Leading up to the regular season, I'll be posting my picks for some of the major baseball awards, as well as my predictions for which Twins players will lead team pitching and offensive categories.
I'm not really a betting man, although Mega Millions is pretty high right now (remember to play within your limits). If a were a gambler, however, here are my picks for the AL and NL MVPs for 2011. No real shockers:
Adrian Gonzalez, in his first year as a member of the Red Sox, will be batting cleanup in the most feared lineup in baseball, in a stadium that favors his opposite-field power, playing for one of the most heavily covered teams. Batting in front of him will be speedsters Jacoby Ellsbury and Carl Crawford, as well as former MVP Dustin Pedroia, and behind him will be sluggers Kevin Youkilis and David Ortiz. Simply stated, Gonzalez will have speed and high batting averages in front of him to create RBIs, and the threat of power behind him, ensuring that he will see pitches to hit. The Red Sox' rejuvenated, healthy, power-packed offense will be the front-runner in the AL East, following the failure of the Yankees to acquire a marquis player, and the liquidation of the Tampa Bay Rays. MVP voters look for large offensive numbers and passable defense from a star player on a team that is in contention for the playoffs. On paper, Gonzalez, already a 3-time All-Star and 2-time Gold Glove winner in his own right, is in line for what could be a legendary season with the Red Sox. Notably, as of the end of March, he has yet to sign an extension with Boston, and although many believe it is forthcoming, he is playing for his next contract. Though the expectations for Gonzalez are high, he is poised to have the most productive season of his career, and to help lead the Red Sox to the playoffs.
Dark Horse: Justin Morneau. Even if Morneau takes a month to get going, if he ends up having a great 5 months, stays healthy, and the Twins are in contention, he will get votes. After his injury in 2010, voters will want to see him succeed in 2011. Like Gonzalez with the Red Sox, he will be batting in front of a couple hitters who we (hope in the case of Nishioka/expect in the case of Mauer) to be on base very often, and behind him will be some combination of D. Young, Kubel or Thome. Morneau will have plenty of RBI opportunities and will see pitches to hit.
In the National League, no player has more to prove in 2011 than Albert Pujols, namely, that he is worth the 10 year, $300 million contract he reportedly is seeking. Last month, all reports indicated that the St. Louis Cardinals offered to make Pujols the fourth or fifth highest paid player at his position, that the average yearly value of the contract was several million dollars short of Pujols' goal, and that the sides were never even close to a deal prior to reaching his self-imposed deadline for negotiating. In 2011, Pujols must prove to the Cardinals, the Cubs, and any host of teams that have a potential vacancy at first base, that he is worth the commitment he is seeking. He may be the odds-on favorite to win the NL MVP award each season, but it will not be enough this year to simply bat .300, hit 35 home runs and drive in 110 runs. Pujols needs a season for the ages, a season in which he is leading the Triple Crown race entering September, a season in which he hits 50 home runs and manages to make the Cardinals a competitive team. If he has that season, he will easily win the MVP and force the Cardinals ownership to essentially write him a $300 million check. If any player in baseball can, on demand, come up with that kind of season, it is Albert Pujols.
Dark Horse: If Giants catcher Buster Posey is the real deal, if he plays great defense, bats like he did in the World Series, and keeps the Giants competitive, he's going to get a lot of votes. Like Joe Mauer a few years ago, Posey might become a household name in 2011, if he is not already.