The Weekly Comebacker: The baseball week in review
The Week That Was in Baseball: November 21-27, 2011
Odds and Sods From the MVP Votes If Not San Jose, Then Where for the A's?
The Death of Greg Halman The Ugly Truth About Albert Pujols' Agent

The MVP Postmortem
Baseball’s MVP awards, given out this past week, finally brought a measure of suspense that had been seriously lacking with the naming of the earlier postseason honors. Milwaukee’s Ryan Braun and Detroit’s Justin Verlander won close votes in, respectively, the NL and AL tallies.

The choice of Verlander dredged up the old debate as to whether pitchers should even qualify for the MVP; throwing our hat into the ring, we say that the MVP is not a hitter’s award; that honor is saved for the Silver Slugger. Yes, Verlander didn’t play in 128 of Detroit’s 162 games this year—and yes, the Tigers ran away with the AL Central title by 15 games—but he was so dominant from start to finish (winning the pitching triple crown with AL leads in wins, earned run average and strikeouts), it was hard to argue against him. Still, one of the 28 voters left Verlander entirely off the ballot.

Statistically speaking, the league’s two top hitters—Los Angeles’ Matt Kemp in the NL, Toronto’s Jose Bautista in the AL—didn’t win the MVP because their teams made no dent in the pennant race. We thought Kemp might sneak past Braun, from whom the Brewers’ Prince Fielder could suck away first-place votes from; but Fielder, who finished third in the vote, only got one first-place selection while Braun got 20 top nods. That didn’t please the Los Angeles Times’ Bill Plaschke, who keystroked: “Braun won the award Tuesday over Kemp, and it wasn’t really close, and it shouldn’t have been close. Kemp should have easily won, and if baseball ever needs instant replay, it is right now.”

Looking deeper into the vote, we found these curios: Texas’ Michael Young picked up a first-place vote in the AL MVP race; Tampa Bay’s Evan Longoria, who hit .244, finished fifth in the AL vote; New York Yankee middle reliever David Robertson picked up a tenth-place vote (obviously, from the same guy who gave him his lone Cy Young Award vote); and could the same writer who picked Arizona’s Ian Kennedy number one in the Cy Young vote also have handed the Diamondbacks’ Justin Upton a first-place tally in the NL MVP count?

Where's the Love For Miggy?
For Miguel Cabrera, baseball’s going to have to come up with their version of the Irving G. Thalberg Award as a way of making it up to players who, no matter what, just can’t get their hands on a MVP trophy. While Justin Verlander appeared in 34 games this season, Cabrera played in a league-high 161—and led the majors with a .344 average, .448 on-base percentage and 48 doubles. Oh, and he added 30 homers, 105 RBIs, 197 hits and 111 runs, and led the Tigers to the AL Central title. All that, and he only finished fifth in the AL MVP vote.

But those numbers are pretty close to what Cabrera has done every year since breaking into the majors in 2003. Outside of a slow step in his trot, Cabrera essentially has no weakness in his hitting game. He can hit for average, for power, he’s walking more and striking out less. Fans and writers have become so used to his annual allotment of impressive numbers, it’s almost like…this is what they’ve come to expect of him. If Cabrera was a common player who suddenly broke out this year for the Tigers (as Jose Bautista did for Toronto last year), there’s little doubt that he would have beaten Verlander for the MVP. But he was just same ol’ Miggy, putting up his usual numbers and leaving the pundits to shrug their shoulders and nod in subtle approval. Stunningly, he’s never won a MVP, finishing as high as second (to Josh Hamilton) in 2010.

Here’s what Cabrera needs to do: Slump badly in 2012, then come roaring back to his usual self in 2013. Only then will voters see the value in him and appreciate what he means to the Tigers.

Death of a Rising Star
Greg Halman, one of only eight natives of the Netherlands to play in the majors, was stabbed to death by his own brother this past week in Rotterdam, back in his home country. The crime apparently took place after an argument over loud music.

Halman was a member of the Dutch national team that twice stunned the heavily favored, star-studded Dominican squad at the 2009 World Baseball Classic. In the majors, he hit .230 with a pair of home runs in 35 games this past season for the Seattle Mariners, and his rawness at the plate was also exposed with a severe lack of discipline—walking just three times while striking out 43 in 116 career at-bats over two short seasons. But the Mariners had high hopes for him; they’ll never know now.

Stand by Your Agent
A month ago, there was news of an Arizona-based sports agent who used porn stars to lure major league clients—reportedly including Atlanta’s Dan Uggla—into becoming clients. But that seems like the tip of the iceberg compared to the work ethic (or lack thereof) employed by Daniel Lozano, the agent for Albert Pujols, Alex Rodriguez, Jimmy Rollins, Carlos Beltran, Joey Votto, Michael Young and Brian Wilson, among many others.

Unmarked envelopes recently showed up on the desks of Deadspin.com, ESPN, Sports Illustrated and Fox Sports with a mountain of dirt on Lozano. This slam was likely orchestrated by employees at Beverly Hill Sports Council, which Lozano split away from along with his clients last year. Regardless, the packet had plenty of incriminating evidence about how Lozano lived life in the fast lane sometimes to the detriment of his clients, how he lied about his past, how he once got arrested for scalping tickets at Oriole Park at Camden Yards, and how he set up call girls for prospective clients—even taking pictures of himself engaging in extracurricular activity with one such woman, images that were included in the tell-all packet (and shown on Deadspin’s web site).

