David Ortiz could pull off the improbable — be named the American League MVP in his retirement season.
Think about it. Ortiz has been the most impactful player in the AL this season. He leads in many offensive categories, including OPS, which is the truest measure of an offensive player.
Ortiz could be the oldest player ever to win the award. Currently, that title is held by Barry Bonds, who was 40 when he won his last MVP in 2004. But to be the oldest and to win it in your final season, nobody has done that.
Will Ortiz be penalized for being a designated hitter? Could be, but Ortiz has been named a World Series MVP. When you contribute at a high rate and are more valuable to the success of your team than any other player, why should it matter if you’re a DH? Bonds was a statue in left field for a couple of his late MVP seasons.
Ortiz will certainly have competition. Here are the other candidates for the award if the season were to end today:
1. Jose Altuve, 2B, Astros — What a tremendous season being had by baseball’s littlest man. Altuve leads the league in batting average (.357), to go with 15 home runs, 54 RBIs, and 25 steals. He has a .990 OPS and a 5.6 WAR. He has been the constant through the Astros’ poor start and their resurgence as they fight for a playoff berth.
2. Josh Donaldson, 3B, Blue Jays — Didn’t hear too much about the reigning AL MVP for much of the first half, but he has started to come on. Donaldson remains a dynamic player and he plays a very good third base as well. His 6.0 WAR and 1.020 OPS rank second in the AL.
3. Manny Machado, 3B, Orioles — One of the best all-around players in the game. He filled in at shortstop while J.J. Hardy was on the disabled list, and looked as if he could win a Gold Glove there as well. Machado has a .917 OPS and his teammates, manager Buck Showalter, and general manager Dan Duquette will tell you there’s no more valuable player.
4. Mike Trout, CF, Angels — Whether he’s on a good team or a bad team, his value remains off the charts. With the Angels having a poor season (though playing better of late), Trout, who has the highest WAR (6.1) in the league, probably won’t win it this year.
5. Edwin Encarnacion, DH/1B, Blue Jays — He’s had big home runs and driven in big runs this season. If he’s indeed Boston’s future DH, as Ortiz suggested, Encarnacion is showing why he’d be a decent replacement for Ortiz, who most think is irreplaceable.
6. Ian Desmond, CF, Rangers — Desmond has turned his career around while reinventing himself as a center fielder after many years as a shortstop with the Nationals. Desmond has been a lifesaver and has helped offset the loss of Josh Hamilton for the season and the poor season of Prince Fielder.
7. Mark Trumbo, LF, Orioles — Duquette’s specialty has become finding a veteran hitter who then reinvents himself. First Nelson Cruz, now Trumbo, who leads the AL in homers and has been a dangerous component of the Orioles’ lineup. Trumbo can become a free agent after the season and he may be on Boston’s list to replace Ortiz.
8. Robinson Cano, 2B, Mariners — He’s had a nice season and has looked more like the Cano who left the Yankees to sign an enormous 10-year, 240 million deal in Seattle. One GM has heard the Mariners wouldn’t mind trading him because the owners love the player but don’t like the contract.
9. Francisco Lindor, SS, Indians — On a pitching-oriented team, Lindor is a standout everyday player who has stabilized the lineup and defense. “He’s the glue of that team,” said a GM of a division rival. “For a young guy, he takes charge of that team.”
10. Mookie Betts, RF, Red Sox — What can you say? A leadoff man who hits for power and average, who plays a good right field, and who makes the Red Sox’ powerful lineup tick. Some of the quickest hands in baseball. His numbers (.306, 19 homers, 62 RBIs, league-leading 217 total bases, .345 OBP, and .871 OPS) are terrific. He also has 16 steals and his 4.7 WAR ranks fourth in the AL.
Honorable mention — Xander Bogaerts, Chris Sale, Adam Eaton, Carlos Beltran, Eric Hosmer, George Springer, and Kyle Seager.
Firing of Ryan came as surprise
Is there a finer man in baseball and one more respected than Terry Ryan? I think not. The fact that Ryan was relieved of his duties as Twins GM came as a shock.
It’s funny, the Twins were a surprise team last season, finishing above .500 and actually contending. They actually should have contended this season and not last, but when you exceed expectations, you’re supposed to get better, not regress.
