Tag: Kris Bryant

Kris Bryant Monster Extension Should Be Next Move for Champion Cubs

The Chicago Cubs finally won the World Series in 2016. And by looking at their roster, it sure looks like they can turn right around and win another in 2017.

So, they might as well set their sights on the more distant future—specifically on how long they can keep Kris Bryant around with a contract extension worthy of his talents.

The Cubs don’t need their star third baseman to prove anything else. All he’s done in the last four years is make everyone else look bad. Bryant was Baseball America‘s College Player of the Year and the No. 2 pick in the draft in 2013. He was the Minor League Player of the Year in 2014. He was the National League Rookie of the Year in 2015. This year, he was the NL MVP and a World Series champion.

Bryant already owns a .900 career OPS with 65 home runs and 21 stolen bases. The 24-year-old has been one of the most valuable players in baseball since 2015. He also holds a special place in the wins above replacement rankings for third basemen through two seasons:

  1. Kris Bryant: 13.6
  2. Evan Longoria: 11.8
  3. Wade Boggs: 11.7
  4. Eddie Mathews: 10.6
  5. Art Devlin: 8.9

At the risk of stating the obvious, here goes nothing: Bryant is not only the best player on the Cubs but just the kind of player they should want as their franchise cornerstone.

There’s no hurry for the Cubs to extend Bryant. He’s not arbitration-eligible until 2018. And thanks to some shady service-time manipulation, Bryant’s not due for free agency until after the 2021 season.

But if nothing else, starting extension talks with Bryant would be a much-needed show of good faith by Chicago.

Though the Cubs were within their rights to keep him in the minors at the start of 2015 and thus extend his club control from six years to seven, Bryant and agent Scott Boras were miffed about it enough to file a grievance.

This spring, Bryant played the good soldier but also let slip his hope that baseball’s next collective bargaining agreement would open a window for him to hit free agency earlier.

“I don’t know if I should speak on any of that, just because I’m still young,” he told Patrick Mooney of CSN Chicago in mid-March. “I’m still trying to figure out the process of how things work. And if that happens, that would be great.”

Bryant didn’t get his wish, as Mark Gonzales of the Chicago Tribune reported Dec. 2 that the new CBA did nothing to alter his situation. Regardless, it may not be long before he becomes considerably less amenable to signing an extension.

He is, after all, a Boras client. Such players have generally been exempt from the recent trend of teams locking up their homegrown stars with big extensions. Boras‘ preference is to take his guys to free agency, where the prices are higher.

And right now, the going rate for superstar free agents is close to skyrocketing.

It’s all about the 2018-19 offseason. That’s when Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, Josh Donaldson and other notables are due for free agency. The biggest contracts in baseball are worth around $25 million to $30 million per year. The 2018-19 offseason could boost that figure to $35 million to $40 million per year.

Once Bryant and Boras see such figures with Bryant only three years from his turn, there will be little chance they settle for a more team-friendly offer from the Cubs.

Now is just the right time for such an offer.

A ton of money will come off the Cubs’ books after 2017. Also, the short distance between Bryant and his arbitration eligibility and the long distance between him and his free agency could make him willing to trade long-term earning power for immediate financial security.

The most obvious comparison to Bryant’s situation is the one that preceded Mike Trout’s signing a six-year, $144.5 million contract with the Los Angeles Angels in 2014.

That was not only a case of an elite young player who signed for big money, but Trout was also fresh off his first two full seasons and heading into his final pre-arbitration season. His extension bought out all three of his arbitration years and three free-agent seasons.

The money in Trout’s deal ($24.1 million per year) is close to what Bryant and the Cubs could agree on. The difference is that he’s older now than Trout was in 2014, which raises complications.

If Bryant were to sign a six-year contract that started in his first arbitration year in 2018, he’d be giving away only two free-agent years but also setting himself up to hit the market after his age-31 season in 2023. That’s older than most teams like their free agents, which won’t be lost on Boras.

The Cubs could settle for buying only one year of Bryant’s free agency, of course. But if they’re going to spend big on him this early, they’ll want to ensure they get him for more than just one year longer than they’re projected to. And since he’s so far from free agency at this point, there’s also the question of why the man himself would give up any free-agent years.

The best way around these issues? How about copying what the Miami Marlins did with Giancarlo Stanton?

