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Evaluating the state of 2019 MLB awards races: Two weeks left

Evaluating the state of 2019 MLB awards races: Two weeks left

With September more than halfway through, the postseason is mere weeks away in Major League Baseball, and teams have fewer than a dozen games left in the season. With stars like Christian Yelich and Mike Trout hitting the shelf, there may not be too much shuffling ahead.

Let's take a look around baseball to see who should be favored in each of the major races in both leagues.

AL MVP

1. Mike Trout, Angels
2. Alex Bregman, Astros
3. Mookie Betts, Red Sox

Mike Trout is now out for the rest of the season, which stinks to see as a baseball fan. That said, the AL MVP award should probably still be his.

I'd be more worried about Trout (8.3 WAR) losing his grip on this award if his lead in WAR wasn't so substantial. That said, Bregman (7.6 WAR) is doing an admirable job closing the gap, and it wouldn't surprise me to see him grab a few votes.

But the only real change here is Trout's third career MVP likely moving from unanimous, to merely overwhelming. 

NL MVP

1. Cody Bellinger, Dodgers
2. Christian Yelich, Brewers
3. Anthony Rendon, Nationals

With Trout's unfortunate injury, Cody Bellinger now leads baseball in WAR this season, according to Baseball-Reference. His lead was already substantial over Christian Yelich and the rest of the NL field, but Yelich's injury should just about lock this up for Bellinger (if it wasn't certain already).

There's little change in this update, as Rendon continues to enjoy a dominant contract year as well. In any other year, he may have been a better candidate, but Bellinger's coming out part has been historic. 

It is definitely possible a strong finish pushes Rendon past Yelich into second, however.

AL Cy Young

1. Justin Verlander, Astros
2. Gerrit Cole, Astros
3. Charlie Morton, Rays

Is there such a thing as a combined teammate Triple Crown? No, but perhaps there should be for Verlander and Cole. The two aces are, by far, the best pitchers in the American League this season. Each is top-two, in some order, in wins, strikeouts, ERA, and WHIP.

That said, given Verlander's standing ahead of Cole in the rotation and his lead in most categories besides strikeouts, it's hard to envision Cole overtaking the elder statesman. It may very well be Verlander's last chance to win a Cy Young, given his age, though anything he does at this point in his career is thoroughly unsurprising.

NL Cy Young

1. Jacob deGrom, Mets
2. Max Scherzer, Nationals
3. Hyun-Jin Ryu, Dodgers

It may not feel like the same level of historic race between deGrom and Scherzer as we saw in 2018, but it is still shaping up to be a photo finish. Ryu's ERA has come back to Earth, but he does still lead the NL in the category. Even so, this feels like another two-man race.

deGrom leads in ERA, though the Nationals' rotation includes numbers two through four in WAR. The Nats' rotation is also the first to see three pitchers each top 222 strikeouts in a season, an impressive feat.

Scherzer is still leading that charge for the Nationals and is thus their pick. He doesn't have as many strikeouts as deGrom, but his K/9 is more than a full strikeout higher. This is going to be a fun final two weeks.

AL Rookie of the Year

1. Yordan Alvarez, Astros
2. John Means, Orioles
3. Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Blue Jays

As much of a lock to take home hardware this awards season as any Astro, Alvarez has blown away the competition in the AL since his debut. His arrival may have come been belated, but his impact (26 home runs, 1.090 OPS) is undeniable. This is an all-time great rookie season that just happens to have been cut short in April and May.

Means and Guerrero Jr. deserve mention still. Means ranks ahead of Guerrero thanks to a 2:1 ratio in WAR, but there's a distant gap between Alvarez and these two.

NL Rookie of the Year

1. Pete Alonso, Mets
2. Mike Soroka, Braves
3. Fernando Tatis Jr., Padres

Alonso leads Major League Baseball with 49 home runs, and will likely finish with more than 50. This is one of the most impressive rookie seasons at the plate in baseball history and is the single biggest lock of any award in 2019. It would have been fascinating to see a true race between Tatis and Alonso, but the chase for 50 has been pretty incredible as well.

AL Manager of the Year

1. Rocco Baldelli, Twins
2. Aaron Boone, Yankees
3. Bob Melvin, Athletics

I can't bring myself to move off Baldelli, just for how much better the Twins' record is compared the expectations entering the season. Having said that, if the Yankees finish the season with the best record in baseball, it wouldn't surprise anyone to see Boone win this award, considering the ridiculous injuries they've suffered in 2019.

Melvin is a new addition, but it's a tight race between the A's manager and the Rays' Kevin Cash. The winner will likely come from whichever team makes the AL Wild Card Game.

NL Manager of the Year

1. Davey Martinez, Nationals
2. Dave Roberts, Dodgers
3. Bruce Bochy, Giants

The Nationals have to make the postseason for Martinez to win this award. There's no way around it. But if they do make it, and I still project them to play in October, then he instantly becomes one of the favorites.

This is one of the trickiest awards to project, even with just two weeks left in the regular season. There's a compelling case to be made for Martinez, but there's also plenty of positives to say about Roberts, Bochy, Brian Snitker in Atlanta, Tony Lovullo in Arizona and Mike Shildt in St. Louis.

For now, we'll stick with Martinez, but this award isn't just a coin-flip; it's a dice roll.

