Baseball HOF voters will come up short if no player is elected this year

There are no shortage of sports topics for which I like to obsess about: the Minnesota Twins, fantasy football, the push for NHL teams in the South to return to the North, etc.

Sometimes those rants can get a little long, which is pretty much what happened with me on Twitter yesterday. Twitter was not built for such rants as my Baseball Hall of Fame one. It merits a blog post instead.

The Baseball Hall of Fame inductees will be announced tomorrow, assuming that there are any to announce at all. According to Baseball Think Factory, which keeps a running tally of voters’ ballots when they are posted online, has 125 ballots so far tabulated. And the results? No player has the 75 percent needed to be inducted. Still a lot of votes missing – roughly 80 percent – but it’s still telling.

There are “big” Hall of Fame guys – people who want lots of players in – and “small” Hall of Fame guys. I’ve always thought of myself as a small Hall guy, keeping Cooperstown induction limited to only the best.

Yet I would be stunned to see no player inducted when the ballot appears to have no shortage of players worth voting for, even if you’re like me and don’t think known performance-enhancing drug users should be in.

And that’s where things get messy. That’s why some voters have opted not to submit a ballot, or submit an empty one (the latter counts against the vote totals of other players).

Some writers are uncomfortable with having to vote for PED users and suspected PED users. Everyone has their own opinion of who should be included in the process, and that’s fine by me. But to me, there are quite a few worthy players on the ballot with no known reason to suspect them of PEDs, so to submit a blank ballot is pretty unfair to the clean players.

Example: Craig Biggio has 3,000 career hits. No player eligible has been left out of the HOF with 3,000 hits. He’ll get in one day. So why the wait?

And if you’re worried about voting in someone who we might find out later on did test positive for PEDs during baseball’s anonymous testing (like David Ortiz did during 2003 testing), I understand the concern.

But sometimes cheaters get away with it. Gaylord Perry threw a spitball, and is in the Hall of Fame. Ty Cobb and Tris Speaker were once involved in a scandal to throw a game (both were cleared, but there was solid evidence implicating them). Use of amphetamines in the 1960s and 1970s was widespread.

Some guys get away with it, and some guys don’t. That’s life. And my take is I’d rather let a couple of steroid users into the Hall than keep a couple of innocent, deserving players out of it due to suspicions.

So, as I did last year, here are the players that would get my vote if I had a ballot:

