The Unofficial Awards
Sports Illustrated baseball writers Tom Verducci, Jeff Pearlman and Stephen Cannella offer their picks in some less-than-major awards categories. (All stats through Oct. 1.)
Best off the bench
Verducci: Craig Wilson, Pirates. He tied the single-season record with seven pinch-hit homers and can play catcher, first base and the outfield. He deserves more playing time next year, as do Erubiel Durazo and David Dellucci, the Diamondbacks' late-inning specialists.
Pearlman: Tony Gwynn, Padres. Would you want to face him late in a tight game? Still has the bat speed, plus Einstein smarts. Will be missed.
Cannella: David Dellucci, Diamondbacks. Manager Bob Brenly had a plethora of effective pinch hitters to choose from, and he called Dellucci's number most often. The 28-year-old right fielder has responded with 18 pinch hits and five pinch home runs.
Verducci: Alex Rodriguez, Rangers. There never was a doubt, but this year it is reinforced: A-Rod is the game's best player.
Pearlman: Cristian Guzman, Twins. Carl Lewis, Bob Hayes, Mo Greene -- it makes no difference. Head-to-head, there is no faster human being on the planet than Guzman.
Cannella: Barry Bonds, Giants. Is it me or did Barry go deep every time he took the bat off his shoulders? His home run assault hasn't created the buzz McGwire's did in 1998, but Bonds may be winding up the greatest offensive season of anyone not named Babe. In an era when we take the home run for granted, Barry found a way to impress us.
Best player you've never heard of
Verducci: Jeremy Fikac, Padres. You probably can't even pronounce it (FEE-kotch), but you'll learn. Entering the season's last week, the right-handed rookie reliever had allowed only two earned runs in 22 1/3 innings (0.81 ERA) Left-handed hitters were 0-for-23 against him.
Pearlman: Vance Wilson, Mets. Ever since New York traded Todd Pratt to Philly, we've seen the smooth-handed catcher transform starter Glendon Rusch from Ed Glynn to Mike Scott. Will never be a star, but the perfect Piazza caddie.
Cannella: Orlando Cabrera, Expos. He toils in baseball's black hole, so don't blame yourself if you don't know the senior circuit's best young shortstop. The 26-year-old is a force on offense -- he's hit 13 homers and driven in 92 runs. He's also made just 10 errors even though he's had the most chances in the league.
Most distinctive quirk
Verducci: Ben Weber, Angels. The Anaheim reliever's herky-jerky, fast-forward, double- and sometimes triple-pump windup. Kids, do not try this at home.
Pearlman: Julio Franco, Braves. Even at age 76, Atlanta's first baseman has enough bat speed to hold his wood six feet above his head, parallel to the ground. Looks like a beer tap with muscles.
Cannella: Tony Batista, Orioles. His extreeemely open stance -- feet on the back line of the batter's box, bat held high, torso facing the mound so pitchers can read his team's name on his uniform. Somehow, he gets into a more conventional hitting position by the time the pitch is on its way.
Best at making his job look easy
Pearlman: Ichiro Suzuki, Mariners. Mary J. Blige-smooth, with a much better arm. Everything Ichiro does -- from the drag bunt to the stolen base to the 9-5 putout -- seems simple. A blatant MVP candidate who, thanks to some blatant media stupidity, won't win the award.
Cannella: Ichiro Suzuki, Mariners. He set the rookie hits record, stole more than 50 bases and has virtually locked up a batting title, all while facing pitchers he'd never seen in a foreign country and culture. Did he even break a sweat? Few players play with Ichiro's grace, fluidity and style.
Best at making his job look hard
Verducci: (tie) Brady Anderson, Orioles and Tim Salmon, Angels. Shells of their former selves. Anderson's 50-homer season might be the most anomalous year in history. Salmon is in danger of a post-30, Kevin McReynolds-type fade.
