|Friday, August 9
Updated: August 10, 5:36 PM ET
Hunter tops the list of MVP candidates
By Sean McAdam
Special to ESPN.com
There's been a changing of the guard in the American League the past few seasons, and it's reflected in the look of the AL MVP race.
Just like two of the three division races and the wild-card spot, this prize is still up for grabs. But among the leading contenders are a handful of players who weren't in the big leagues when the millennium began. Heck, a few weren't even in this country.
At a time when baseball is staring down another labor impasse, it's at least comforting to know for the game's future that new stars continue to emerge. These players are multi-talented, exciting and young.
Here are the candidates:
1. Torii Hunter
The case against: Hunter's RBI total (72) is off and he doesn't steal as many bases (17) as other athletic players do. The Twins may be running away with the AL Central, but a look at the rest of the division suggests they may be doing so by default.
The verdict: His numbers may not be the most overwhelming, but take him away from the Twins -- who haven't gotten the pitching they anticipated -- and they wouldn't be nearly as good as they are. And isn't that the very essence of "most valuable?"
2. Alfonso Soriano
The case against: Though he's capable of making the occasional spectacular play and will continue to improve, Soriano is a rather limited defensive player for the time being. That, his lack of patience at the plate (115 K's, 17 walks) and his strong supporting cast tend to diminish his contributions some.
The verdict: Soriano is on pace to become a 40-40 man from the leadoff spot, in the middle of the infield. His numbers are staggering and if Hunter fades, he could emerge as the winner. But for now, he'll likely be handicapped by being part of such a star-studded team.
3. Jason Giambi
The case against: The Yankees won before Giambi. They're winning with Giambi. They'll win after Giambi. See the point? Good as Giambi is, he's joined a powerhouse and it's hard to quantify his impact.
The verdict: Throughout their great run since 1996, the Yankees have not been the recipients of many individual awards (only Roger Clemens' Cy Young last season); people tend to recognize the entire ensemble, rather than single out any single performer. That trend could continue and could cost Giambi.
4. Ichiro Suzuki
The case against: Compelling as he is to watch -- at the plate, on the bases and in the field -- Ichiro is also, let's face it, pretty much a singles hitter offensively. He fails to make a dent in any of the run production/power categories. Matched against some of the more punishing hitters in the league, Ichiro comes up short.
The verdict: Ichiro took the game by surprise in 2001, which generated lots of publicity. When the Mariners ran off in the AL West and he was the obvious linchpin. But the Mariners are merely good this year and Ichiro's case as MVP isn't as compelling.
5. Miguel Tejada
The case against: As good as Tejada has been, the A's are in the playoff picture because of their pitching. The trio of Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder and Barry Zito have the A's positioned for the wild card, and that could cost Tejada some votes.
The verdict: Unless Tejada has a torrid seven weeks and carries his teammates into the playoffs, he won't escape the shadow of his pitching staff.
6. Alex Rodriguez
The case against: The Rangers are going to finish last in the AL West, albeit in baseball's toughest division. That's not Rodriguez's fault, as he's doing everything -- offensively and defensively -- that could be asked of him. But his team's poor showing gets to the "valuable'' part in the Most Valuable Player equation.
The verdict: For now, A-Rod will have to be content to simply be the game's best player, hardly a consolation prize. In this era of oversized offensive numbers, it's doubtful we'll ever again see a player from a second-division club named MVP, the way it once happened for Cal Ripken and Andre Dawson.
7. Pedro Martinez/Derek Lowe
The case against: Pitchers usually win MVPs in a vaccuum, or when their seasons are truly historic. Neither is the case here, and the two would undoubtedly eat into one another's vote totals, wiping out both of their chances.
The verdict: A more likely scenario is a down-to-the-wire vote for the AL Cy Young.
Sean McAdam of the Providence Journal covers baseball for ESPN.com.