Inside Baseball | Jon Heyman’s major award-winners of 2017

The AL MVP award race is basically a dead heat for the top spot, and although I considered flipping a coin, I ultimately resisted the urge, closed my eyes and picked one. Then I changed and picked the other.

The NL derby is even more fascinating, perhaps the most competitive one ever (or at least since 1999 in the AL when Pudge Rodriguez took it, and many others could have). There are no less than seven contenders having a decent or at least reasonable case. In the end I was consistent and went with a similar player in both leagues.

A longer explanation of the MVP races is below, with all my picks in every category, for good and not as good …

American League

Most Valuable Player

The long and short of it is this: It should be a two-man race between Aaron Judge and Jose Altuve, with Mike Trout almost surely falling short of the top-two for the first time in his career (though he was arguably the best player when he played).

The other two guys have been the two most impressive, impactful players of the year, and a pick for either one makes sense. A pick for someone else first doesn’t make much sense to me, though Jose Ramirez – yet another little guy – has been pretty darned good as well.

There was a brief outcry for Trout again, and maybe he gets more support than I envision. However, Trout missed 40 games this year, and games played and overall production remain something to be considered; the BBWAA sends the criteria, and yep, attendance counts. By missing those games with a freak thumb injury, Trout’s overall production is down (though his slash line remains the prettiest in the game). There really is no reason to vote a less-productive player first (even if you think he’s the best).

And here, we still count a player’s impact on the pennant race, and his importance to the season. And yes, I understand it isn’t Trout’s fault the Angels came up short, but by definition, a player is less valuable if he doesn’t help his team into the playoffs – though I wouldn’t eliminate a player because he played for an also-ran (check my NL pick), he’d have to have done something really exceptional to get my vote for first.

If someone else wants to reduce MVP to “best player,” that’s OK. I don’t begrudge anyone’s interpretation of the award, which has been debated for decades. Without further ado, my picks …

1. Judge, Yankees OF. Full disclosure: I originally had the other possible choice – Altuve—in the top spot. But the more I thought about it, it was Judge that made the biggest dent this season. He had the greatest impact and was the biggest story in the AL.

If I make the pick I made in the NL, I almost have to go with Judge here. It’s only right. He put together an incredible rookie year, looking nothing like the fellow who struck out in half his at-bats last year, and he was the main force that got the Yankees back to the playoffs. His season was truly amazing, conjuring up reminiscences of all the great Yankees. He could easily win. Has to be one or the other.

2. Altuve, Astros 2B. He’s the other right pick in the AL. If someone wants to tell me it’s him, no complaints here. (Until about five minutes ago, I had him in the top spot.)  Altuve’s first and second halves are nearly identical — both spectacular. He led in batting average, played great defense and posted the highest WAR. (*WAR is a fine barometer, though it has its issues and is imperfect.)

3. Jose Ramirez, Indians 2B. He put up 90 extra-base hits, which is one mark of a superb season for a slugger. And who even knew he’s a slugger?

4. Corey Kluber, Indians SP. It’s easy to see his season was fantastic, as he had virtually identical numbers to Clayton Kershaw.

5. Mike Trout, Angels OF. He was once again the best player in the league. Had he played those 40 more games, he’d have a strong case.

6. Francisco Lindor, Indians SS. The amazing defender shocked folks by hitting 30 dingers. A better start, and he’d be higher on the list.

7. Chris Sale, Red Sox P. Boston ain’t easy, but he made it look like it was.

8. Marwin Gonzalez, Astros INF. He played many positions and put up a .900 OPS. He gets most improved, even over Ramirez.

9. Andrelton Simmons, Angels SS. The best defender in the league is also a much-improved hitter.

10. Gary Sanchez, Yankees C. A catcher with power is always a huge plus.

AL LVP (Least Valuable Player): Albert Pujols, Angels. He still managed to have 101 RBI (which we still see as a positive here) but that -1.8 WAR is rough. Plus, he was the pick here to disappoint in preseason, which I’d like to bench now.

HOUSTON, TX - AUGUST 17: Houston Astros second baseman Jose Altuve (27) looks on as the umpires review on the field in the sixth inning of a MLB game between the Houston Astros and the Arizona Diamondbacks at Minute Maid Park, Thursday, August 17, 2017. Arizona Diamondbacks defeated Houston Astros 4-0. (Photo by Juan DeLeon/Icon Sportswire)

(Photo by Juan DeLeon/Icon Sportswire)

Cy Young

1. Kluber. He missed some time, too. But boy, did he ever make up for it. He ends up with the best ERA, lowest WHIP and highest WAR. He also has the best record (sorry, Brian Kenny), and while that isn’t as important as it once was, it still counts here (a little).

2. Sale. He had it until late, and until the Indians got him again, helping deliver the award to their guy Kluber. Incredible that he got past 300 strikeouts.

3. Justin Verlander, Tigers/Astros. Hopefully, the voters waited until the end this time, because he was even better in September this time around. Everything the Astros could have wanted. Here’s hoping Kate Upton approves.

