Despite his dominance, there were some baseball writers across the country (mostly blockheads from New York and Boston) who questioned whether Verlander deserved MVP, since pitchers rarely win the award.
As it turned out, that stigma didn’t affect Verlander a whole lot, and he won somewhat comfortably, beating out Boston center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury by about 40 points in the vote.
I could see another tight race for the award this season, but if voters from the Baseball Writers Association of America are to make the most deserving and right call, the award would be presented to Verlander’s teammate, third baseman Miguel Cabrera.
The bottom line is, “Miggy” is the most feared hitter in baseball since Barry Bonds, one of the smartest hitters in the game, and a legitimate threat to become the American League’s first Triple Crown winner (leading the league in batting average, home runs and RBIs) since Boston’s Carl Yastrzemski in 1967.
The only way Cabrera falters is if the Tigers fail to take care of business down the stretch and miss out on winning the American League Central Division or clinch a spot in the playoffs as a wildcard. MVP awards are almost always presented to players on winning teams – and deservedly so. Quite frankly, with the Tigers’ mammoth payroll, if the postseason eludes them, an MVP award should be the least of their concerns.
But I’ll use the same argument for Cabrera as I did for Verlander a year ago: Where would this team be right now if Cabrera was a sheep herder in his native Venezuela instead of a feared slugger in Motown? Would they even be close to sniffing at the first-place Chicago White Sox or in the playoff hunt like they are now? I have serious doubts.
Sure, maybe prized free-agent signing Prince Fielder could have become a one-man wrecking crew, but consider this: Aside from Fielder’s production, the closest Tiger to Cabrera’s 95 RBIs is Austin Jackson at 50.
That’s a huge difference in a lineup that has strived for balance from top to bottom but has rarely produced that strength. Without Cabrera, a lineup that sits just sixth in the American League in runs scored would be struggling much worse.
Cabrera is also the picture-perfect MVP, or what I like to call the “Anti-Adam Dunn.” He can do so much more than the White Sox’s slugger, who typically strikes out or hits homers. Cabrera is the rare breed that can hit for average and power. Watching him adjust his wrists in the batter’s box on tight inside fast balls and punch singles to right field is his art form. And of course, his tape-measure blasts to straight-away center field at Comerica Park are his masterpieces.
Considering the fact that he’s never hit below .294 in a full Major League season during his career, Cabrera could easily be linked with the greatest Tigers’ hitters of all time, namely Ty Cobb and Al Kaline. Of course, neither of those Hall-of-Famers had the broad shoulders or thighs of a linebacker that Cabrera sports.
Really, could he line up as a rush end for the Lions?
What’s more impressive is the athleticism that Cabrera has displayed in moving to third base. I wasn’t the only one who worried that his switch from first base to third would spell defensive disaster for the Tigers this season, but would you have guessed that he has the same amount of errors right now as former Gold Glove winner David Wright of the Mets, with 10? Sure, he’s not going to remind anyone of Brooks Robinson, but he’s got a very strong arm and pretty decent lateral movement for someone who weighs 240 pounds.
Cabrera’s only other serious threat to MVP is if voter’s go gaga over Anaheim Angels’ super rookie Mike Trout. Tigers’ manager Jim Leyland recently called him a “Wonderboy,” and for good reason. All the fresh-faced 21-year-old is doing this season is leading the AL in hitting with a .345 average, along with a league-best 87 runs and 36 stolen bases.
I could see writers wanting to rock the vote and have a rare rookie take home the award, similar to Seattle’s Ichiro Suzucki in 2001, who also won three MVPs while playing in Japan.
It would be a great story to see Trout repeat the rare distinction, but it’s not the right story. As long as Cabrera continues to amaze with his bat and glove, and the Tigers hang tough in the standings (don’t let us down!), the only answer on the ballot is Miggy for MVP.
Actually, that’s got a nice ring to it.