Handicappers for baseball’s in-season claiming races are officially open for business. Leading off the post parade, we have the MVP challengers. Somehow this label always begs the question, most valuable to whom? The award is given to each league’s MVP; the winners, as we all know, play for teams not leagues.
Controversy inevitably erupts when a player who is having a monster year while his team lurks somewhere near the basement is destined to be overlooked. How valuable was so-and-so, the critics ask, if his team stunk up the joint wire-to-wire? So what if a player of Todd Helton’s accomplishments receives scant support year after year simply because the Rockies aren’t going anywhere? He’ll just have to content himself with his regular salary and forget about the incentive clauses in his contract.
This year’s installment of Does He Deserve It? will once again feature Barry Bonds, who is putting up his usual remarkable numbers. Things would be a whole lot easier if Albert Pujols and Scott Rolen weren’t doing the same in St. Louis and if their team weren’t running away with their division; or if Adrian Beltre were not matching or exceeding their performances in Los Angeles, which is also leading its division. The Cardinals have played so well all season they can safely rest their starters beginning any day now and still waltz into the playoffs and beyond. Albert Pujols was offered a respite just the other day but declined.
Things always get a little trickier when you have four or five candidates, three of whom are from one team. Not only are Pujols and Rolen having great years, so is teammate Jim Edmonds. Quite the troika, eh? Will they and Beltre split votes among themselves leaving Bonds the front runner once again?
Maybe voters will simply tire of handing the award to Bonds for a fourth consecutive year; the old time-to-spread-the-wealth-around approach. There is some merit to such thinking provided viable alternatives present themselves, which is certainly the case this season. Another less compelling factor may be the ongoing antipathy some voters feel toward Bonds, never the most congenial interview. Frankly, there is no excuse for this approach; nowhere do the rules state sour pusses need not apply. Finally, there is the Balco factor. Does he or doesn’t he? That one may cost a few votes but doesn’t figure to be a major determinant.
What, then, is the average fan to do? My unofficial vote, if it were taken right now, would be for Scott Rolen except for one small problem: I cannot stand the guy. And after all, why should I be held to a higher standard? So, I guess I will cast my unofficial tally for . . . Adrian Beltre. I’d sure like to vote for Todd Helton, but Beltre is having a better year and the Rockies are….well…Beltre is having a better year.