A columnist's first prerogative is to change his mind. At least that's what I think. Today, anyway. With that in mind, I present my new American League MVP choice.
I know, I know. I told you DavidOrtiz was my solid choice, no matter what. And then a few days later I told you I was considering backing Jermaine Dye. Well then, I might as well make it a trifecta.
Today I give you my new MVP candidate. Well, technically, he isn't yet an MVP candidate, since I haven't actually heard his name mentioned as a candidate by anyone else.
Johan Santana. The Twins ace looks as valuable today as anyone in the American League. More valuable, actually.
I called his boss, Terry Ryan, the Minnesota general manager, to get his opinion. The first thing Ryan said to me was that it's way too early to be picking MVPs because too much can still happen. My reaction? Now he tells me.
Look what happened to Ortiz, Ryan pointed out, making me feel even worse about my early call (not that Ryan had any idea about that). Then Ryan went into a riff about what a great man Ortiz is and flogged himself for maybe the one mistake he's made as Twins GM. "I'm the guy who let [Ortiz] go, for God's sake," Ryan said.
We're all entitled to one mistake, I reminded Ryan. Or in my case, two mistakes -- Ortiz and Dye.
That's what brings me to Santana, who is deserving of the the award not only because the Twins are 25-5 in games he's started but also because he's the main reason (not counting all those great Twins scouts and Ryan himself) this low-budget team is vying for a playoff spot in the high-octane AL Central.
When it comes to the MVP, pitchers are discriminated against to the point where Pedro Martinez didn't win the award in 1999, a year he obviously deserved it. And while Santana leads the league in most pitching categories, too many voters will look at the big offensive numbers of the other candidates and cast a more conventional vote.
But facts are facts, and nobody is dominating like Santana, who along with his 17 victories has 219 strikeouts, a 0.99 WHIP (walks and hits per inning), a .215 batting average against and a 2.84 ERA. Those are all league-leading totals, by the way. If the season ended today, he'd have the pitchers' Triple Crown (wins, strikeouts and ERA), in fact ... and maybe not a single first-place MVP vote.
Beyond his overall numbers, Santana's getting better as the race heats up. Over his past six starts he is 5-0 with a 1.43 ERA. His last loss occurred two months ago Saturday.
This is really nothing new. Santana's been the best pitcher in the league three years running, as A's GM Billy Beane recently pointed out to me. The difference with Santana this year is that he's been good from the start. There were no struggles to speak of in April or May. Ryan isn't sure why that was but suggests it may have something to do with Santana's getting the feel for his signature changeup earlier than usual, possibly the result of playing in the World Baseball Classic.
The ending is the very same one Santana's been writing for years. He is 38-3 after the break since 2003.
Ortiz, Dye, Derek Jeter and a pair of Twins, Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau, are all fine MVP candidates. But today, the key man in the pennant race is Santana, the Twins' one dependable starter while they've waited for Francisco Liriano to get back.
I tried to get an endorsement of my pick from Ryan, whose low-budget team has up to half of the MVP candidates (and would have, sorry to remind him, two thirds if he'd kept Ortiz). But Ryan isn't the type for snap judgments. He likes to think before he speaks, which might be why he's a great GM and I'm not any kind of GM.
I begged and pleaded, and after a while I asked whether I was "crazy" to be suggesting Santana for MVP. And finally, Ryan said, "No, I don't think you're crazy at all."