By Ben Ozur
One of the most underrated times of the sports year- the MLB offseason. All of the blockbuster trades and huge names signing with new teams as free agents, wow. It’s also fun to discuss and debate different awards that players won or should have won. I don’t think we’ll see as many angry discrepancies this year as we did last year with the AL MVP race, but it’s still been a fun ride. Today, I will be reminding you who won each of the major awards in the National League. For each of the awards (with the exception of the first 2, because there are just too many winners for me to defend or fight each one), I will explain who I believe should have won and why. I only disagree with one, but I will still explain the reasoning behind each.
Gold Gloves [position- player (team) (# award)]
P- Adam Wainwright (STL) (2)
C- Yadier Molina (STL) (6)
1B- Paul Goldschmidt (Ari) (1)
2B- Brandon Phillips (Cin) (4)
3B- Nolan Arenado (Col) (1)
SS- Andrelton Simmons (Atl) (1) *also won Rawlings Platinum Glove
LF- Carlos Gonzalez (Col) (3)
CF- Carlos Gomez (Mil) (1)
RF- Gerardo Parra (Ari) (2) *also Wilson Defensive Player of the Year
Silver Sluggers [position- player (team) (# award)]
P- Zach Greinke (LAD) (1)
C- Yadier Molina (STL) (1)
1B- Paul Goldschmidt (Ari) (1)
2B- Matt Carpenter (STL) (1)
3B- Pedro Alvarez (Pit) (1)
SS- Ian Desmond (Wsh) (2)
OF- Andrew McCutchen (Pit) (2)
OF- Michael Cuddyer (Col) (1)
OF- Jay Bruce (Cin) (2)
Comeback Player of the Year
Who won: Francisco Liriano (Pit)
My pick: Liriano
Hard to have a better individual story than Liriano. Coming up with the Twins as a co-ace with Johan Santana, Liriano showed great poise. Throughout his Minnesota tenure, he was seen as one of the top pitchers in the AL, including a 2011 no-hitter against the White Sox. Then came 2012, and Liriano just looked lost. He got demoted to the bullpen and eventually was traded to those same White Sox. His ERA for the year sat above 5, and when the Pirates signed him as a free agent, everyone questioned what they were thinking. What they were thinking was that he could return to his early Twins form, and he did just that. You’d be hard-pressed to argue against Liriano for this award.
Rookie of the Year
Who won: Jose Fernandez (Mia)
My pick: Fernandez
I get it; Yasiel Puig was a national sensation since his call-up in early June. His numbers suggested he could’ve been an All-Star, despite only having one month of big league experience (I completely disagree with this belief, but that argument is for a different time). Pretty much any other year and Puig would be the hands-down ROY. But not this year. Shelby Miller was also an excellent story, winning the 5th spot in the rotation on the last day of Spring Training over best friend Joe Kelly. What people will always remember about his season was his game against the Rockies, when, after giving off a single to lead off the game, he retired the next 27 consecutive batters. He may also be remembered for only pitching one inning in the entire postseason as a way to make it seem like he wasn’t actually shut down when he really was. If he was in the American League, he’d definitely win this award. But neither of these two finalists stood a chance against Jose Fernandez. Had it not been for a guy named Kershaw, he’d probably win the Cy Young award too. Like Miller, he won the last spot in the rotation at the end of spring training, and only because of injuries in the rotation to Henderson Alvarez and Nate Eovaldi. He only pitched above A-ball in 2012, but you couldn’t tell by watching him this season. With a 5.79 H/9 ratio to lead the MLB, an elite 9.7 K/9, and the second lowest ERA in the majors at 2.19, it can clearly be seen that, this wasn’t just one of the best rookie seasons of all-time, this was one of the best pitched season in many years (well, of course, besides Kershaw’s year this year). If anybody saw him at the All-Star game this year, there wasn’t a pitcher that made you say “wow” like the way everyone did for Fernandez. His stuff was absolutely electric, like it was all year. And, oh by the way, his 1.19 home EAR ain’t too shabby either. And keep this in perspective: the only 2 players younger than Fernandez to make their MLB debut with the Marlins – Miguel Cabrera and Mike (at the time) Stanton. Either of those guys sound familiar?
Manager of the Year
Who won: Clint Hurdle (Pit)
My pick: Hurdle
The Pirates were the most fun team to follow this year. After 21 consecutive losing seasons, a North American professional sports record, and after not making any huge offseason moves (with the exception of acquiring Mark Melancon from Boston in the Joel Hanrahan trade), the Pirates were again expected to settle towards the bottom of the NL Central. A team that starts and ends with Andrew McCutchen, the Pirates were seen as a one-man team to begin the season. Clint Hurdle turned this team’s attitude around. He made each of the other 24 guys on that team feel as important as the runner-runner-up for the NL MVP in 2013. They all stepped up, and the Pirates were a huge success. They finished in 2nd place in the division, earning the first Wild Card spot. They beat the Reds in the Wild Card game and took the eventual NL Champion Cardinals to the maximum 5 games of the NLDS. This team had all of the fight in the world, and Clint Hurdle deserves much of that credit. Fredi Gonzalez and Don Mattingly were worthy finalists for the award, but neither could possibly be seen as a more deserving winner for this award than the Pirates’ skipper.