  • Jeff Bagwell. What I wrote last year about Bagwell pretty much sums up my thoughts this year. “If after his Hall induction we find out that he took steroids – and yes, I wouldn’t vote for anyone that took steroids – so be it. Sometimes people get away with it. That’s life. Not every criminal is apprehended. There are cheaters in the Hall of Fame right now. But I believe in innocent until proven guilty.” Had 449 career homers and a .948 OPS.
  • Craig Biggio. The great Joe Posnanski thinks that Biggio will be the recipient of collateral damage due to this ballot if he doesn’t get in. That’s very true. More than 3,000 hits. Bill James said in 2001 that Biggio is the fifth-best second baseman of all-time. Also played extensively at catcher and center field (who does that?). Five seasons of 20+homers. Four Gold Gloves. He’s in, and he shouldn’t have to wait.
  • Edgar Martinez. What I wrote last year still rings true: “The stats are just too good to ignore for me, even if he was often injured throughout his career and rarely played in the field. Hit .312 with a .418 OBP over 18 major league seasons in Seattle. His 147 OPS+ (basically his OPS in comparison to the era he played and ballpark he called home) is 40th all-time, tied with Jim Thome, Willie McCovey, Mike Schmidt and Willie Stargell. That should give you an idea of the company he keeps on that list. He’s ahead of modern players like Alex Rodriguez and Prince Fielder.”
  • Fred McGriff. I think McGriff is someone who is only going to look better on the ballot as the years go by during our current pitchers’ era. McGriff hit 493 homers in 19 seasons. He slugged better than .500 for his career and made five All-Star Games, and probably lost out on other selections due to juiced-up contemporaries. Enjoyed a seven-year peak from 1988-94 in which he hits 242 homers (35 per season) and slugged .545 with a .390 OBP. Yet remarkably in that peak, only two of his All-Star selections occurred.
  • Jack Morris. Didn’t have him on my fake ballot last year. Morris collected 67 percent of the vote last year, a number that every player who has reached it has eventually gotten in. MLB Network made an interesting comparison between Morris and Mickey Lolich that was eye-opening. Morris’ 3.90 ERA would be the worst among Hall of Famers if elected. But he won 254 games, was a five-time All-Star, was top-five in Cy Young voting five times. Won World Series with three different franchises, twice serving as the undisputed ace on those teams. Had a 2.96 ERA in seven World Series starts. Another interesting stat: No AL pitcher in the DH era has more eight-plus inning starts than Morris (248). Hard to imagine that getting matched again. He was the ultimate workhorse.
  • Mike Piazza. Piazza might be the most fascinating case on the ballot. It seems that most baseball fans probably think that Piazza did steroids. And the story fits. After all, Piazza was a former 62nd-round draft pick (a favor to Tommy Lasorda) who became the greatest offensive catcher of all time. Piazza is the best example of my stance that there just isn’t enough evidence to keep him out.
  • Tim Raines. I love this guy’s case. Only got 48 percent of the votes last year. But I could go on and on about Raines’ numbers. He ranks fifth in stolen bases, and among players with more than 300 steals, he is the most efficient base stealer who ever lived. He hit .294 in a 23-year career, and he had a peak from 1981-87 with Montreal where he hit .310 and stole 504 bases (72 per season) and 63 triples. This one seems to easy to me.
  • Curt Schilling. Best strikeout-to-walk ratio in major league history of anyone with at least 1,000 innings pitched. Only 216 career wins in 20 seasons, but an ERA+ of 127 and a career WHIP of 1.137. And the postseason counts for me too just as it did for Morris. Led the Phillies to a World Series appearance and the Red Sox and Diamondbacks to titles. Postseason stats are sick: 11-2, 2.23 ERA, 19 starts. World Series ERA: 2.06. Wow!
  • Alan Trammell. Another guy I added from last year. I’ve been swayed. Enjoyed a 20-year career entirely with the Detroit Tigers. Six-time All-Star and four-time Gold Glove winner. If you believe in WAR (wins above replacement), Posnanski points out that Trammell ranks tied for sixth among shortstops behind only Honus Wagner, Cal Ripken, Ozzie Smith, Arky Vaughan and Luke Appling. I’m not sure Trammell has the classic peak some voters desire. But 20 years at shortstop hitting .285 really doesn’t happen that often.
  • Larry Walker. What I wrote last year: “The Coors Field homer-happy reputation has no doubt hurt his candidacy. He hit .313 for his career and slugged .565. Those are facts. From 1994 (when he was not calling Colorado home) to 2002, he hit .339 with a .631 slugging percentage and averaged 28 homers and 15 steals per season. And while I can’t find advanced defensive metrics for the prime of his career, he did win seven Gold Gloves. I know the Denver air helped him, but I just can’t ignore his numbers and Gold Gloves. He was unquestionably a better hitter at home during his career. But maybe he just felt more comfortable at home too. In 1999, he hit .461 at Coors Field. Thin air or not, there was more going on there than just altitude.”

There is no Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, nor should there be. Baseball may not have been governing itself against PED use, but it was still an illegal activity that gave them distinct advantages over their peers. And there’s just too much evidence that they used for me to ignore.

I would keep them out.

Finally, I’ll leave you with Raines’ most memorable moment. This was Raines’ first game in 1987 after collusion kept him from being on a team in the season’s first month. He had quite a debut in this May game against the Mets on national TV.

Revisiting some football predictions

Can you believe Week 17 of the NFL season is upon us? I can’t.

The weather outside sure feels like Week 17 weather, but it doesn’t seem all that long ago that I was among a few staff members making preseason NFL predictions both in The Forum and on this blog.

And heading into the final week of the regular season, I find my favorite childhood team the Chicago Bears fighting the Minnesota Vikings and others for the final wild-card spot in the NFC. I gotta admit: I didn’t see that coming.

