With one half of baseball in the books, we kick off this week’s column with the Week That Was midseason awards banquet. Envelope please, Emma Stone.
American League Cy Young: Felix Hernandez. He finished the first half 11-2, ranking first in the AL in ERA (2.12), WHIP (0.90), and WAR for pitchers (4.4). He was second in strikeouts (154) and innings pitched (144 1/3). Oh, and not for nothing: Hernandez kicked off the second half by striking out nine Angels and allowing only one unearned run over seven innings on Saturday. The King is your heavy mid-season favorite to win the hardware.
National League Cy Young: Clayton Kershaw. Remember when Ace Ventura was driven to near madness as he murmured: “Finkle and Einhorn, Finkle and Einhorn, Finkle and Einhorn, Finkle and Einhorn, Finkle and Einhorn”? That was me trying to decide between Kershaw and Adam Wainwright. Kershaw has been slightly better when he’s been on the mound (1.78 ERA and 0.83 WHIP to 1.83/0.91), but Wainwright has made five more starts. Wainwright has been more valuable overall to this juncture, but I’d pick Kershaw in a one-game playoff. That’s my tiebreaker.
Also in the race: Wainwright and Johnny Cueto.
American League MVP: Mike Trout. Barring injury, Trout is a lock to win this award. The scary thing is he could be better in the second half. Trout’s power has jumped in 2014—he’s going to easily top his career high of 30 homers, and his current .607 slugging percentage is almost 50 points higher than his career mark—but has done so at the expense of some contact. The center fielder will set a new career-high for strikeouts (he’s tallied 97 so far; he had 139 in 2012). Regardless, I believe he'll learn to harness the power without selling out so much to acquire it. That process could begin at any moment.
Also in the race: Realistically, nobody. But a Trout injury would open the door for somebody like Robinson Cano, Josh Donaldson, or Nelson Cruz to sneak in.
National League MVP: Troy Tulowitzki. Tulo won’t be helped by playing for the last-place Rockies, but his two biggest competitors (see below) for the trophy also play on teams currently on the outside of the playoff picture. Tulowitzki leads the majors in WAR (5.7) and OPS (1.035) as a shortstop. Sign me up.
Also in the race: Andrew McCutchen and Giancarlo Stanton. If the media voted today, I imagine McCutchen would be handed his second consecutive MVP trophy. Stanton’s bat has kept the Marlins afloat, though they appear destined to sink to the bottom of the standings.
American League Rookie of the Year: Jose Abreu. Leads the majors with 29 dingers and a .624 slugging percentage. Not bad for his first season stateside.
Also in the race: Nobody. Tanaka and Abreu would have been a fascinating debate at season’s end.
National League Rookie of the Year: Billy Hamilton. He’s been everything Cincinnati asked for, and will get better as he learns to draw more walks and be more discretionary picking his spots on steal attempts.
Also in the race: Chris Owings and Gregory Polanco. Owings’ candidacy is on thin ice as he mends a bruised shoulder. Polanco, meanwhile, could ride a huge second half into a legitimate argument against Hamilton. He’ll need big numbers and a Pirates playoff berth. Don’t count him out yet.
The Angels acquired Huston Street (and little-known relief prospect Trevor Gott) from the Padres on Saturday for minor leaguers Taylor Lindsey, R.J. Alvarez, Jose Rondon and Elliot Morris. This trade made so much sense that many media outlets predicted it over a month ago. San Diego, which had no need to employ a stud closer as a cellar dweller, takes a flier on a handful of intriguing youngsters, none more so than Lindsey, the No. 37 pick in the 2010 draft. The 22-year-old second baseman was rated by a few services as a top-100 overall prospect this spring; he was also the top prospect in the Angels' system. It’s far too soon for an offensively-bereft organization to pull the plug on a keystone talent like Jedd Gyorko, but Lindsey could press him for playing time beginning next spring.
San Diego turns to Joaquin Benoit as closer. Benoit was already widely owned in mixed leagues as one of the game’s best setup men, but he’s obviously a must-own in all formats right now.
The Angels, meanwhile, move onto their third closer of the season, with Street pushing Joe Smith back into a setup role. At the time of the trade, Los Angeles ranked No. 24 in the game with a 3.89 bullpen ERA. Street, who had a 1.09 ERA and was 24-of-25 in save conversions with the Padres, should help restore order. With Smith, Jason Grilli (1-1 with a 1.29 ERA with Angels), Kevin Jepsen, Joe Thatcher and Fernando Salas forming a bridge to Street, Los Angeles has turned its Ernesto Frieri-led (0-3 with a 6.39 ERA in 34 appearances) nightmare unit into a huge strength by way of a few clever trades. Mike Scioscia can now choose from a diverse subset of arms to play matchups in the playoffs (assuming the Wild Card-leading Angels hang on), with a closer against whom other managers can’t get cute: Street has held right-handed batters to a .170 batting average over the past three seasons, and left-handers to a .180 average over the same span. Street has been extremely stingy with runners on base (3-for-32) this year, so the only concern here is that a little regression is in store. Even so, I’d use an AL-only waiver claim on Street if I were outside the No. 1 priority spot.