Who won: Clayton Kershaw (LAD)
My pick: Kershaw
Dare I even make an argument about this one? Saying that anyone but Kershaw is deserving of the award is like voluntarily running into a cage of hungry tigers; you’d be incredibly stupid to do so. He was the only pitcher with an ERA under 2 (at 1.83). That’s not a typo, either. He also led the NL with 232 strikeouts and the MLB with a .915 WHIP. Having this discussion is just silly, really. It seems that the only person who wouldn’t agree with this is the only writer who didn’t give him a first-place vote. (Ironically enough, he gave that vote to Adam Wainwright. This guy is the writer for the Cincinnati Reds.)
Who won: Andrew McCutchen (Pit)
My pick: Paul Goldschmidt (Ari)
Just to start off: the one argument I don’t want to hear about who is a more deserving MVP is whoever has the highest WAR. If the player with the highest WAR in the league is the MVP, then Ben Zobrist would be a two-time AL MVP. Yes, Ben Zobrist. And Carlos Gomez would be the NL MVP this year. I don’t think anyone would agree with either of those statements (sorry, Rays and Brewers fans).
This is a nice debate. This wasn’t a runaway contest by any stretch of the imagination – or at least it shouldn’t have been. It’s not outrageous that Goldschmidt didn’t win it, but I think he was easily the most deserving candidate. What was outrageous, however, was that he didn’t even receive a single first-place vote! He led the NL in HRs, RBIs, slugging percentage, extra-base hits, total bases, OPS, OPS+, and intentional walks. He was also 4th in the NL in hits, on-base percentage and plate appearances, 3rd in walks, tied for 3rd in runs scored, and 2nd in runs created and AB/HR. He was also one of only 4 players in the MLB to earn both a Gold Glove and Silver Slugger (Adam Jones, J.J. Hardy, and Yadier Molina). And let’s put the argument that only playoff-bound players are eligible for this award. He cannot affect what his team could do. (By the way, if you want to make the argument that he can affect his offense, the Diamondbacks actually scored 51 more runs than the Pirates. The Pirates’ pitching is the only reason they made it to the playoffs.) Paul Goldschmidt is at the top or very close to it in so many offensive categories that it is nearly impossible to say that he wasn’t a better offensive player that McCutchen. He also won a Gold Glove, unlike McCutchen, so his defense was actually better, too. Yadier Molina also had a phenomenal season, but he didn’t play enough games to get much of my consideration. When you put it all together, it should be clear that Goldschmidt should’ve won the award, and maybe even ran away with it.
Ben Ozur is an absolute baseball guru. He is a huge Mets, Jets, Knicks and Islanders fan whose life revolves around fantasy sports.
By Doug Tyburski
Coming off their first winning season in 20 years, the Pirates are finally in the position of not only trying to add players during the off season, but keeping their own.
One player who we already know may not return, is fan favorite and veteran leader, A.J. Burnett. The Pirates officially declined to make their former ace a qualifying offer on Friday. Pirates GM Neal Huntington went on 970 ESPN Radio in Pittsburgh, and stated they did not make a qualifying offer to Burnett because they simply, “could not afford the $14.1 million hit to their 2014 team budget”.
Huntington went a bit deeper when addressing the non qualifying offer, stating, “”It’s not where we value A.J. Burnett, it’s how do we build a championship team in the big picture. And as we look to fill some of the other gaps that we have, or we look to upgrade some of the other spots we feel we’d like to upgrade and should upgrade if possible, we felt that $14MM in one player was a bit steep for us.”
Does that mean Burnett will not be back in a Pirates uniform next year? The answer is no. Pittsburgh could be pinning their hopes that Burnett liked his success and surroundings in Pittsburgh so much, that he will sign a one year deal in the $10 million dollar range. The pitcher went on record this past season when he said he would either retire or return to Pittsburgh in 2014. If he holds to that train of thought, maybe the Pirates can sign him at a discounted rate. That may be a gamble on the Pirates part at best though. Burnett is sure to get larger offers from other teams during the upcoming free agency period.
While the Burnett situation will eventually play itself out as the off season goes on, the Pirates will add to payroll. Where they add that money is the question. Let’s take a look at the Pirates position by position and look at what needs they must address.
