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Time to hand out some hardware

Chris Ruddick,
MLB Editor


Rounding Third Logo Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - It may have taken a little while to get cranking but Major League Baseball's Hot Stove is starting to heat up.

As expected the newly-named Miami Marlins have been the busiest team here in the early going, as they have already met with shortstop Jose Reyes and plan to sit down with three-time NL MVP Albert Pujols sometime this weekend.

I said a couple of weeks ago that the Marlins were going to be aggressive and that appears to be the case. Now the question is can they land one of those two superstars. Or both?

Other than that, though, it's been kind of quiet. The big-ticket free agents won't sign for another couple of weeks, so don't expect anything on that front anytime soon. Why won't anything happen? Well Major League Baseball is in the process of finalizing a new Collective Bargaining Agreement. Things won't get rolling until that is in place.

There was a trade this past week, as the San Francisco Giants sent lefty Jonathan Sanchez and a minor leaguer to Kansas City for Melky Cabrera. At first glance you think the Giants should have been able to get more, but then you look at Cabrera's numbers from last year. He hit over .300, had 201 hits and scored over 100 runs. How that is going to translate in AT&T Park remains to be seen.

You have to like the deal from a Royals' standpoint, but you have to wonder why Brian Sabean didn't shop Sanchez around more, given how thin the starting pitching market is this offseason.

But anyway the bulk of the news next week should center around the BBWAA awards. So without further ado here is how I see them going this year:
Justin Verlander
Take Justin Verlander away from the Tigers and they are not a playoff team. Can you say that about anyone else?


AL MVP: JUSTIN VERLANDER, DETROIT

Perhaps the hardest of all the awards to hand out this offseason is American League MVP. If you want to go by the true definition of the award then it's Detroit righty Justin Verlander hands down. Take Verlander away from the Tigers and they are not a playoff team. Can you say that about anyone else? Boston's Jacoby Ellsbury and Adrian Gonzalez also had terrific years, but it's hard to give this award to either of them since they were part of the worst collapse in baseball history. So, in my opinion it's either Verlander or Toronto's Jose Bautista and I'm going with the pitcher. Normally I would lean towards the everyday player, but in this case it's hard to ignore just how important Verlander was to the Tigers. As good as Bautista was for the Blue Jays they were still a fourth place team. And they probably would have been with or without him.

AL CY YOUNG: VERLANDER, DETROIT

Well since Verlander is my MVP I might as well explain why. The flame throwing righty became the 12th pitcher in the last 50 years to win pitching's Triple Crown, as he led the league in wins (24), ERA (2.40) and strikeouts (250). His win total was the highest since Bob Welch won 27 for the 1990 Athletics. Verlander also led AL pitchers with 251 innings, a .192 opposing batting average and a 0.92 WHIP (walks plus hits per innings pitched) ratio. And he tossed a no-hitter. Yea not only is he the MVP of the league, but he will be a unanimous Cy Young Award winner.

AL ROOKIE: ERIC HOSMER, KANSAS CITY

Los Angeles' Mark Trumbo seems to be the favorite here, but I'm leaning towards my preseason pick of Eric Hosmer, the Kansas City Royals first baseman. Hosmer came up in early May and immediately made an impact. He swatted 19 home runs while driving in 78 runs and finishing first among AL rookies in runs (66) and hits (153). He also collected 27 doubles, making him the 27th player in history to hit at least 17 home runs and 24 doubles at the age of 21. Not to mention his .293 average was nearly 40 points better than Trumbo's.

AL MANAGER: JOE MADDON, TAMPA BAY

No brainer right here. After an offseason that saw them lose the likes of Carl Crawford, Rafael Soriano, Carlos Pena, Jason Bartlett and Matt Garza, expectations were a bit tempered for Joe Maddon's club entering the 2011 campaign, especially after the team opened the year with six straight losses. Joe Maddon, though, showed why he is considered one of the best managers in the game, as the Rays rallied from a nine-game deficit to Boston as late as September 2 to overtake the Red Sox in the wild card standings on the season's final day. No team had ever overcome that many games in September to get to the postseason.

NL MVP: MATT KEMP, LOS ANGELES

Another tough one to hand out here. Milwaukee's Ryan Braun and Los Angeles' Matt Kemp had similar offensive seasons and the former led his team to the playoffs. But, Braun also had another MVP candidate in Prince Fielder in his lineup, while Kemp had little or no protection all season from a Dodgers lineup that produced 82 wins, yet he still nearly pulled off a Triple Crown. Kemp hit .324 (third in the NL) with 39 home runs and 126 RBI in 2011, leading the league in home runs, RBI, runs scored (115) and total bases (353). The 2011 NL All-Star also finished among league leaders in multi-hit games (57, tied for first), hits (195, second), slugging percentage (.586, second), extra-base hits (76, second), stolen bases (40, tied for second) and on-base percentage (.399, fourth). He also became the seventh player in Major League history to finish the season ranked in the top three in homers, batting average, RBI and stolen bases in their respective league and the first since Hank Aaron in 1963.

NL CY YOUNG: CLAYTON KERSHAW, LOS ANGELES

It's hard to imagine a team would have not only the MVP, but also the Cy Young Award winner yet still finish 11 1/2 games out of first place, But that is the situation I expect the Los Angeles Dodgers to find themselves in. While Kemp may eke out an MVP win, left-hander Clayton Kershaw should claim the league's top pitcher trophy going away. Like Verlander, Kershaw was a Triple Crown winner this season as tied for the league lead with 21 wins, while leading the NL with a 2.28 ERA and 248 strikeouts. The seven previous Triple Crown winners in the NL all went on to win a Cy Young and Kershaw should continue that trend.

NL ROOKIE: CRAIG KIMBREL, ATLANTA

If Atlanta closer Craig Kimbrel doesn't win the NL Rookie of the Year Award then his teammate first baseman Freddie Freeman will. Kimbrel, though, gets my choice, as he put forth the best first year ever by a closer, as he set a rookie record with 46 saves and recorded 127 strikeouts in 77 innings. He limited opponents to a .178 batting average and recorded 14.84 strikeouts per nine innings, joining Carlos Marmol (2010), Eric Gagne ('03) and Billy Wagner (1998 and '99) as the only pitchers to post at least 14 strikeouts per nine innings and notch at least 30 saves in the same season. One thing that could hurt him, however, is the fact that he blew three of his last six save opportunities, including one on the final day of the season that could have put his Braves into the postseason.

NL MANAGER: KIRK GIBSON, ARIZONA

After back-to-back 90-loss seasons and two last place finishes, who could have guessed that the Arizona Diamondbacks would be in the postseason? Not only did they win the National League West, but they did so rather easily, as they pulled away from the San Francisco Giants late to win the division by eight games. The D'Backs took on the identity of their manager Kirk Gibson to win 94 games, their highest total since winning 98 way back in 2002. This one's an easy pick.

Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Chris Ruddick at cruddick@sportsnetwork.com.

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