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Yankees reportedly pulled out all the stops in their meeting with Stephen Strasburg

Yankees reportedly pulled out all the stops in their meeting with Stephen Strasburg

When Stephen Strasburg met with the Yankees this week, they reportedly brought in a five-time World Series champion to talk to the Nationals' ace. 

According to Joel Sherman of the New York Post, Strasburg met with Yankees general manager Brian Cashman, manager Aaron Boone, pitching coach Marty Blake and Yankee legend Andy Pettite. 

Pettite also sat in on New York's meeting with free-agent ace Gerrit Cole as a way to make both pitchers comfortable and help persuade one or both to sign with the Yankees per Buster Olney.

Pettite was a member of the Yankees from 1995-2003 before he signed with the Astros in free agency. After three years in Houston, Pettite returned to the Yankees in 2007 and pitched the remainder of his career in the Bronx. 

The lefty finished with 256 career wins, 2,448 strikeouts and an ERA of 3.85 over 3,316 innings pitched. 

Washington is still considered the favorite to re-sign Strasburg, but their competition is stiff. The Yankees, Phillies and Dodgers have all had rumored interest in the World Series MVP. 

The winter meetings begin on Sunday and Strasburg reportedly could re-sign with the Nationals at the start or before the meetings take place. 

Only time will tell. 

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If the Nationals don’t sign Rendon or Donaldson, their options at third base are slim

If the Nationals don’t sign Rendon or Donaldson, their options at third base are slim

The common thinking around the major leagues is that the Nationals are more likely to retain free agent starter Stephen Strasburg than third baseman Anthony Rendon.

It’s not very surprising, given President of Baseball Operations Mike Rizzo’s track record of prioritizing starting pitching when building a roster. Couple that with Strasburg’s decorated tenure in Washington that includes a rise as one of the most decorated prospects of all time as well as World Series MVP honors, and it’s easy to see why the team would want him back.

But while losing Strasburg from the rotation would be a massive loss, the team has two other starters in Max Scherzer and Patrick Corbin who received Cy Young votes last season. Rendon, meanwhile, finished third in the NL MVP race after hitting .319 with 34 home runs and a league-best 126 runs batted in. Outside of 21-year-old wunderkind Juan Soto, there’s no one on the Nationals’ roster who’s ever come close to matching that production.

Rendon is rumored to be interested in a short-term, higher-salary deal, which could give the luxury-tax-weary Nationals pause about retaining him. As much as they may want him back, an average annual value in the mid-to-upper $30 million range would make it difficult for the Nationals to stay under the threshold moving forward.

If Rizzo and Co. deem Rendon to be too expensive, they’ll likely pivot to former Atlanta Braves third baseman Josh Donaldson. The 2015 AL MVP was the NL Comeback Player of the Year in 2019 after posting a .900 OPS with 37 homers and 100 walks in 155 games. USA TODAY reported Wednesday that Donaldson is “being heavily pursued” by Washington, only adding credence to the notion that Rendon lands elsewhere.

Yet the Nationals are far from the only suitors for Donaldson, who’s projected by FanGraphs to sign a three-year deal. The Braves, Dodgers, Twins, Rangers and Phillies are all reportedly interested in the three-time All-Star. That could be problematic for Washington, as the talent available at the hot corner takes a steep dive after the Bringer of Rain.

Rendon and Donaldson finished the 2019 season with 7.0 and 4.9 fWAR, respectively. Of the 22 other free-agent third basemen, none even finished with a mark above 3.0. The best alternative options? Eric Sogard (2.6), Todd Frazier (1.9), Asdrubal Cabrera (1.9), Brock Holt (1.3) and Starlin Castro (1.3).

Sogard, Holt and Castro aren’t natural third basemen, and they’ve never finished a full season with an OPS above .800. Frazier’s strikeout tendencies don’t fit the Nationals’ M.O. and Cabrera was designated for assignment by the Texas Rangers midway through last season before getting hot for Washington down the stretch—not to mention that both of them will be 34 on Opening Day.

On the trade market, the price tags for Kris Bryant and Nolan Arenado—if they’re traded at all—would be well out of the Nationals’ comfort zone. Ditto for Miguel Andujar. The Oakland Athletics’ Marcus Semien would be an intriguing target after he posted a career year in 2019 and finished third in AL MVP voting. But he was a league-average hitter at best in his six seasons prior and only has a little more than 400 career innings under his belt at third.

It’s murky territory, one the Nationals haven’t faced at third base at all since they moved to D.C. Ryan Zimmerman was their full-time starter at third by the beginning of the 2006 season and he remained there until Rendon took over for good in 2014. In fact, the Nationals’ third basemen have combined for an .815 OPS since the start of the ’05 season. Only the Chicago Cubs (.823) and Colorado Rockies (.827) have received better production at the position over that span.

Meanwhile, third base has developed into one of the deepest offensive positions in the sport. Rendon, Donaldson, Bryant, Arenado, Manny Machado, Jose Ramirez and Alex Bregman have all finished top five in MVP voting over the last four seasons. Last year, only right fielders (.796 OPS) combined to post a higher OPS than third basemen (.789).

Third base has never been a significant question mark for the Nationals, but if they don’t go all-in for Rendon or Donaldson—or both sluggers sign elsewhere anyway—Washington is going to be hard-pressed to replace that production another way.

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