The 13-year, $325 million contract Stanton signed in 2015 is known for being the largest in professional sports history. But due to the opt-out after 2020, it’s really a six-year, $107 million contract with a seven-year, $218 million option. It will be a huge payday if Stanton serves the whole thing, but he has a window to even more riches if they’re there for the taking.

Mind you, the Cubs couldn’t get away with back-loading a similar deal as much as the Marlins did. Bryant’s too good for that.

“Stanton is great, but for me, I’d rather have Bryant over any player in the game not named Mike Trout,” one NL executive told John Perrotto of FanRag Sports in November.

But if the Cubs offered, say, $25 million per year for six years with an opt-out after 2023 and $30 million-plus per year afterward, they could soon have Bryant’s signature on the dotted line. Such a deal would up the ante on the biggest contract in history and also give Bryant a chance to earn even more money.

Whether it’s a shorter deal or a longer deal with an escape hatch, the numbers in any extension for Bryant are going to be either big or bigger. This is what he’s earned after establishing himself as such a special talent, and the Cubs should be more than happy to oblige him.

If this isn’t already a top priority, it should be sooner rather than later.


Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com and FanGraphs unless otherwise noted/linked. Contract and payroll data courtesy of Cot’s Baseball Contracts.

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Kris Bryant Joins Dustin Pedroia, Cal Ripken in Elite Category After Winning MVP

Kris Bryant won the NL MVP on Thursday, joining Dustin Pedroia and Cal Ripken as the only players in MLB history to win Rookie of the Year, MVP and a World Series within their first two seasons.

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MLB MVP 2016: AL and NL Award Winners, Voting Results and Reaction

Capping a memorable awards season Thursday, Mike Trout of the Los Angeles Angels and Kris Bryant of the Chicago Cubs took home American League and National League MVP honors, respectively.

Even though Trout has been the best player in baseball since 2012, his MVP candidacy this year was far from a lock, since writers have ignored players whose teams missed the playoffs in the past.

Bryant was the heavy favorite in the NL after leading the Cubs to the NL Central title and solidifying his standing as one of the best young stars in Major League Baseball.

Here’s how the final voting for this year’s MVP awards played out, per the Baseball Writers’ Association of America:

The BBWAA chose Bryant over Corey Seager of the Los Angeles Dodgers and Daniel Murphy of the Washington Nationals, making Bryant the first Cubs player to be named the MVP since Sammy Sosa in 1998.

Bryant followed up his stellar NL Rookie of the Year campaign by getting better in virtually every category this season.

Per ESPN Stats & Info, the Cubs superstar satisfied all of the statistical measurements for voters old and new:

The 24-year-old’s MVP win also puts him in exclusive territory as the fourth player in MLB history to take home the honor one year after being named the Rookie of the Year. Boston Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia (2007-08) was the last to accomplish the feat.

Coming into spring training, Cubs manager Joe Maddon told Carrie Muskat of MLB.com about conversations he had with Bryant last year, when the third baseman was briefly sent down to Triple-A to start the season:

I was confident he would respond well. We had some good conversations, me and him, in the office — very candid, frank, open, all of the above. I got a good feel from him. He was very self-confident. He was disappointed he was not starting with us but had the team goals in mind.

He was straight up with me and looked me right in the eye balls [saying he belonged in big leagues] and I don’t blame him. When he got up here, he showed it was true.

It was immediately true, yet Bryant found new ways to improve his game in 2016. The biggest adjustment was changing his swing slightly so he wasn’t hitting at a steep upward angle, which can help generate power but also lead to high strikeout totals.

Bryant’s strikeout percentage went from 30.6 in 2015 to 22.0 in 2016, per FanGraphs. By making more contact, the 24-year-old increased his home run total from 26 to 39 and went from a .488 slugging percentage to .554.

On Thursday’s MLB Network broadcast (via Muskat), Bryant said, “You can’t put into words what this means.”

Christopher Kamka of CSN Chicago noted the list of accolades Bryant has racked up over the last three years, dating back to his final college season:

If that’s not enough, Bryant will start 2017 by getting married in January. That’s not a bad run for the 24-year-old sensation.

Switching to the AL, Trout remains the best player in baseball. Per ESPN Stats & Info, the Angels all-world star has had a five-year run fans haven’t seen since Babe Ruth:

WAR isn’t the be-all, end-all stat by which to determine an MVP, but it does provide a good jumping-off point. Trout finished one full win ahead of Bryant in the category and 1.6 wins ahead of Red Sox star Mookie Betts, per FanGraphs.