Peyton Manning has lifted the Denver Broncos to surprising heights this season. Associated Press photo

Let’s first revisit some of my NFL picks:

  • I’m in pretty good shape to get half of the NFL’s division winners correct, which isn’t bad when you consider the way parity rules the NFL. New England, Houston and Green Bay have all clinched their divisions, and I had San Francisco winning the NFC West, which it leads by a half-game.
  • What went wrong in my division picks? Well, I underestimated Peyton Manning and the Broncos. And I underestimated the impact that all of the suspensions would have on the New Orleans Saints, who I picked to win the NFC South over Atlanta. Also had the NY Giants and Pittsburgh winning divisions. In my defense, I did have actual division winners Denver, Baltimore and Atlanta all as wild-card picks. So in all likeihood, the only division champ in the NFL that I didn’t have in the playoffs in the preseason is Washington, and even that division is up in the air.
  • Myself, Andrew Gottenborg (Twitter: https://twitter.com/awg316) and Michael Smith (Twitter: https://twitter.com/Smithmi) also picked MVP winners in The Forum before the season. Our picks, respectively, were Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady. Quarterback is the smart way to go considering how QBs have dominated the award in recent years. But I’d be surprised if any of us are correct with those picks.
  • Our Super Bowl picks were Patriots over Packers (me), Packers over Texans (Andrew) and Packers over Patriots (Michael). We are all in good shape there.

And finally, I’ve made a point to annually write some sort of fantasy football prediction blog post.

I fared pretty well this year with my two teams. In my league (the league I live and die with), my team managed only a 5-8 record despite ranking third in scoring among 16 teams. What can you do? I can control my team, but not my opponent’s.

Fortunately, I have C.J. Spiller and Alfred Morris as potential keepers for next season at very team-friendly costs, with Colin Kaepernick, Knowshon Moreno and Reggie Wayne also worth considering in the two-keeper league format. Combine that with the No. 4 overall pick due to my team’s performance, and there’s hope for 2013.

I won the other league I played in, a 10-team league that saw my first three draft picks (Calvin Johnson, Rob Gronkowski and Brandon Marshall) pay huge dividends. Who would have thought a team with Reggie Bush as its No. 1 running back and waiver-wire specials as the No. 2 RB would go 11-1 and win a title?

Here’s what turned out pretty well from my preseason fantasy column:

  • Josh Freeman. I was expecting a big bounce-back year from the Tampa Bay Bucs QB, who got a big boost in the offseason with his team’s additions of RB Doug Martin, WR Vincent Jackson and OL Carl Nicks. Freeman is the 13th-best QB in fantasy. Drafted him in both leagues I was in, snagging him in my 16-team league in Round 12. From that standpoint, he provided tremendous value at a time when many owners are taking kickers.
  • Russell Wilson. Drafted him in one of two leagues. He ranks 12th in my league in fantasy scoring at QB, which again is pretty impressive when you consider that he was completely undrafted in my 16-team league. But that league drafted before he was named the starter over Matt Flynn.

And now, for the not-so-great picks:

  • Where to begin? Well, I expected a lot more from Ben Tate, who nearly ran for 1,000 yards last season as a backup to Arian Foster. Injuries did nothing to help him at the very least replicate his 2011 season. I still see plenty of talent in Tate, but the opportunity never materialized. Foster stayed healthy all season long.
  • I had another misstep at running back in Ryan Williams, who at one point did take over as the Arizona Cardinals primary ballcarrier before suffering another season-ending injury in his short career. I was betting against Beanie Wells when I should have been betting against the Arizona Cardinals in general.

Pretty much a mixed bag of predictions. I’d argue that Steve Smith and Justin Blackmon were solid enough players even if they didn’t meet my expectations.

And I’m still convinced Aaron Hernandez was going to do big things if he hadn’t gotten hurt in Week 2. Hernandez has managed to rank 16th among tight ends in scoring despite playing in barely more than half of his team’s games. I won’t shy away from taking Hernandez next season.

Is Span deal just the beginning?

The Atlanta Braves found their center fielder in B.J. Upton on Wednesday. On Thursday, the Minnesota Twins wasted no more time in trading their center fielder to one of the remaining teams in the baseball marketplace looking for help at that position.

The Twins shipped Denard Span to the Washington Nationals in exchange for top pitching prospect Alex Meyer.

