My Least Valuable Players and other 2009 'anti-award' winners
After a brutal '09, Vernon Wells is due about $100 million over the next five years
Manny Parra was the biggest flop in a disappointing Brewers rotation
Under Trey Hillman, the Royals did both the little and big things badly
It's baseball awards time, which means it's also time for my own 2009 awards, starting with the Least Valuable Player (and American League fans, it's not who you think it is.) Following those are the Anti Cy Young Award (the Les Sweetland) and the not-so-great Manager of the Year Award (the John McCloskey). Enjoy.
The LVP Awards
AMERICAN LEAGUE LVP: Vernon Wells, Toronto
ALSO CONSIDERED: Yuniesky Betancourt, Kansas City; Jhonny Peralta, Cleveland; Alex Rios, Toronto/Chicago; Jose Guillen, Kansas City
Yes, I know -- it has to be Yuni. I mean it HAS to be Yuni. And, of course, I do believe that Yuniesky Betancourt is the worst player in the American League. To me, you have a hitter with a 65 OPS+, a shortstop with a -20.5 Ultimate Zone Rating and a player with a reputation as a slacker* ... bang, you have a winner. Royals GM Dayton Moore has made numerous moves that I thought were baffling -- signing Jose Guillen, signing Kyle Farnsworth, trading for Mike Jacobs just as a starting point -- but the Betancourt trade was the most infuriating because: (A) It made absolutely no sense, but more importantly (B)** Dayton blatantly refused to see it, even using Betancourt as an opportunity to disparage defensive stats and talk about how to appreciate a player like Betancourt you need to use your eyes and your heart.
*To this day, Keith Law insists the worst time he ever got on a player running to first was Yuniesky Betancourt on a double play ground ball.
**I don't know if you have noticed this, but if you do this (A), (B), (C) thing on your instant message or on your phone, the (B) comes out looking like a smiley face. I don't like this at all. I am not opposed to the whole smiley face revolution -- hey, people like smiley faces. But the computer should give me smiley face control. It's sort of the way I feel about Microsoft Word always trying to turn my numbers into lists and my iPhone always trying to change my spellings. Let ME decide if I feel like transmitting a smiley face.
Still, I think Vernon Wells wins the 2009 LVP Award. You know, Wells was a good player in 2008 and he was a good player in 2006 so perhaps he's going to have the even-odd thing that Bret Saberhagen had going for a while. But in 2009, he was brutal. He posted an 88 OPS+ which is bad enough, but it was only that good because he had a good last three weeks. He was hitting .247/.300/.389 on Sept. 5. And he was entirely unplayable in center field the whole year. He was a remarkable minus-30 defender on the John Dewan plus/minus and an equally horrific minus-18.2 UZR. I don't think it was quite as bad a year as Betancourt's, but I do think it's more or less a toss-up. I like Cocoa Pebbles more than Cocoa Krispies, but they are close enough.
But, if the MVP involves intangibles, well, the LVP must have them too. And what puts Wells over the top is that he is due to make $12.5 million next year, $23 million the next year, $21 million the next year, $21 million the year after that AND $21 million more the year after that. I mean you want to talk about looking into the abyss, well, here it is.
Sure, you might argue that the LVP should be a pure, "Worst player" award, but I don't think so. The Royals could release Betancourt tomorrow or during spring training or mid-season or whenever and it would not kill them financially. They won't release him because they think he's good. But they could. The Blue Jays, meanwhile, are BURIED under mounds and mounds of Wellsian Debt. You would have to think that he's done as a center fielder, but he certainly could become a viable hitter again (though he turns 31 in December and that's older than most baseball people want to accept). But with about $100 million due in the next five years, whew...
NATIONAL LEAGUE LVP: Milton Bradley, Cubs
ALSO CONSIDERED: Emilio Bonifacio, Florida, Jeff Francoeur, Braves/Mets; Jason Kendall, Milwaukee; Russell Martin, Dodgers; Edgar Renteria, San Francisco; Alfonso Soriano, Cubs
It is entirely unfair to put Francoeur in the also considered department ... I know this. Francoeur was good for the Mets after he was traded. But I unfairly include him because:
1. He was so legendarily bad with the Braves -- .250/.282/.352 -- that he was well on his way to winning the award before getting traded to the Mets.
2. He was so good with the Mets -- .311/.338/.498 -- that the Mets undoubtedly believe that he is back to being the guy who was on the cover of Sports Illustrated. They will now be inspired to spend considerable money and effort to keep him in New York. And, hey, they could be right. He could be the player he was in the second half... and from everything I know about Francoeur, I hope that is what happens. He seems to be a great guy.
However, I would be remiss if I did not point out: They also could be wrong -- after all, over his last 2,500 at-bats Francoeur has an 89 OPS+ and the defensive numbers seem to indicate that he has regressed into a below average outfielder. Francoeur could be a Riddler-like trap, and the Mets could be just about ready to fall in.
But he was not LVP. The worst hitter in the league was Bonifacio, who punched up a 61 OPS+ because he could not get on base (.303 OBP) but made up for this with his lack of power (.308 slugging, though he did hit his first big league homer). The worst fielder in the league was probably Ryan Braun, who managed a minus-31 Dewan as a left fielder, which is admittedly better than the minus-41 he had at third base in 2007. But, man, can Ryan Braun swat.
Anyway, put it all together, and including those all-important intangibles, the 2009 LVP is Bradley. He was lousy on defense (minus-12 Dewan in right; minus-4.7 UZR) and not much on offense (99 OPS+ and missed 38 games with injuries). Plus, he was his usual pleasant self... leaving Cubs GM Jim Hendry publicly babbling about how the team doesn't HAVE to trade Bradley, they might WANT to keep Bradley, hey some of the best trades are the ones you DON'T make --- while privately Hendry's working the phones like Judy the Time Life Operator to get rid of this guy.*
*For a while, the hot talk was Bradley for Wells, which would have been the first trade of LVPs in baseball history. Now, that's a fascinating trade. On the one hand, the Cubs would be getting an enormously expensive player who just had a dismal season. On the other hand, the Blue Jays would be getting a less-expensive player coming off a dismal season who also has a knack for making people despise him. Break it down for us, Mel Kiper.
Bradley did lead the American League in OPS+ in 2008. And to be fair, he was not the worst player in the National League, not really all that close. After a horrendous start in 2009, he hit pretty well for a good chunk of last season. From May 25 through Aug. 29 he hit .300/.431/.454. I suspect he's got something left in the bat.
But he turns 32 in April. And he's Milton Bradley. A scout once told me that Bradley is the only high school player he ever scouted who hit a home run and did not have a single teammate come out to congratulate him. He's only signed for two more years -- he's due $9 million and $12 million. Think about all you get for the money.
Several brilliant readers on my blog pointed out I initially shortchanged Soriano for LVP. That contract is brutal. And I did not realize just how much Soriano's offense AND defense regressed in 2009 -- I thought he was pretty good defensively in 2007 and 2008. He makes a compelling case. I think Bradley, because of his whole game, was the LVP though. Willy Taveras was also a very viable LVP candidate. But he's actually pretty good defensively in center and he only played 102 games.
MLB Truth & Rumors