Thank you, Miguel Cabrera. You too, Josh Hamilton.
From someone who is voting for the American League Most Valuable Player award, it's really nice to have an easy choice when you write the first name on the ballot — or type it, actually, as the Baseball Writers Association of America has gone to digital voting. Who says we are unable to adapt?
For the second year in a row, the Tigers' oversized third baseman gets the nod over the Angels' ultra-athletic, ultraproductive Mike Trout for a fundamental reason — his team will be playing in October. Trout's will not, for reasons that have a lot more to do with Hamilton's disappointing season and Albert Pujols' fragile health than anything Trout could control.
The Wins Above Replacement stat likes Trout over Cabrera for the second year in a row, but to a majority of voters, context still matters. At least that's what the 2012 vote suggests. I know context matters to me. That would have been just as true if I had been voting in the National League MVP race, where Andrew McCutchen's all-around play for a Pirates team that ended its 20-year losing streak with a bang trumps Paul Goldschmidt's superior run production for the also-ran Diamondbacks.
As for Miggy, he would have been the first player to earn the Triple Crown in back-to-back seasons if not for Chris Davis' ridiculous first half of the season, which put the Orioles slugger in position to win the home run title and stay neck and neck with Cabrera for the RBI crown. Cabrera has replaced Pujols as the hitter pitchers most hate to face in big spots, and the big fellow will be only 30 when the 2014 season begins.
For Dave Dombrowski, the Tigers' general manager, he's the player acquisition that just keeps on paying and paying, with no end in sight. Here's a look at the AL MVP ballot I will submit and my theoretical one in the NL:
American League MVP: 1. Cabrera, Tigers; 2. Trout, Angels; 3. Josh Donaldson, A's; 4. Dustin Pedroia, Red Sox; 5. Jason Kipnis, Indians; 6. Chris Davis, Orioles; 7. Robinson Cano, Yankees; 8. Evan Longoria, Rays; 9. Manny Machado, Orioles; 10. Shane Victorino, Red Sox.
National League MVP: 1. McCutchen, Pirates; 2. Yadier Molina, Cardinals; 3. Goldschmidt, Diamondbacks; 4. Hanley Ramirez, Dodgers; 5. Andrelton Simmons, Braves; 6. Matt Carpenter, Cardinals; 7. Carlos Gomez, Brewers; 8. Freddie Freeman, Braves; 9. Joey Votto, Reds; 10. Yasiel Puig, Dodgers.
As for the other awards:
AL Cy Young: Before his loss Sept. 3 at Boston, the Tigers' Max Scherzer had a legitimate chance to finish with the best winning percentage in history, breaking the Elroy Face record that had stood since 1959. He would lose back-to-back starts, but who is going to argue against 21-3?
There are ways that you can argue that White Sox left-hander Chris Sale outpitched Scherzer, but it's tough to make a case that he's a true equivalent of Felix Hernandez in 2010, when sabermetrics carried him to a Cy Young after a 13-12 season. Hernandez not only had statistical analysis on his side, but he threw 2492/3 innings that year, 12 more than anyone else. Here's how I line up the ballot behind Scherzer: 2. Yu Darvish, Rangers; 3. Sale, White Sox; 4. Hisashi Iwakuma, Mariners; 5. Clay Buchholz, Red Sox.
NL Cy Young: Like the Tigers' Cabrera, Clayton Kershaw makes it easy on voters. This is his third straight year to lead the majors in ERA, a staggering achievement for a 25-year-old. He makes it look so easy, but you know it's not. It can't be, right? The rest of the ballot: 2. Adam Wainwright, Cardinals; 3. Jordan Zimmermann, Nationals; 4. Jose Fernandez, Marlins; 5. Matt Harvey, Mets.
NL Rookie of the Year: How do you break the tie between Fernandez and Puig? Either would be an easy winner in many seasons, but one is going to have to finish second. Fernandez was the more consistent of the two Cubans, so he gets the call over his electrifying countryman, as well as Cardinals slugger Matt Adams and a strong crop of rookie pitchers. Here's my ballot after Fernandez: 2. Puig, Dodgers; 3. Hyun-jin Ryu, Dodgers.
AL Rookie of the Year: This crop is almost as strong at the top as the NL's, with Wil Myers suffering only because the Rays waited so long to promote him. Jose Iglesias was a lifesaver for two franchises this season. He was an offensive force out of the gate for the Red Sox, filling in for Will Middlebrooks at third base, and then became the glue guy for the Tigers after Dombrowski realized he was going to lose Jhonny Peralta to a Biogenesis suspension. But the Rays don't recover from a 24-24 start without Myers. He gets the call. 2. Iglesias, Tigers; 3. Dan Straily, A's.
NL Manager of the Year: Clint Hurdle's optimism turned around the Pirates, who overcame disastrous second halves in 2011 and '12 to go the distance and reach the playoffs this time around. Their run differential wasn't close to those of the Cardinals and Reds, but they hung with them all season, a tribute to Hurdle's ability to put the players around McCutchen into the right spots. The runners-up: 2. Mike Matheny, Cardinals; Don Mattingly, Dodgers.
AL Manager of the Year: It's tempting to reward Terry Francona for doing an amazing job with the Indians, but he actually took over a more positive situation — thanks to offseason acquisitions — than did John Farrell in Boston. The Red Sox obviously have a ton of talent, but give Farrell credit for steadying the ship after the tumultuous 2012 season under Bobby Valentine and Francona's ugly exit the year before. I'm going with Farrell, but there would be nothing wrong with Francona winning. My runners-up: 2. Francona; 3. Joe Girardi, Yankees.