The surprise for me isn’t so much in the trading of Span (which has been rumored for weeks months years) as it is in what the Twins received in return.

That’s not meant to be a slight on Meyer, who has plenty of promise. However, I always thought the Twins would be seeking a major league-ready arm in exchange for Span.

Newly acquired Minnesota Twins prospect Alex Meyer pitched in the MLB Futures Game last season. Associated Press photo

That leaves me wondering if the acquisition of Meyer isn’t a sign that the Twins are thinking about, to some degree, blowing up the major league roster. After all, almost all of the team’s top prospects – Meyer included – were in A-ball last season and years away from being able to help out. The Twins’ loss total in each of the last two seasons has approached 100, and there isn’t a lot of hope that the farm system will provide any help in the next couple of seasons.

With Joe Mauer‘s massive contract still on the books, the Twins probably aren’t looking to do a Florida/Miami Marlins type of dismantling of the roster.

But could we see Josh Willingham – coming off of a career season in 2012 – get dealt at next week’s winter meetings? Is there a market for Justin Morneau? Will the Twins keep dealing for help in A-ball and Double-A with hopes of that wave of players – led by Miguel Sano, Oswaldo Arcia, Meyer and Co. – will be the ones to revive the franchise? Only time will tell.

Twins fans know all about Span and what he brought to the table. He is a reliable leadoff hitter known for taking a lot of pitches. Among major leaguers that qualify for the league lead, Span was second to Marco Scutaro in swinging strike percentage.

He is under a very reasonable contract that called for $21 million over the next three seasons (the last of those three is a $9 million club option, which in all likelihood would be picked up by the Nats when the time comes).

However, Span’s durability has suffered lately, and now he has a concussion history that clubs need to think about.

As for Meyer, he was drafted 23rd overall in the 2011 draft. The 6-foot-9 right-hander from the University of Kentucky brings a mid- to upper-90s fastball along with a slider according to reports. One post-draft assessment said that he needed work on his change-up.

In 129 innings at two levels of A-ball in the Nationals’ system, Meyer struck out 139 with an ERA of 2.86. As a 22-year-old, he would be expected to play well at that level of the minors, but FanGraphs’ Dave Cameron writes that there’s still considerable upside and plenty of risk – in this deal for the Twins. 

 For more on Meyer, you can go back to the FanGraphs’ well and check out this re-published story about him.

Without stars, Wolves’ efforts have been admirable

The Minnesota Timberwolves might be off to the most impressive 5-4 start in pro sports history.

OK, that might be a bit of a stretch, especially after back-to-back home losses to Charlotte and Golden State, both of which saw Minnesota embark on fourth-quarter comeback attempts that fell short.

But the Wolves are definitely treading water, despite the following players being injured: Kevin Love, Nikola Pekovic, Ricky Rubio, Brandon Roy, Chase Budinger, J.J. Barea.

That’s four-fifths of the projected starting lineup, plus two valuable backups who the Wolves are playing without.

Minnesota Timberwolves point guard Alexey Shved (1) has played better with every game of experience. Associated Press photo

So who is left getting the job done?

Leading the pack for the Wolves right now is Andrei Kirilenko. His stat line from the exhibition game at the Fargodome last month didn’t jump off the page at you, but I was thoroughly impressed by his court vision and ability to make the extra pass when needed.

Kirilenko is shooting 60 percent from the floor so far, averaging 14 points and 8.3 rebounds per game.

Last year’s first-round pick Derrick Williams also seemingly responded in his last game to criticism for not stepping up when called upon. He scored 23 points in the Wolves’ loss to the Warriors on Friday.

Alexey Shved has also looked really good with every game of experience. The rookie looked lost in his first couple of games, but his 22 points and seven assists on Friday night are cause for optimism. He made some great plays in that game.

The Wolves hope to have Pekovic back to soon, while Love and Rubio should return in about a month. Until then, the leftovers will have to try to hang in there. So far, so good.

Final thoughts from the Indiana-Bison game

My trip as part of The Forum’s reporting team in Bloomington, Ind., ended late Monday night. Assembly Hall was as impressive as advertised, as was the top-ranked Indiana basketball team, which beat North Dakota State 87-61.

