Free agent Nelson Cruz finished seventh in the American League Most Valuable Player voting Thursday night. That seems a little low to me, especially since he led the majors in homers and was the biggest contributor for an Orioles team that won 96 games and the AL East title.
I can live with it, though. I figured he'd probably finish between fifth and seventh. And the six guys in front of him had excellent seasons. Cruz garnered six votes for third place; three for fourth; two each for fifth, sixth and seventh; and one for both ninth and 10th. I guess I'm a bit surprised about two things.
1. Thirteen of the 30 voters, or almost half, left Cruz completely out of their top 10. That's strange, considering six voters thought he was the third-most valuable player in the AL this year. Cruz’s WAR (Wins Above Replacement) was not as high as most other contenders — 4.7, 22nd among hitters, and that obviously hurt him. (Steve Pearce and Adam Jones had higher WARs than Cruz). But Cruz hit a league-high 40 home runs, had the third-most RBIs (108), fifth-highest slugging percentage (.525) and 10th-best on-base plus slugging (.859). I’m sure he was penalized for splitting time between designated hitter and the outfield, and the Biogenesis bias still might be lingering some.
Again, I can see him being as low as seventh on ballots, but were there really 10 more valuable players in the AL in 2014 than Cruz? Well, almost half the voters thought so.
2. There always have been different interpretations of the MVP Award and whether it is for the best player or the one most valuable to a team. When a guy like Los Angeles Angels outfielder Mike Trout, clearly the best overall player in the AL, doesn't win the award, the argument is that his value was negated some by a club that could have finished out of the playoffs without him. The Angels put an end to that discussion this year, thankfully.
Still, I’ve always kind of come down in the middle of those two camps. I’d use a team's performance as a tiebreaker for MVP, perhaps, but ultimately I’d go with whoever I thought had the best year. Since Trout was a no-brainer this year — best player on the best team — voters apparently didn’t weigh teams' records much. Of the six guys who finished in front of Cruz, only Trout and the Detroit Tigers' Victor Martinez played in the postseason. The Cleveland Indians' Michael Brantley, Chicago White Sox's Jose Abreu, Seattle Mariners' Robinson Cano and Toronto Blue Jays' Jose Bautista didn’t. Ballots are due at season’s end, and a lot of voters hold on to them until then, so they should have known who was in the playoffs by submission time — if they care about such things. This year, they didn’t.
For the record, I'm an eligible voter, but The Baltimore Sun does not allow its writers to vote for awards.
** Jones finished 14th in the voting; he picked up a fifth-place vote and three for sixth, one each for seventh and eighth, and two apiece for ninth and 10th. Not a bad showing. Interestingly, longtime baseball writer and current Seattle Times columnist Larry Stone was the one to give Jones the fifth-place vote. That Erik Bedard trade keeps paying dividends. Stone, however, did not put Cruz in his top 10. I'm glad Jones received some love in the MVP voting, but I wouldn't have put him higher than Cruz. He would have been toward the end of my ballot.
** There is a lot more speculation and confusion concerning right fielder Nick Markakis and a new Orioles contract. It seems to me that several national writers jumped the gun in their characterizations of talks at the general managers' meetings. My sense is the two sides aren't really closer than they were last week. But they weren't far apart last week. And they are talking again. Bottom line: I still think it gets done. But I'm not predicting exactly when.