First Base: For much of the season, the Pirates platooned Garrett Jones and Tony Sanchez. While Jones was useful against right handed pitching, his power numbers and average against left handed pitching dropped dramatically. Sanchez was average at best. The acquisition of Justin Morneau in September was an upgrade, but Morneau did not perform up to the expectations of the Pirates during their playoff run. Morneau could not hit one ball out of the park during his short tenure and his average was nowhere near his career stats. If the price is right, Pittsburgh could take another flyer on Morneau, but only at the right price. Jones’ career in Pittsburgh may have come to a close, while Sanchez may be tendered and could be a useful bench player. An upgrade at first base is a must though. There are some Mark Trumbo trade rumors. He would be a perfect fit, but at this point it appears to be just that, rumors.
Second Base: Neil Walker is currently under contract and rumors continue that the organization and Walker are working on an extension. While the Pittsburgh native is inconsistent at times, when healthy he puts up solid numbers and should give you 15-20 home runs a year and hit for .270 average. No need to upgrade at that position.
Shortstop: This is a spot that has plagued this franchise for years. It seems the Pirates have had no luck upgrading this position. Clint Barmes was signed two years ago, most likely due to his affiliation with Clint Hurdle in Colorado. Barmes is one of the best defensive players at his position, but his offensive numbers, are just that…offensive. Towards the end of the 2013 campaign, Jordy Mercer took over the bulk of the playing time at the position. While Mercer’s offensive numbers are an upgrade, he is a defensive liability and those liabilities showed, contributing to a number of key errors, costing his team important games down the stretch that could have also ended the hopes of a central division title. This is a major position where the organization MUST upgrade during the off season.
Third Base: Pedro Alvarez is set here. While he may eventually move to first base a few years down the road, there is no need to change things up now. He led the NL in home runs, and while the Pirates would like him to bring up his average and cut down his strikeouts, he is young enough and will have a number of seasons to improve on those stats.
Catcher: Russell Martin was everything the Pirates thought he’d be. Outstanding defensively. Valuable veteran to work with some of the young pitchers on the staff. Gave them a few walk off hits and had some clutch home runs as well. Look for fan favorite and decent back up Michael McKendry to return as the backup.
Pitching: Look for the Pirates to upgrade their starting rotation with or without Burnett. Wandy Rodriguez will be returning as the Pirates plan to pick up his option. His only question is his health. If he can remain healthy, that is a big plus for the rotation. Charlie Morton had a very good bounce back season after Tommy John surgery. He will be penciled in the starting rotation potential future all star Gerrit Cole. This could also be the season that another highly touted prospect cracks the Pirates rotation. Former first round pick, Jamison Taillon appears ready to take the next step in his career. If not in the rotation opening day, a June call up is likely. The need for another veteran starter is necessary though, and look for Pittsburgh to address that.
The bullpen should be set. As long as Jason Grilli can remain healthy, he will be the team’s closer and Mark Melancon return to set things up for Grilli in the 8th inning. Adding Justin Wilson, Tony Watson, and Vin Mazzaro, to that list, the bullpen should be one of the best in baseball again in 2014.
Left Field: Starling Marte will be the starting left fielder and should be for a long time. While he does tend to strikeout more than the team would like, he is still learning and his talent out weighs any negatives. Marte has great defensive skills, and a very strong arm. One of the fastest players in the game and has some power and will eventually be a 15-20 home run type player. Marte is still a raw talent, but has the potential to be one of the best left fielders in the National League.
Centerfield: Not much to say here. Potential MVP Andrew McCutchen is one of the best players in the game. Obviously no need for any upgrade here.
Right Field: This is the position that must be addressed as well. The Pirates tried many platoons at this position, and until Marlon Byrd was acquired late this past season, it was one of the Pirates weaknesses if not their biggest. Jose Tabata, Garrett Jones, Tony Sanchez, Andrew Lambo, Travis Snider, and possible a few lucky fans tried to take over that position, but no such luck. Right field is where you can expect a major upgrade. Marlon Byrd may be the answer, but he comes with a few questions. With his surprise season, does he price himself out of the range the Pirates are willing to commit to? Was Byrd’s season a fluke? Will his age (36 years old) catch up to him? If the contact demands based on years and amount are acceptable, look for the Pirates to possibly try and re-sign Byrd. They should and will do their due diligence and look elsewhere first, just in case they can find a younger bat with a more consistent history.
It will be an interesting off season for the Pirates. It will be an important one too. The team is coming off a major season and they won the fans back in a football & hockey town. It’s now up to Neal Huntington to make sure he keeps the momentum going in 2014.
Doug Tyburski is a graduate of Nassau Community College & Suny Stony Brook. He has always been a huge sports fan and his favorite team’s include the NY Islanders, Pittsburgh Pirates, Philadelphia Eagles, and Brooklyn Nets. You can follow him on twitter at @dtybur