Figured I would throw a few more thoughts I have from the game:

  • The question I’ve most been asked since we returned to Fargo is this: Did Indiana look like the best team in the country? My response is that it’s simply tough to answer that. NDSU is a good team with reasonably high expectations in the Summit League. But the Bison aren’t a Big Ten team. The Hoosiers definitely showed off some depth Monday night with backups Remy Abell and Jeremy Hollowell. They sparked a key 8-0 run in the second half.
  • Cody Zelleris an impressive athlete. You just don’t see 7-footers that can run the court like he can. And he’s no stick figure either. He’s a tough kid that handles himself well in traffic. NBAdraft.net has Zeller as the projected No. 1 overall pick in next year’s NBA draft. I’m not surprised.

    Indiana center Cody Zeller prior to the start of Monday’s game.

  • On the other hand, I thought Marshall Bjorklund handled himself well in the post. Sure, Zeller had 22 points and nine rebounds. But many of Zeller’s eight field goals were on fast-break dunks. That’s not to excuse Bjorklund, but I think we all knew that was going to happen a few times. When the two were in the halfcourt, I think Bjorklund fared well on offense and defense against Zeller. Despite some foul trouble, Bjorklund had 16 points and six rebounds.
  • I had higher expectations for Indiana freshman point guard Yogi Ferrell, who scored only four points in 22 minutes. He looked great in scoring 10 points against Bryant (R.I.) on Friday. But inconsistent play can happen to a young point guard like Ferrell. He just never seemed in the flow of the game offensively. But I’ll say this: Ferrell was working his tail off after the Monday afternoon shootaround. While his teammates ate a late lunch, Ferrell remained in the gym with an assistant coach for more than an hour. He spent most of that time shooting and doing ballhandling drills.
  • I did the Indiana postgame media session rather than the NDSU one, which was covered by a couple of colleagues. So I didn’t speak to any Bison players or coaches after the game. But my guess is that at least a few of them would admit to some early jitters. The Bison committed 16 turnovers in the game to Indiana’s 10. And my estimate is that NDSU was called for five or six traveling calls in the game, most coming in the first 25 minutes. One in particular was on a pump fake when a Bison player accidentally jumped off the floor. Pretty uncharacteristic stuff.
  • Bjorklund mentioned postgame that the Bison had some “seven or eight” early missed opportunities that could have made the game closer. No doubt about that. The Bison had some looks on offense get away from them. But that’s what often happens when a mid-major is on the road taking on a highly ranked opponent. Even if Zeller isn’t there to disrupt a shot, it’s hard for his presence or Christian Watford‘s presence to not enter the back of your mind. That’s what a player like Zeller can do.
  • I’ve been asked a couple of times about the crowd. It certainly got loud in there at times. But my guess is that the 17,145 in attendance are far more vocal when the Hoosiers face conference opponents. The Bison never challenged that much. The loudest it got was probably when NDSU forward TrayVonn Wright got tangled up with Zeller on a rebound, which led to Zeller falling to the floor. The crowd did not like to see that happen to their star center.
  • As for Assembly Hall itself, I love the setup. When attending basketball games, nobody wants to see it on an end behind one of the baskets. They want to sit on the sides. And that’s what this arena brings. Almost all of the seats run the length of the court, which is why the building is so tall and the seating is so steep. I’m a big fan. I’m sure the seating is a little cramped by modern standards, but it’s a great venue for college basketball.

No. 1 Indiana brings experience, and one talented freshman

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. – The North Dakota State men’s basketball team faces the biggest test in program history on Monday night.

No. 1-ranked Indiana will host the Bison at 6 p.m. CST Monday (no TV – go to www.inforum.com for a live blog before and during the game). The Hoosiers have The Sporting News’ Preseason Player of the Year in Cody Zeller, a 7-foot center with a post game and the ability to run the court. It’s a terrifying blend for a Bison team that – like most teams – just doesn’t have that kind of talent and size in the middle. I covered Zeller and how the Bison are preparing for him in Monday’s Forum.

The Hoosiers return their top five scorers from a 27-win team last season. Yet when I watched Friday night’s Indiana 97-54 victory against Bryant (R.I.) on my DVR, the one player that stood out most to me was a true freshman playing in his first college game.