4. Luis Severino, Yankees. He developed into a fine starter, just as they said he would. And regularly hits 100 mph in the late innings (which used to be a Verlander trait).

5. Carlos Carrasco, Indians. Also terrific. One of many overshadowed by Kluber, though.

AL Cy Old (worst pitcher): Tie, Chris Tillman and Ubaldo Jimenez, Orioles. Not sure what happened to the O’s veteran pitchers this year, but they weren’t good. Tillman was 1-7 with a 7.84 ERA and Jimenez 6-11 with a 6.81 ERA, the only mystery being how he won more than a third of his decisions.

Inside Baseball AL Notes

Rookie of the Year

1. Judge. One of the greatest rookie years ever.

2. Andrew Benintendi, Red Sox. The preseason favorite lived up to the hype. He just couldn’t can’t be judged over Judge.

3. Matt Olson, A’s. He was only up for a little while, and he was overshadowed by Judge and Rhys Hoskins (also, being in Oakland isn’t a plus for pub). But he had quite a big (half) year.

4. Trey Mancini, Orioles. The Notre Dame product surprised folks with his production.

5. Yuli Gurriel, Astros. He got a little lost in the Astros lineup, and he’s not a kid anymore.

Manager of Year

1. Paul Molitor, Twins. No one’s ever gone from 50-something wins to the playoffs, which can’t be a surprise. Deserves three more years, at least.

2. Terry Francona, Indians. The Indians had one of the greatest second halves in baseball history, and the best 31-game run ever (29-2). This could be a lifetime award. Is there anyone better?

3. A.J. Hinch, Astros. He’s been the perfect guy for this young and excellent team. Could easily grab one of the top two spots.

4. Joe Girardi, Yankees. They were supposed to be in a rebuild. But it turned out to be a modified rebuild.

5. John Farrell Red Sox. He always seems under the gun. And I hate to point this out, but two possible award-winners — Francona and Torey Lovulllo – were with the Red Sox at one time.

Executive of Year

1. Chris Antonetti and Mike Chernoff, Indians. The Indians were unstoppable a year after making the World Series and appear primed for another big October run. The trade and contract for Corey Kluber are two grand slams, but it all worked: the trade for Andrew Miller, the signing of Edwin Encarnacion, the drafting of Lindor. A+.

2. Brian Cashman, Yankees. He told us in spring training he wasn’t “waving the white flag,” and he meant it. It’s not easy to shorten the rebuild process to a few months, but he did it, with the aid of the scouting and player-development staffs.

3. Jeff Luhnow, Astros. The drafts have been the keys, with Carlos Correa and George Springer setting this team up for a big run of success. But he gets credit here for Justin Verlander, who gives them a shot in October. Also, I need to apologize for questioning the winter free agent deals (the amounts, not the players) for Josh Reddick and Charlie Morton. Both were worth every penny. My bad.

4. Dave Dombrowski, Red Sox. Sure, he traded some very good prospects. But Chris Sale and Craig Kimbrel were every bit as advertised, and the decision not to undo the Drew Pomeranz trade looks a lot better today than the day that call was made.

5. Derek Falvey and Thad Levine, Twins. Though I was tempted to give a mention to the White Sox’s Rick Hahn for the stunning rebuild, I figure the five winning teams deserve to be recognized here. They stuck with Byron Buxton through all his struggles and found some decent relievers – though maybe they should have held onto Brandon Kintzler a little while longer. Hat tip to the previous regime for providing better players than most realized.

New York Yankees General Manager Brian Cashman watches batting practice during the first day of workouts for pitchers and catchers at spring training baseball, Saturday, Feb. 21, 2015, in Tampa, Fla.( AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

(AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

National League

Most Valuable Player

This was a tough one, 1-to-10. Giancarlo Stanton gets the call here for a near-historic season, though cases could probably be made for a half-dozen guys. Playing in a big park in a year where the book story was the franchise sale, Stanton nearly got to the real home run record of Roger Maris (*real is my interpretation since technically, Barry Bonds hold the mark).

It is preferred here to go with a player who helped his team into the playoffs, and there are a lot of good choices among those guys, so Charlie Blackmon, Nolan Arenado, Kris Bryant, Joey Votto (though his team, like Stanton’s, did not make the playoffs), Anthony Rendon and Paul Goldschmidt all will get significant support. Cody Bellinger may get more support here due to the narrative explained below; others may dock him since his second half drop-off left him with a lower WAR than the others.

Bryce Harper would be in the derby if he didn’t get hurt, and Votto higher on my ballot if his team was a bigger factor. Max Scherzer is one of several pitchers with a decent case to make the ballot, including Clayton Kershaw, Gio Gonzalez, Stephen Strasburg, Robbie Ray, Zack Greinke and Kenley Jansen. But there were so many great position players I only had room here for one pitcher.

1. Stanton, Marlins OF. He had a season for the ages, hitting 59 homers, leading the league in RBI (yes, RBI still count here) and never once becoming distracted by all that was going on around him.

