Awards
In the AL, this is a foregone conclusion. Everybody knows it'll be Angels outfielder Mike Trout, and the only question is if he'll win unanimously over co-finalists Yu Darvish of Texas and Yoenis Cespedes of Oakland. Nothing against Darvish, who arrived from Japan and lived up to the hype with 16 wins, or Cespedes, who galvanized the AL West-winning A's in his first season after defecting from Cuba, but Trout had a historic season. More on that below, in the MVP category.
In the NL, the finalists are Arizona pitcher Wade Miley, Reds infielder Todd Frazier and Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper. This one packs plenty of intrigue, with Harper having put forth his body of work (.270/.340/.477, 22 homers, 18 stolen bases, 98 runs) at the age of 19. Miley (16-11, 3.33 ERA, 144 strikeouts) and Frazier (19 homers, 67 RBIs, .829 OPS) have a lot to be proud of, too, but the conversation on this particular award will be centered around Harper, win or lose.
Tuesday: AL and NL Managers of the Year
This is always a difficult decision. Do you go with the skipper of the best team, even if that team has a winning record every year, or do you go with the guy who got the most out of the talent he had? Both cases are well-represented in both leagues.
In the AL, the finalists are Orioles manager Buck Showalter, A's skipper Bob Melvin and rookie White Sox skipper Robin Ventura. Ventura's team had a fine year but didn't fare well down the stretch, which means it looks like it'll be between Showalter, whose team shocked baseball by making the postseason, and Melvin, whose club shocked baseball by winning the AL West.
In the NL, it'll come down to Washington's Davey Johnson, San Francisco's Bruce Bochy and Cincinnati's Dusty Baker. All three led his team to a division title. Arguments can be -- and have been -- made for each of them.
Wednesday: AL and NL Cy Young Awards
In the AL, you've got Detroit's Justin Verlander (17-8, 2.64 ERA, league-leading 239 strikeouts in a league-leading 238 1/3 innings) trying to repeat his Cy feat that also netted him the AL MVP a year ago. He's the sentimental favorite, but fellow finalists Jered Weaver of the Angels (20-5, 2.81 ERA) and David Price of the Rays (20-5, 2.56 ERA, 205 strikeouts) weren't messing around.
"A lot of people have really good years, but Price is the type of pitcher who is going to have good years for many years to come, just because of his work ethic," Tampa Bay teammate James Shields said. "He has this competitive nature to him. He wants to outwork everybody. He wants to pitch better than everybody and he's shown that."
In the NL, the finalists are very close in numbers. There's veteran knuckleballer R.A. Dickey of the Mets (20-6, 2.63 ERA, 230 strikeouts); last year's Cy winner, Dodgers lefty Clayton Kershaw (14-9, 2.53 ERA, 229 strikeouts); and Washington's lefty up-and-comer, Gio Gonzalez (21-8, 2.89 ERA, 207 strikeouts).
A win by Dickey would cap off an incredible story of perseverance and rejuvenation at the age of 38.
"I don't really know, because I don't know the minds of the people who vote," Dickey said. "As long as I don't know that, it would be tough for me to speculate on my chances, because everyone has different criteria, it seems. I'm one of three. I've got a 33-percent shot."
Thursday: AL and NL Most Valuable Player Awards
The NL MVP race seems a bit quirky, somewhat of a mixed bag. It could be Milwaukee's Ryan Braun, who won it last year and delivered similar numbers in 2012 (.319 average, .987 OPS, 41 homers, 112 RBIs), or it could be Pittsburgh's Andrew McCutchen (.327 average, 31 homers, 96 RBIs, 20 steals, 107 runs, .953 OPS). Then again, it could be St. Louis catcher Yadier Molina (.315 average, 22 homers, 76 RBIs, Gold Glove defense) or Padres third baseman Chase Headley (.286 average, 31 homers, league-leading 115 RBIs).
Or it might be the guy most pundits seem to think it will be: Buster Posey, the catcher and backbone of the World Series-champion Giants. Posey won the NL batting title with a .336 average, added 24 homers and 103 RBIs, put up an OPS of .957, and put down the fingers for a great pitching staff. His selection would be no surprise at all.
Which brings us to the AL MVP, which people have been debating for months. Let's get one thing out of the way first: there's no debate about the fine seasons that were put together by finalists Robinson Cano of the Yankees and Texas Rangers teammates Adrian Beltre and Josh Hamilton. But there's also no debate when it comes to the fact that none of those three will win it.
The AL MVP race is down to Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera (.330 average, 44 homers, 139 RBIs) and 20-year-old rookie wunderkind Trout, and it's a classic case of old-school stats vs. new-school stats, with Cabrera dominating the traditional power numbers and batting average and Trout winning in defense, baserunning and newer metrics such as Wins Above Replacement (WAR) while hitting .326 with a .963 OPS, belting 30 homers, scoring 129 runs, stealing 49 bases and driving in 83.
This is the one everyone's waiting for, and it's finally going down this week.
"There's nothing we can do, [Trout] and me," Cabrera said late in the year. "We've both got a great year. We can't control [the voting]. We go out there and play hard, win some games.
"We'll let [the writers] decide what's going to happen."
But don't think for a second that these are the only happenings this week as we march toward Thanksgiving, which gets us closer to the annual early-December Winter Meetings, this time in Nashville, Tenn.
Starting Thursday and continuing through the weekend will be the fourth World Baseball Classic qualifier, held in New Taipei City, Taiwan. There, teams from Chinese Taipei, New Zealand, Philippines and Thailand will battle to see who will represent the region when the tournament begins in March.
And then there's the unknown.
Free-agent signings and trades could happen this week. Will Josh Hamilton or Zack Greinke go, or will the best hitter and best pitcher on the market let the winter chill settle in a bit before deciding where they'll haul their gloves and bats next February?
Maybe we'll get some answers this week to go along with all those awards.