Point guard Kevin Ferrell – better known as Yogi Ferrell – was a McDonald’s All-American a year ago in high school at Park Tudor in Indianapolis, where he led the school to back-to-back Indiana high school championships. In his senior season, he averaged 18.5 points and 6.6 assists per game.

Ferrell’s court vision stood out in Friday’s win against Bryant, which is a weak Division I opponent, but nevertheless this was Ferrell’s first game with the Hoosiers.

He had 10 points and seven assists in 24 minutes. Solid statistics to be sure, but not the kind that jump off the computer screen at you. He made some impressive passes and showed great awareness. How poised will he be when the Hoosiers face a true test? That remains to be seen. But the talent is there. No doubt about that.

The Bison have some length. And it will be important that they disrupt Ferrell’s passing lanes. The Hoosiers have a talented center and plenty of shooters, so the key to slowing them down might be to contain the catalyst in Ferrell.

A few other notes:

  • While Zeller gets the attention, 6-foot-9 forward Christian Watford is no slouch for Indiana. He had 15 points, but more importantly for Indiana, grabbed 15 rebounds against Bryant.
  • The top five scorers for Indiana from last season – all back with the team – are: Zeller (15.6 ppg), Watford (12.5), Jordan Hulls (11.6), Victor Oladipo (10.8) and Will Sheehey (8.6). Sheehey moved to the bench against Bryant to make room for Ferrell.
  • In addition to the five top scorers returning, also back is forward Derek Elston. He started four games last season. However, Elston is out with injury and will not play Monday night.
  • Two Indiana freshmen – forward Hanner Mosquera-Perea and center Peter Jurkin – are suspended for the team’s first nine games. Read more about it here.

More Bison coverage

Offseason work starts to get under way for Twins

The Minnesota Twins should have one goal in mind this offseason: acquire pitching. As much pitching as they can find.

That’s not to say the Twins don’t have other warts. But after back-to-back seasons with win totals in the 60s, Minnesota isn’t going to turn its franchise around overnight. There needs to be a priority.

What do we know? Scott Diamond is coming back to provide what the Twins hope will be a steady option in the rotation. But beyond that, the starting staff gets pretty sketchy.

They probably won’t spend the big bucks it would take to get right-hander Zack Greinke in free agency, even though it’s been reported in the past that he would prefer to avoid large markets.

So their attention will likely turn to the trade market. And in order to get something, you have to give something up.

Denard Span is often discussed as a trade chip for the Minnesota Twins. Associated Press

The most talked about trade chip for the Twins is outfielder Denard Span, who seems somewhat expendable with the emergence of Ben Revere. Span has been a reliable on-base threat at the top of the batting order and provides a great glove in the outfield. His contract is reasonable, and all of those factors make him coveted (this FanGraphs piece goes into further detail).

Tampa Bay’s James Shields is one of the bigger names being thrown around in rumors in early November. It would take quite a bit more than just Span to get Shields. And do the Twins dare deal with the Rays after what happened in the Matt Garza-for-Delmon Young swap? It’s a dangerous game swapping with the best front office in baseball.

David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution wrote on Twitter that he thinks it would make sense for the Braves to deal one of their young arms to the Twins for Span. The Braves could lose Michael Bourn in free agency.

“Anybody that’s got numbers [of starting pitchers] or anybody that’s got a possibility maybe of having a lot of depth, then more than likely we have talked to them,” Twins GM Terry Ryan told O’Brien, without naming specific teams. “They aren’t just going to distribute pitching to other clubs unless they can get something back that fills a need. Some way or another we kind of know who we match up with.”

The Braves have Tommy Hanson and prospects Randall Delgado and Julio Teheran competing for the fifth spot in their rotation next season.

While Span could get the Twins one solid starting option, there’s still massive holes in the rotation. And that’s what makes Ryan’s job a difficult one.

And that’s also why I’m quick to defend pitching coach Rick Anderson, who was spared while other coaches were let go this offseason. Who have the Twins given Anderson to work with in recent years? Besides Johan Santana and Francisco Liriano, how many starting options has Anderson had in the last 10 years who had good stuff? Not many. A lot of pitch-to-contact guys in an era dominated by power pitching.

