Alex Rodriguez effectively removed himself from American League Most Valuable Player consideration when he finagled a trade to the New York Yankees this spring. Not only is Yankee Stadium a death-trap for long fly balls off the bats of right-handed hitters, but the Yankees' all-star-at-every-position lineup diminishes the impact of any one player.
Despite all their championships, the Yankees are in the midst of a 19-year MVP slump. Don Mattingly, in 1985, was the last Yankee to win the MVP award; before that, it was Thurmon Munson, in 1976, and before that, Elston Howard in 1963. That's two MVPs in the last 40 years.
With Rodriguez out of the equation, the AL MVP race was thrown wide open. As we hand out first-half awards to the best players, pitchers and managers in their respective leagues this season, let's begin with the race that Rodriguez vacated.
Most Valuable Player: Vladimir Guerrero, Anaheim. The Angels were without Troy Glaus, Garret Anderson, Darin Erstad and Tim Salmon for long stretches in the first half yet have managed to remain in the AL West race thanks primarily to Guerrero. No single player has meant more to a contending team. Also receiving consideration: Ivan Rodriguez (Detroit), Manny Ramirez (Boston).
Cy Young: Mark Mulder, Oakland. The Big Three was at times reduced to a Big One, thanks to Tim Hudson's abdominal injury and Barry Zito's puzzling struggles. Mulder, on the other hand, has carried the A's all year long. Also receiving consideration: Curt Schilling (Boston), Kenny Rogers (Texas).
Rookie of the Year: Bobby Crosby, Oakland. While everyone's preseason pick, Minnesota's Joe Mauer, got himself hurt early in the season, Crosby has softened the Athletics' blow of losing Miguel Tejada to free agency. Also receiving consideration: Daniel Cabrera (Baltimore), Nate Robertson (Detroit).
Manager of the Year: Lou Piniella, Tampa Bay. We're still skeptical of the for-realness of the Devil Rays, and Buck Showalter in Texas would be a deserving pick for putting the Rangers in first place after losing Alex Rodriguez and Rafael Palmeiro in the same winter. But there has been no bigger miracle this year than the D-Rays getting back to .500 after being 10-28. Also receiving consideration: Showalter, Joe Torre (New York).
Least Valuable Player: Bartolo Colon, Anaheim. Orioles fans may think Sidney Ponson has been frustrating, but Colon has put up similar numbers (a better win-loss record, a worse ERA) for 2 1/2 times more money. Also receiving consideration: Ponson, Rich Aurilia (Seattle), Derek Lowe (Boston).
Most Valuable Player: Barry Bonds, San Francisco. Don't try to outthink yourself here. Yes, Scott Rolen has nearly 75 percent more RBI and plays a tougher position. But this Bonds dude is slugging .796 and getting on-base at a .621 clip. Those are preposterous numbers. Also receiving consideration: Rolen (St. Louis), Jim Thome (Philadelphia), Eric Gagne (Los Angeles).
Cy Young: Randy Johnson, Arizona. Gagne is the greatest regular season pitching weapon in the league, and Jason Schmidt, start-for-start, is the top ace. But Johnson's numbers (except for losses) stack up against Schmidt's and any other starter's in the league, plus he has the perfect game. Also receiving consideration: Gagne (Los Angeles), Schmidt (San Francisco), Ben Sheets (Milwaukee).
Rookie of the Year: Jason Bay, Pittsburgh. He didn't debut until mid-May but has 10 homers, 35 RBI and a .301 average (entering the weekend). Also receiving consideration: Matt Holliday (Colorado).
Manager of the Year: Ned Yost, Milwaukee. Despite having the lowest payroll in the majors, Yost has positioned the Brewers on the fringe of contention. Also receiving consideration: Dave Miley (Cincinnati), Tony LaRussa (St. Louis).
Least Valuable Player: Mike Hampton, Atlanta. A 3-8 record, a 5.56 ERA and a $14.625 million salary. Yikes. Also receiving consideration: Neifi Perez (San Francisco), Tony Batista (Montreal).
No Liftoff in Houston
The situation in Houston is deteriorating in a hurry, and it is appears the only thing keeping Astros Manager Jimy Williams in his job is the organization's reluctance to fire its manager when it is hosting the All-Star Game.
Entering the weekend, the Astros had dropped 4 1/2 games in the NL Central standings since mortgaging a good deal of their future to acquire Kansas City Royals center fielder Carlos Beltran. They are now 9 1/2 games behind first-place St. Louis and 3 1/2 back in the wild-card race.
There were even reports that the Astros would turn around and put Beltran back on the market, which would be a stunning admission of failure. That rumor turned out to be unfounded, but don't be surprised if Williams fails to make it to the end of July unless the Astros make a quick turnaround.
Cubs Poised to Make Move
The Chicago Cubs will have their entire rotation intact for the first time beginning today when Kerry Wood is scheduled to start in St. Louis. Until now, the Cubs have not had Wood and Mark Prior healthy at the same time. . . .
Florida Marlins right-hander Josh Beckett, the MVP of the 2003 World Series, is on the disabled list for the seventh time in the last 26 months. The majority of those trips have been to deal with a blister on the middle finger of his pitching hand, which cropped up again this past week.
"I don't know what I need to do," Beckett told reporters. "Play third base, maybe." . . .
The Kansas City Royals were shut out in three straight games by the Minnesota Twins this past week and came within a Ken Harvey ninth-inning homer in San Diego the day before the Twins series of being shut out in four straight games. Things are so bad, they signed Ruben Mateo and immediately stuck him in the lineup -- at cleanup. . . .
Somehow, the Cleveland Indians had four players (C.C. Sabathia, Victor Martinez, Ron Belliard and Matt Lawton) named to the all-star team, making them the first team with a losing record to place that many players on the all-star team since the 1999 Orioles, who also had four: Cal Ripken, Mike Mussina, B.J. Surhoff and Harold Baines.