Ryan had a more traditional, scouting-oriented mind-set that is slowly vanishing. The Twins always seemed to succeed because of their great scouting, instruction, and defensive fundamentals, which seemed to go away this season.
The young players developed by the Twins — such as Miguel Sano, Byron Buxton, and pitcher Jose Berrios — didn’t live up to their promise. The veteran acquisitions also struggled, and it left Ryan with a last-place team. Yet no one thought the Twins would fall so far that they’re the worst team in the American League.
Most of Ryan’s counterparts were stunned by the news of Ryan’s firing because the Pohlad family had been so loyal to him and had ridden some ups and downs.
“Very surprised,” said Giants executive vice president Brian Sabean. “But loyalty only goes so far.”
“Good person and knowledgeable baseball person,” said Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski. “Always have had up-front dealings with him. Knows the game of baseball inside and out. However, we are all susceptible to change when our clubs struggle.”
Ryan beat cancer two years ago, and this was his second tour leading the Twins.
Where does that franchise go from here? Longtime assistant Rob Antony, a very capable candidate, has the job on an interim basis and there’s no reason to think he shouldn’t keep it. Former Reds GM Wayne Krivsky, who many in baseball believe deserves a second chance to run a team and is currently a top adviser for the Twins, could also be considered a strong candidate.
Another name that has popped up is former Red Sox GM Ben Cherington. The Twins would seem to fit Cherington’s homegrown vision. Cubs assistant GM Randy Bush and Yankees assistant GM Tim Naehring also appear to be candidates.
As for Ryan, one would think he’d have offers to be an adviser awaiting him. Ryan is very close to Phillies president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail, whom he succeeded as Twins GM. But Ryan has friends everywhere.
Apropos of nothing
1. After the pace of play initiatives of the last couple of years, it’s become obvious that they are not going to make a big difference as to whether kids love baseball, or to anyone else considering the subject. Therefore, I do not want a limit on relief pitchers, an idea commissioner Rob Manfred is kicking around. I also don’t care about pitch clocks. I loved baseball before instant replay, before defensive shifts, before sliding rules, and when catchers could block the plate and it wasn’t called. I liked baseball before visits to the mound were limited to 30 seconds. I liked baseball when managers argued with umpires. I liked baseball before analytics. I don’t think baseball is being played better because of analytics. I liked baseball before unproven minor leaguers were glorified before they played a game in the majors. So there, I loved baseball the way it was.
2. Paul Roya, a Boston-area appraiser and auctioneer, has a collection of 17 pages of Ty Cobb letters written to Erwin Manley, a friend from when he was in the minors. “No, I don’t like the notoriety of being a prize fighter. It’s sickening to me,” Cobb wrote in the last letter, dated 1907 when he was playing for the Tigers. Cobb also was curious as to who might be chatting up his girlfriend in Royston, Ga., while he was away, and he was frustrated that none of his friends would tell him. An online auction for the letters will be held Aug. 9 at roykas.com.
3. The Giants really wanted Aaron Hill and were disappointed when the Red Sox acquired him.
4. The Rays are torn over whether they should deal one of their starting pitchers. When Alex Cobb, who may be the best of them, returns from his Tommy John rehab in August, they’ll have an arsenal of Cobb, Chris Archer, Matt Moore, Jake Odorizzi, Blake Snell, Drew Smyly, and Matt Andriese. There’s been a lot of interest in Moore, Archer, and Odorizzi.
5. Carlos Beltran remains one of the most intriguing hitters on the trade market, but one problem with Beltran is the compensation that is needed to obtain him. For one, he’s an upcoming free agent, and for another, he’s 39 years old. His defensive skills have eroded, but to gain his bat a team such as the Giants could absorb him in left field, much as they did with Barry Bonds late in his career. The Giants are in the market for a righthanded hitter and there aren’t many available. They had been exploring Melvin Upton Jr., but it appears he’s getting close to being moved to Baltimore for Ubaldo Jimenez. The distribution of money for both players seems to be the sticking point. Upton has made a decent offensive comeback. Who would have thought Melvin Upton Jr. would have more trade value than Justin Upton?