The Astros became the first team in 31 years to fail in signing the No. 1 overall pick (Tim Belcher, 1983) when they couldn’t come to terms with Brady Aiken by Friday’s deadline. The high school left-hander and his representation had a public snit fit with Houston’s front office, accusing team officials of negotiating in bad faith. Houston also failed to sign Round 5 pick Jason Nix. Now, union executive director Tony Clark says the MLBPA and the players’ representatives are considering legal action against the team.
Houston muffed the Aiken negotiations from jump street. They rescinded a $6.5 million offer after their medicals revealed a slight abnormality in Aiken’s left elbow ligament, amending to a $3.1 million minimum proposal that guaranteed the No. 2 pick as compensation next year if he didn’t sign. The ligament isn’t torn and will not require surgery, and it isn't missing, ala R.A. Dickey’s situation. Instead, it’s either thinner or shorter than a normal UCL. I’m confused, so I’m going to kick it to ESPN’s Keith Law. “The compressive force between a pitcher's forearm (ulna) and upper-arm bones is at its maximum when his arm is fully cocked, and without the UCL there to prevent further rotation in the elbow, the force on those bones would become excessive,” Law wrote. “That might be a long-term concern, but we have no examples of pitchers who've had this issue.”
Aiken’s agent believes the Astros attempted to manufacture leverage to save money, manipulating the draft system. The young hurler is totally healthy, was clocked at 97 mph last time out, and his elbow was cleared in an independent medical examination. The Astros raised their offer to $5 million just before Friday afternoon’s deadline, but Aiken and agent Casey Close were so furious they didn’t even respond.
Aiken is pondering heading to junior college next year—instead of honoring his commitment to UCLA—in order to opt into the 2015 draft. Imagine being so upset that you don’t respond to a $5 million offer and instead attend a JUCO and eat Ramen for a year. Nix, also a UCLA commitment, saw his $1.5 million agreement evaporate into thin air when Houston lost $7.9 million in slot money by failing to sign Aiken, nullifying a pre-arranged agreement. You’ll be hearing more about this unfortunate situation, as Close and Clarke both sound as though they want a pound of Texas flesh.
The beginning of the second half means we’ve officially entered rumor season. FOX Sports' Jon Paul Morosi kicked things off with gossip that the Mariners are trying to coax the Rays into trading them left-hander David Price and infielder/outfielder Ben Zobrist. If Price is headed to the Northwest, you can bet Taijuan Walker will be given a one-way ticket to Florida as the package headliner. The Rays, no doubt looking to fortify a roster that has looked terribly shaky in 2014, are also sniffing around promising Seattle youngsters Brad Miller, Nick Franklin, Chris Taylor, and D.J. Peterson. CBS Sports' Jon Heyman later reported that Seattle is focusing its efforts on Zobrist, perhaps indicating that the price for Price is prohibitive, news you could have guessed when Oakland elected to trade top-five overall prospect Addison Russell to the Cubs for Jeff Samardzija instead of using him to go after Price. The Mariners have also spoken with the Phillies about Marlon Byrd and the Royals about Billy Butler. Expect Seattle to be big players this month as they attempt to return to the postseason.
Yu Darvish punched out 12 batters over 6 2/3 innings of one-run ball in a Friday win over the Blue Jays to cut his ERA to 2.88. J.P. Arencibia smacked a three-run homer in the same game. The Rangers decided they couldn’t tolerate Carlos Pena’s limp bat anymore, designating the veteran for assignment and recalling Arencibia to play first. In this injury-ravaged lineup, Arencibia will continue to draw at-bats. I’m not terribly optimistic about his prognosis, but AL-only owners should speculate on Arencibia anyway on the off chance the light finally comes on now that the former top prospect doesn’t have to bake in the Arlington heat for half the game in catcher’s equipment. Arencibia will be a decent AL-only commodity with dual eligibility if the bat keeps him in the lineup.
CC Sabathia will undergo arthroscopic knee surgery, officially ending his season. We received good news on Saturday, however: Sabathia won’t require microfracture surgery (not in the near future, anyway), meaning he’ll be ready to go at the start of spring training. With his velocity plummeting and his body betraying him, Sabathia is a rough proposition in dynasty formats.
Troy Tulowitzki celebrated winning the WTW first-half MVP award by taking the night off early, leaving Saturday's game with a muscle cramp in his left thigh. It sure looked worse than a cramp as Tulo came off the field, but we won’t argue with the mild diagnosis if it gets him back to the field quicker.
Henderson Alvarez exited Saturday’s start against the Giants prematurely because of a left shin contusion. He isn’t expected to miss a start.
Saturday was a dangerous day to be at the ballpark, as star first sacker Brandon Belt and outfielders Yasiel Puig and Matt Holliday all hit the showers early as well. Belt was hit in the face during batting practice. The Giants decided to start him anyway, and Belt left the contest against the Marlins early due to dizziness. He's scheduled for a concussion test. If it comes back positive, NL-only leaguers will want to snatch up Tyler Colvin again. Puig was plunked in the left hand by a Joe Kelly pitch. X-rays were negative, so you won’t have to worry about his availability next week. As for Holliday, his fifth inning exit was only a delayed precaution after he ran into Dodgers shortstop Hanley Ramirez at second base in the first.