Pearlman: Chuck LaMar, Tampa Bay. Granted, the gig of a major league GM is hard. But LaMar, the Rays' head honcho, refuses to make intelligent decisions. Vinny Castilla, Bobby Smith, Juan Guzman, Kevin Stocker, Wilson Alvarez, Manny Aybar, yadda, yadda, yadda. And has anyone noticed that Cory Lidle -- a Tampa Bay discard -- is 12-6 for the A's?
Cannella: Mike Williams, Astros. Williams has been effective (22 saves in 25 chances, 3.23 ERA) as the Pirates' closer and also as a setup man in Houston, but, man, only fans of Houdini or Mitch "Wild Thing" Williams could enjoy his outings. He has allowed 12.8 baserunners per nine innings, and managed not to give up a walk or hit in only 21 of his 62 appearances. Apparently, Williams concentrates best when he's on the tightrope: Opponents have hit .274 against him with the bases empty, .198 with runners on.
Most devastated by being traded
Verducci: Mike Fetters, Pirates. The 36-year-old Southern Cal native had never been to the postseason and was sitting in first place when the Dodgers dumped him on last-place Pittsburgh in July to get Terry Mulholland. No wonder he gets those fierce facial tics while on the mound.
Pearlman: Rick Reed, Mets. Pennant race, scmenant race -- Reed had no desire to leave Gotham for the thrills of downtown Minneapolis. Need proof? Check his AL record.
Cannella: Ben Grieve, Devil Rays. Chuck LaMar touted Grieve as a player to build his franchise around, but now the world sees why Oakland was so willing to deal the 25-year-old outfielder last winter. Grieve's average and RBI total dipped to career lows and his 11 home runs are way too few for a player whose only above-average tool is his bat.
Best team player
Verducci: Alex Rodriguez, Rangers. Mets GM Steve Phillips' invoking of the "24 and 1" charge to end his free-agent pursuit of A-Rod was a joke. If he thinks Rodriguez is out for himself, how will the Mets explain going after Barry Bonds this winter?
Pearlman: Chipper Jones, Braves. Mike Piazza has made it clear he wants to catch, not play first. Chuck Knoblauch wasn't thrilled by the move to the outfield. Jones, however, has been nothing short of gracious in his part-time left field gig. In an effort to insert Ken Caminiti (and some pop) into his lineup, Bobby Cox asked Jones to play left every so often. Chipper never whined.
Cannella: Jason Giambi, A's. He's an MVP candidate even before he hits a homer or drives in a run -- and nobody has more clout in the clubhouse. Somehow, Giambi kept his contract squabble from becoming a distraction for his team. In July, Oakland's players decided the best way to keep their team from being dismantled was to start winning. It was Giambi who set the tone for the A's resurgence.
Verducci: Luis Gonzalez, Diamondbacks. You won't find a nicer man in baseball. Special mention to hipster Jason Giambi of Oakland, the daddy of the "three-run Jimmy Jack."
Pearlman: Brian Hunter, Phillies. Not just nice for a baseball player. Not just nice for a public figure. Nice -- period. The kindest, most gentle soul in baseball. He might not play much, but he's a press room first-team all-star.
Cannella: Curt Schilling, Diamondbacks. He probably stops talking when he goes to sleep, but we can't say for sure. Few players are as chatty, thoughtful, insightful and patient with reporters. Even fewer keep tabs on what's going outside their own clubhouse the way Schilling does.
Most likely to break out next season
Verducci: Adam Dunn, Reds. Fifty dingers written all over him.
Pearlman: Danny Almonte. Scouts say free-agent 29-year-old left-hander is "uncannily deceptive."
Cannella: Brandon Duckworth, Phillies. Larry Bowa trusted the 25-year-old enough to hand him the ball every five days down the stretch during a pennant race, and Duckworth didn't disappoint. The Phillies are awash in good young arms. Duckworth is the best of the bunch and will be their rotation leader in the coming years.