6. Mike Napoli has been a huge part of the Indians’ success, on the field and in the clubhouse. “He’s been outstanding in every way you can think of,” said bench coach Brad Mills. “He’s so important to our team.” Not only has he provided power, but Napoli has been a huge presence in the community. Napoli learned leadership from Garret Anderson and Torii Hunter during his Angels days.
7. Tony La Russa has been in Chip Hale’s corner all along and has likely saved the manager’s job in Arizona. But it might not be for long. Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports has reported that Phil Nevin could replace Hale if La Russa lets him go.
Updates on nine
1. Matt Barnes, RHP, Red Sox — Barnes may be emerging as a solid late-inning reliever, but one thing he doesn’t want to do is give up hope of becoming a starter. Enough confidants have put it in his ear that he’s got the stuff to be a starter, especially for a team with not a lot of depth in the rotation. Barnes has a curveball and an emerging changeup.
2. Zack Grienke, RHP, Diamondbacks — Would the Diamondbacks ever deal him? Right now he’s sidelined with an oblique injury, so there’s no chance. And as one major league source put it, “It would take a great return of players and the team would have to assume the entire contract. The Diamondbacks wouldn’t pay a dime.”
3. Jeremy Hellickson, RHP, Phillies — The Marlins seem to be most interested in dealing for him, but do they have enough to satisfy the Phillies? There had been talk of lefthander Mike Dunn possibly being part of the deal. The Blue Jays, Orioles, or Royals could also swoop in.
4. Chris Archer, RHP, Rays — As we reported a few weeks ago, the Dodgers have been all over Archer. They were initially rejected, but now there’s more willingness to give up major prospects in a package to land him. The Andrew Friedman/Archer relationship is a factor from the Rays days. The Dodgers feel that getting Archer to the National League could help him regain his prior success.
5. Luke Hochevar, RHP, Royals — He’s likely available, considering he’s in his walk year and could bring a starter in return. The Royals have interest in Clay Buchholz, but the Red Sox would have to pick up a big chunk of the remaining contract, a prorated $13 million. The Sox could use another experienced reliever, and Hochevar has made 38 relief appearances this season with a 3.75 ERA. The Royals are expected to decide after their homestand which way they’re going to go.
6. Todd Frazier, 3B, White Sox — Since the White Sox are open for business for all position players not named Tim Anderson, Frazier has emerged as a major power piece. The Mets would be an ideal landing spot, but they are reluctant to deal prospects. There was some belief the Mets should have pursued Frazier in the offseason, but they declined.
7. Ricky Nolasco, RHP, Twins — The Marlins were at Fenway this weekend watching Nolasco and Tommy Milone, as well as the Red Sox’ Eduardo Rodriguez, though it would appear that Rodriguez is unavailable.
8. Jose Quintana, LHP, White Sox — OK, we’ve heard White Sox GM Rick Hahn say he’s not trading members of his rotation, but Quintana, according to one major source, could be had for an “overwhelming” package.
9. A.J. Preller, GM, Padres — It seems Preller may have saved his job thanks to the Red Sox. Preller has managed to get two of Boston’s best prospects in Manuel Margot in the Craig Kimbrel deal and Anderson Espinoza in the Drew Pomeranz deal. Margot, according to one American League GM, “is going to be a stud.” He made that great leaping catch against the right-center-field wall at Petco Park in the Futures Game during All-Star festivities.
From the Bill Chuck files — “This season, Daniel Murphy has hits in 72 of 90 games he’s played (80 percent), Robinson Cano has hits in 75 of 95 games (78.9 percent), Eric Hosmer has hits in 73 of 93 games (78.4 percent), Mookie Betts has hits in 72 of 92 games (78.2 percent), and Jose Altuve has hits in 74 of 95 games (77.8 percent). In 1941, Joe DiMaggio had hits in 114 of 139 games he played (82 percent) . . . Happy birthday on Monday to Billy Wagner (45) and Marc Sullivan (58).
Outfielder Ken Griffey Jr. heads into the Baseball Hall of Fame on Sunday with the highest percentage of votes (99.32) ever, and he was left off the fewest ballots as well — he was named on 437 of 440. He’ll be joined by Mike Piazza, who needed four tries to get in but enters with some of the best numbers ever by a cacher. A look at the two newest Hall of Famers:
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Nick Cafardo can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.