Ryan has turned the Twins around once before at the beginning of this century. I’m starting to wonder if this turnaround won’t be more difficult to orchestrate.

Miguel Cabrera, Mike Trout and the AL MVP debate

An exciting afternoon of baseball – featuring the Oakland A’s improbable AL West title – was capped by a pretty dull night. The New York Yankees won the AL East, keeping the Baltimore Orioles in the AL wild card game.

When compared to last year’s final day of the season, this one couldn’t and didn’t measure up.

Even Miguel Cabrera‘s pursuit of the AL Triple Crown is lacking in drama. How did he become the first player in 45 years to win the batting average, homer and RBI titles, and accomplish it without even needing a big hit on the season’s final day?

There are some great arguments to be made for many of Major League Baseball’s regular-season awards (Can R.A. Dickey win the NL Cy Young?). But how about Cabrera vs. Mike Trout for the AL MVP award.

Los Angeles Angels outfielder Mike Trout shouldn’t be dismissed too quickly from the AL MVP race, even though Miguel Cabrera (not pictured) won the AL Triple Crown. Associated Press photo

Cabrera’s accomplishments seem to make it a foregone conclusion that he will win the  award. Heck, I was in the Trout MVP camp for most the year, but the Triple Crown has swayed me. How can a Triple Crown winner not be named MVP? And yes, I realize Ted Williams many decades ago didn’t win the MVP after a Triple Crown season. But that was then. Much has changed.

So what about Trout? He opened the year in the minor leagues and didn’t debut with the Los Angeles Angels this season until April 28. And since then, he has also done things that we have never seen before. Combine an average in the .320s with 30 homers and nearly 50 steals plus Gold Glove-caliber defense in the outfield, and you have the total package.

No player in history has ever had at least 30 homers, 45 steals and 125 runs in a season. That is, until Trout did it this year. Chris Dufresne of the Los Angeles Times argues that type of historic season is why Trout SHOULD be the MVP, not Cabrera. 

If you’re a sabermetric-type of fan, Trout blows Cabrera out of the water in WAR (wins above replacement). Trout leads all of baseball at 10.1, with Cabrera ranking sixth at 7.3.

Why is that? Because of defense. Cabrera ranks very poorly among MLB third basemen, though I think some credit should be given to Cabrera for attempting to make the difficult transition back to third base from first base. That’s not exactly a normal defensive progression as a player ages.

Trout, though, ranks among the best outfielders – according to FanGraphs – in all sorts of defensive metrics.

It’s a difficult decision. I just don’t think either player should be robbed of it. I imagine I’ll get lambasted in the comments section for saying it, but if there was ever a year to name co-MVPs, this is it. I know, I know. I’m taking the easy way out.

Both players did remarkable things on the diamond in 2012, and they should both be considered the AL’s best.

Nothing like a bad call to speed up NFL referee negotiations

The missed call in Monday’s game between the Seattle Seahawks and the Green Bay Packers was a big deal.

Was the Seahawks being gifted a 14-12 victory against the Packers one of those, “I’ll never forget where I was” type of moments? Probably not. But it’s a big story regardless, with quite a few layers to it.

I won’t go into great detail since most of you have probably watched the play at least 1,500 times on ESPN or NFL Network over the last couple of days.

Seahawks were down 5. Final play from scrimmage. Russell Wilson tosses lob into end zone. Seahawks receiver Golden Tate battles a few Green Bay Packers defenders for the ball. Refs rule simultaneous possession, giving Tate a game-winning TD.

Was the catch really simultaneous? Should the call have been overturned by the replacement refs? Was it understandable that pass interference wasn’t called on Tate?

But the most important question: Would it have played out any differently if the NFL’s regular officials weren’t locked out?