That’s not criticism of Betts or Houston Astros second baseman Jose Altuve, the other AL MVP finalists, because both players were fantastic in their own right. It’s just a bad time to be an AL player if you want to be in the mix for the top spot.

Per SportsCenter, Trout’s name now sits alongside Barry Bonds in MLB history:

After being announced as the AL MVP, the 25-year-old didn’t know what to say, per MLB Network PR: “I was surprised. … I’m speechless, man.”

Of course, the anti-playoff backlash for Trout was inevitable, per Tony Massarotti of 98.5 The Sports Hub in Boston:

Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports had some fun with Trout’s win by invoking a notable Twitter incident after Wednesday’s AL Cy Young voting:

ESPN’s Buster Olney provided this incredible stat:

There’s no way to argue against Trout. The only knock anyone could try to present against him is that the Angels went 74-88, but you can’t punish an individual player for the lack of talent around him.

The BBWAA gets a bad rap for some of its antiquated thinking, though there has been a clear shift in recent years.

Trout and Bryant were the two best players in MLB, and they deserved to be rewarded for their efforts.

The pressure is on for 2017, though Trout and Bryant have shown in their young careers there is no ceiling to what they are capable of doing on the baseball field.

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Kris Bryant Wins 2016 NL MVP Award: Voting Results and Comments

Kris Bryant of the Chicago Cubs captured the 2016 National League Most Valuable Player Award on Thursday and edged fellow finalists Corey Seager of the Los Angeles Dodgers and Daniel Murphy of the Washington Nationals to win the NL’s top individual honor.

The Baseball Writers’ Association of America shared the news and final voting results:

Winning the MVP caps a remarkable season for Bryant. While it’s hard to imagine any feeling matching that of helping the organization end its 108-year championship drought, this is probably as close as it gets from a personal perspective.

The 24-year-old third baseman was outstanding during the regular season. He hit .292 with a .385 on-base percentage to go along with 39 home runs, 102 runs batted in, 121 runs scored and eight stolen bases. His 8.4 WAR easily led the league, according to FanGraphs.

In September, Patrick Mooney of CSN Chicago noted Bryant credited his teammates for creating an atmosphere of intense competition that made everybody better:

Look at our pitchers—they’re just outdueling each other every day. Kyle [Hendricks] goes out there and has an awesome game, and then Jake [Arrieta]’s like: ‘OK, it’s my turn.’

There’s a certain feel. You never want to be the type that’s all about your individual self. But I think you can just kind of see that people want to do well for the team. And in order to do that, they just outshine each other.

I love that. I love seeing the competition. It just makes this whole environment so much fun to be in.

While there’s no doubt the Cubs featured plenty of star power—which made completing the World Series journey far from a surprise—Bryant is the cornerstone. He’ll lead the way if the club transforms a title into a new dynasty.

Randall J. Sanders of NumbersMLB previously highlighted the star’s recent accolades:

Ultimately, his outstanding campaign paired with the Cubs’ regular-season success made him a slam dunk choice for the MVP despite great years from Seager and Murphy. The Dodgers shortstop hit .308 with 26 homers to win the NL Rookie of the Year, while the Nationals second baseman finished second in the batting-title race to DJ LeMahieu (.348) at .347 to go with 25 home runs.

What makes the situation more worrisome for the rest of the National League is that Bryant is so young. He should still have around a decade of top-tier production left, which is the biggest reason the Cubs’ outlook is so promising.


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Cubs Megastar Kris Bryant’s 1st MVP Could Be Start of Long NL Reign

Ripped from the headlines!


Ripped from the headlines?

November 2016: Versatile Cubs slugger Kris Bryant named NL MVP.

November 2017: Cubs superstar Kris Bryant wins back-to-back NL MVPs.

November 2018: Cub-stock continues as NL MVP Kris Bryant three-peats!

What we know now is that Bryant, who led the National League in runs scored (121) while smashing 39 homers, hitting .292 and producing 102 RBI, is the much-deserved winner of the 2016 NL MVP award.

His bat, versatility afield (third base, left field, right field, first base), razor-sharp baserunning and overall contribution to winning made him a shoo-in. He excels in both old-school stats and new-age metrics: His 8.4 WAR was the best in the NL and second in the majors to Mike Trout (9.4), per the FanGraphs model.