2. Blackmon, Rockies OF. It ain’t easy to post 100 RBI as a leadoff man, and he became the second man to do it.

3. Arenado, Rockies 3B. He had his usual season, which means filled with incredible plays and RBI.

4. Bryant, Cubs 3B. Bryant equaled last year’s season, when he came within a vote of being the unanimous MVP.

5. Votto, Reds 1B. Superb season, but team’s also-ran status weighed.

6. Goldschmidt, Diamondbacks 1B. Feel a little guilty here, but feels like a few others passed him late, when he finished 0-for-17.

7. Rendon, Nats 3B. Still can’t understand why they didn’t find room for him on the All-Star team.

8. Bellinger, Dodgers 1B-OF. Others probably won’t have him quite this high, but it was his incredible ascension that led to the Dodgers’ amazing run. This one’s more about the narrative.

9. Harper, Nats OF. Like Trout, would have been a lot higher without the unfortunate injury.

10. Scherzer, Nats SP. Lots of good choices here, but Scherzer gets the nod over rival Kershaw since he pitched more.

NL LVP (Least Valuable): Matt Kemp, Braves. He can still hit a bit, but moving looks like a chore at this point. Moving him elsewhere may be an even bigger chore.

PHOENIX, AZ - SEPTEMBER 23: Miami Marlins right fielder Giancarlo Stanton (27) blasted his MLB-leading 57th homer run and established the Marlins club record of 124 RBIs in a season during the baseball game between the Miami Marlins and the Arizona Diamondbacks on September 23, 2017, at Chase Field in Phoenix, AZ. (Photo by Carlos Herrera/Icon Sportswire)

(Photo by Carlos Herrera/Icon Sportswire)

Cy Young

1. Scherzer, Nats. He gets the nod here as the leader in WHIP, WAR and strikeouts. Not far behind Kershaw in ERA, either, and he had many more innings (including one extra-inning in a game where he was being stretched out, and his ERA wound up getting stretched out a bit, too).

2. Kershaw, Dodgers. He’s real close, though WAR aficionados may wonder about that 4.7 WAR which is quite a bit lower than Scherzer’s 7.2. I think the two were closer than that this year though.

3. Strasburg, Nats. He’s lived up to the hype, and the contract. And this time, he’s ready for October, too.

4. Gonzalez, Nats. Another odd Nats omission from the All-Star game. Gotta like that 6.9 WAR.

5. Greinke, Diamondbacks. He lived up to the contract (and that’s saying a lot!). It was either him or Robbie Ray for No. 5, unless you want to go the relief route and go with Kenley Jansen.

NL Cy Old: Matt Moore. Among qualifiers, he had the highest WHIP and ERA and lowest WAR. Matt Harvey could qualify for this award, even if he doesn’t have the innings, but he gets sympathy points for pitching too deep into the 2015 season and postseason to please his bosses.

Rookie of the Year

1. Bellinger. If he’s that high on MVP (at least here), how can there be a question?

2. Rhys Hoskins, Phillies. He wasn’t there for a long. But we tend to favor the spectacular here.

3. Kyle Freeland, Rockies. He helped get the Rockies into the playoffs and nearly posted an ERA below 4 pitching home games in Coors.

4. Paul DeJong, Cardinals. The surprise star took over the shortstop job.

5. Ian Happ, Cubs. He showed big power, and nice speed, too, while playing a few different positions. Josh Bell will get some support, as well.

Inside Baseball NL Notes

Manager of Year

1. Torey Lovullo, Diamondbacks. Only raves were heard, and the improvement was noticeable.

2. Dave Roberts, Dodgers. The first half was a sight to behold.

3. Bud Black, Rockies. We’ll make it three from the NL West, though Dusty Baker, Joe Maddon and Craig Counsell all get plaudits here.

Executive of the Year

1. Mike Hazen, Diamondbacks. Hiring Lovullo was the easy part for him. Emphasizing defense, bulking up the bench, moving Archie Bradley to the pen and understanding and appreciating what Dave Stewart and his predecessors did was all terrific.

2. Farhan Zaidi and Andrew Friedman, Dodgers. Sure, it doesn’t hurt to have $200 million at one’s disposal (plus some excellent drafts; i.e. Bellinger, Corey Seager). But they’ve lowered the payroll and gotten better. The Dodgers may not quite be a super team, but they certainly are quite good.

3. Jeff Bridich, Rockies. The signing of Greg Holland was one of the best of the winter, and the signing of Mark Reynolds isn’t far behind. He’s also helped build a young rotation that can survive Coors, and that ain’t easy.

4. Mike Rizzo, Nats. He took a bit into the season, but he addressed the closer/relief situation with two big trades without sacrificing the biggest prospects. The decision to re-sign Stephen Strasburg looks like a good one now, too.

5. Jed Hoyer and Theo Epstein. David Stearns of the rival Brewers did a great job (they are way ahead of schedule, and the Travis Shaw trade alone could put him on here), but the deal to get Jose Quintana helped put the Cubs over the top, ultimately, so the Cubs, who hadn’t won for 108 years, have a legit shot to repeat.

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