In this Monday, Sept. 24, 2012, file photo, an official, rear center, signals for a touchdown by Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Golden Tate, obscured, as another official, at right, signals a touchback, on the controversial last play of an NFL football game against the Green Bay Packers in Seattle. The Seahawks won 14-12. The NFL referee strike puts the spotlight on a nebulous notion that is often overlooked when it works as it’s supposed to: the question of expertise. (AP Photo/Stephen Brashear, File)

One things is for sure. The wide gap that once existed between the league and its referees during this labor dispute has shrunk dramatically. Many outlets are reporting that the NFL’s regular officials will be back on duty as early as Thursday’s game between the Cleveland Browns and Baltimore Ravens.

The debate over this call took place at my workplace, and I imagine the same scenario played out at other job sites across the country.

Despite what the NFL’s letter in defense of the replacement refs said on Tuesday, I just don’t see how – after replay – that the refs could continue to stand by that catch as a simultaneous one, which by rule the tiebreaker goes to the offense.

Packers defensive back M.D. Jennings established possession for an interception early, and there was very little if any time after that in which Tate was able to get both arms on the ball until the two players hit the ground. But that’s my two cents, and everyone seems to have their own take on it.

I don’t think the regular refs would have noticed the pass interference by Tate. Hail Mary plays are chaotic, and in real time it’s a little more understandable that call being overlooked.

Would the regular refs have overturned the simultaneous possession portion of the play? The NFL says no, but I’m not so sure.

The NFL has been piled on over the lockout ever since Monday’s infamous play in a manner that isn’t much different from the pile of players that created it.

But I can understand the NFL’s stance too. Its officials get paid a lot of money, and while the NFL makes a lot of money, should part-time officials really receive the type of benefits (pensions, etc.) that the average full-time employee might struggle to receive? Again, I don’t have the answer to that, but it’s certainly something I go back and forth on.

It’s a great job at the NFL level if you can get it. Actually, after Monday’s turn of events, maybe it’s not.

Nats handling of Strasburg deserves criticism

The Washington Nationals entered play on Monday with a 6.5-game lead in the NL East standings.

Come mid-September, they will likely start putting plans together to set their rotation favorably for the NL Division Series. And those plans won’t include their ace.

Nats manager Davey Johnson announced this past weekend that Stephen Strasburg will make just two more starts this season, with his final appearance on Sept. 12 against the New York Mets.

Johnson is following through on general manager Mike Rizzo‘s opinion that Strasburg pitch between 160 and 180 innings this season. It’s Strasburg’s first full season back after Tommy John surgery sidelined him for almost all of last season.

Strasburg has been nothing short of dominating, posting a 2.94 ERA in 156 1/3 innings, striking out 195. Opponents are hitting just .225 off of him.

The Nats are pitching deep like no other team in baseball. Their 477 runs allowed are by far the fewest given up in the NL. However, there really is no replacing a guy like Strasburg.

I’m left asking myself: How can this happen? As former NY Jets coach Herm Edwards reminded us so many years ago, you PLAY to WIN the GAME! Yet the Nats, by benching Strasburg for the postseason, seem content in just getting to the playoffs rather than trying to do something when they get there.

A playoff appearance alone would be considered a huge milestone for a franchise that hasn’t been to the postseason since 1981 when – as the Montreal Expos – they reached the NLCS.

But how many opportunities does a team get like this to win a World Series? And the Nats with their pitching would be among the favorites. No team would want to face a Strasburg-Jordan Zimmermann-Gio Gonzalez-Edwin Jackson staff.

I have no problem with the innings limit for Strasburg. There seems to be little evidence that an innings limit benefits his long-term health, but I realize that the environment in Major League Baseball thinks that it does, and Rizzo would be under intense scrutiny if something happened to Strasburg.

And Strasburg is a valuable investment that must be protected.

But the Nats seemed all season long to be ill-prepared for the innings limit, almost as if they just decided to hold firm on it two months ago.

You can’t shut Strasburg down now, then re-start him for the postseason. That seems like a terrible idea.

But why wasn’t his turn in the rotation being skipped in the early and middle parts of the season, allowing him to extend his season into October? That’s what I don’t understand.

It’s not like the Nats had a late-season rally to get into first place. They’ve been there almost all season. October baseball has been within reach for them since April, yet it’s like the organization itself never believed it was actually attainable until recently.

The Nationals have a chance to do something really special, and bring Washington its first World Series title since 1924. Those hopes take a hit without Strasburg, but it really should have never come to this.