Pujols is a deeply religious man, which makes his relationship with Lozano—one that’s lasted more than a decade—all the more puzzling. Despite the allegations and evidence, Pujols firmly stood behind Lozano this past week and insisted that he would continue to be his agent. Lozano himself refused to comment, but his lawyer called the information in the packet “false and defamatory.”

Now Playing at TGG
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Where Can the A's Go?
It was reported this past week that, finally, there may be some movement towards a decision of where the Oakland A’s will be playing in the near future. Commissioner Bud Selig huddled with Oakland owner Lew Wolff a few weeks back in Arizona for a meeting that also included A’s general manager Billy Beane—said to now be taking more of an interest in the team’s long-term plans, and how it will financially affect his ability to build his roster. Next, Selig plans to talk with San Francisco Giant ownership, which is highly obstinate towards relinquishing its territorial rights in San Jose—considered to be the A’s top choice for relocation.

So, what are the A’s options? Below are a list of cities that have been frequently mentioned, with pros and cons attached.

San Jose. The optimal choice for the A’s, and for good reason; it’s got a million citizens, it can draw in support from the larger Bay Area market, it’s close enough to the existing A’s fan base and it has land ready to build on near downtown. Problem: San Jose is “owned” by the Giants, per Major League Baseball territorial rules—and they’re in no mood to give it up, even after it was graciously given to them back in 1992 by the A’s in the attempt to build their own ballpark there. (A voting measure failed, and the Giants nearly left for Florida as a result.) If Selig can strike a deal that appeases the Giants, then the A’s will become San Jose’s own. But if that doesn’t work…

Portland, Oregon. A beautiful city that has always had a regional rivalry with Seattle, and that would turn any A’s-Mariners clash into a blood feud. Portland has generally shown rabid loyalty to its pro teams (the NBA Trail Blazers and the NASL/MLS Timbers), but that allegiance has also been known to run cold when things aren’t going well; worse, the historic downtown ballpark once called Civic Stadium has been renovated solely for soccer, so a new facility would have to be built from scratch.

Las Vegas. Often murmured as a possible destination for a relocated MLB team, but probably less so now. The area has shown far too much economic volatility—a fact magnified given that it’s a small market to begin with—and MLB honchos have always been weary of moving to a city where gambling, which once upon a time nearly ruined baseball, is king.

San Antonio. People point to the Alamo City as also being too small a market, but if a ballpark was built at the northeast end of the city, it could turn into a beacon for another million folks up to 70 miles north in Austin. The Florida Marlins looked into relocating there a few years back but demurred, and local interest in attracting a MLB team hasn’t been terribly fervid.

Oakland. Why not just have the A’s stay put and build within Oakland? Because Wolff doesn’t want to—and who can blame him. Ideal land to build a new ballpark is at a premium, and the city’s political landscape is incendiary. It can be done, but it will involve a lot of shouting, bickering, Occupy movements and God knows what else. For Wolff, who’s 76, it’s not worth the stress.

Sacramento. California’s State Capitol might actually be the next best option for the A’s if the move to San Jose fails. It’s located in the heart of the Central Valley, meaning it can pull in folks from places like Fresno, Modesto, Stockton, et al—not to mention well-to-do residents in the Sierra foothills and Reno, Nevada. It’s also close enough to a decent chunk of existing A’s fans who won’t find the drive to Sacramento all too difficult (except on weeknights, when eastbound traffic is a pain). Finally, finding space for a new ballpark shouldn’t be a big problem, as there’s plenty of land about—including near downtown. (Wolff, however, talked skeptically of a move here when asked.)

Grudgingly Happy
As details of the new Basic Agreement between baseball players and owners were made public this past week, it became clear that no one was entirely happy with the pact. Not those players who will have to curtail their use of smokeless tobacco on the field, or have to give blood to prove they’re not using HGH; not guys like Derek Jeter, who unlike this past year won’t be able to skip out on any future All-Star Game if selected; not up-and-coming players like Bryce Harper, who’ll have to wait a little longer at the start of the season before making their debut, lest their teams are willing to forgo one season of arbitration eligibility; and certainly not most major league teams, whether rich (New York Yankees) or poor (Pittsburgh Pirates), who chafe at the new monetary limits for draft picks and international player signings.

In short, nobody was happy—which means it’s a good agreement. But here’s news everyone can be agreeably happy with: Baseball is guaranteed no union-related work stoppages through 2016, which ensures more than two decades of strike/lockout-free baseball. Now who would have ever thought that back in 1994?

Just Thought We'd Give the Ol' College Try
It seemed a futile gesture for many teams this past week to offer salary arbitration to numerous free agents they’re about to lose; Prince Fielder, Jimmy Rollins, Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle and C.J. Wilson were all given the opportunity to stay with their incumbents via arbitration, but trust us—none of the players are going to bite on it. (If they did, they’d all likely receive less guaranteed money than any free agent contract otherwise offered to them.) There’s a rhyme to the reason why the teams offered arbitration: It officially ensures that they’ll receive compensation for losing their players.

Left Speechless
New York Yankee closer Mariano Rivera made noise this past week…by not making noise. The all-time saves leader has all but lost his voice in the last month, and it’s gotten so bad that he might need surgery to repair his vocal chords. If that happens, his status for the start of the 2012 season—certainly, spring training—would be in doubt. The 42-year old Rivera has already said (or tried to say, anyway) that next year could very well be his last in the majors.

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