What we think is that his age (24), astronomical ability and the relative strength of his team will carry him to a few more MVP awards by the time he’s ready to join the billy goats in the pasture. At the very least, like Trout, assuming good health, Bryant should be in MVP contention for the next several years.

Trout, 25, is still considered the best overall player in the game, and for that reason some view his failure to win more than one MVP to this point as a criminal offense (UPDATE: he won his second on Thursday night). To Bryant’s benefit now, though, is that where Trout has been betrayed by a failing organization, the Chicago Cubs are ready for prime time for the next several years.

With MVP voters leaning toward players who helped their teams win division titles more heavily in the wild-card era (1995 and after) than ever before, Trout’s sinking Los Angeles Angels could have been a drag on his vote. In the three seasons he finished second in the voting—2012, 2013 and 2015—the Angels finished third in the AL West in each.

When he won in 2014, his Angels won the AL West with the best record in the majors.

It doesn’t take the president of the Society for American Baseball Research to make the connection that the MVP award favors team win-loss records heavily.

Conversely, Bryant’s Cubs appear loaded for the next several seasons. They are young, talented and cutting-edge. So is Bryant.

He becomes the third player since Cal Ripken Jr. (1982 and 1983) to win a Rookie of the Year award one year and an MVP the next. The other two? The Philadelphia Phillies’ Ryan Howard (2005 and 2006) and the Boston Red Sox’s Dustin Pedroia (2007 and 2008).

In fact, the beginning of Bryant’s career further mirrors that of Ripken in that Ripken’s Baltimore Orioles won the World Series in his MVP season of ’83, as the Cubs did during what should be Bryant’s MVP season.

“I didn’t actually make that connection,” Ripken told Bleacher Report on Wednesday, referring to the Rookie of the Year and MVP awards. “I guess I don’t think in terms of individual awards. 

“With Bryant, I was thinking in terms of what a good start to his career he’s had in that the Cubs have been right in the thick of things where you’re good and you’re winning and it’s fun and you’re going to the playoffs. The fastest years I ever had were when I played on good, winning teams.”

Ripken did wind up winning multiple MVP awards: After ’83, he won again in 1991. And he finished third in 1989.

“The awards are sort of the icing on the cake,” Ripken said. 

“When you’re playing the game and you’re on a winner, it’s easier because you’re in line with how you want to play the game. What can I do to help us win today? Sometimes it’s a big hit, sometimes it’s a home run, sometimes it’s making a play in the field, sometimes it’s moving a runner from second to third. Stats build. I thought Eddie Murray was the MVP of our team in ’83. He made life easier for me. I thought I got credit for playing shortstop [a premium position].

“We don’t know how good Kris Bryant can be. It’s happened really fast and we marvel at his accomplishments. And in the back of our minds we think, can he be even better? That’s the fun part moving forward. It’s exciting to think ahead to what he can do.”

Winning multiple, or even back-to-back, MVP awards isn’t so rare. The Detroit Tigers’ Miguel Cabrera did it recently, winning the AL MVP award in 2012 and 2013, and the St. Louis Cardinals’ Albert Pujols did it in 2008 and 2009. The San Francisco Giants’ Barry Bonds won four in a row from 2001-04.

Going back a bit, the Chicago White Sox’s Frank Thomas won in 1993 and ’94, and in the NL the trend has been for it to happen at least once a decade going back 40 years. Before Bonds in the early 2000s, he also did it in 1992 and 1993 (and in 1990 before that to give him three in four years). The Atlanta Braves’ Dale Murphy did it in 1982 and ’83, Philadelphia’s Mike Schmidt in ’80 and ’81 and the Cincinnati Reds’ Joe Morgan in ’75 and ’76.

Among many other things, what sets Bryant apart from the crowd today is his capability and willingness to move around the diamond without allowing it to affect other parts of his game. You could argue, and Bryant does, that the versatility strengthens the other parts of his game.

“I just think that’s where the game is at right now,” Bryant told me this summer. “Versatility is what teams like. For me, I think it definitely adds value.”

Bryant becomes only the second player ever to be named MVP after starting at least 30 games in the infield and 30 in the outfield. The other was Stan Musial in 1946. Musial that year started 114 games at first base and 42 in the outfield. Bryant this year started 100 at third base, 48 in the outfield and six at first base.

Bryant is part of a generation of players who cut their teeth playing different positions, and instead of worrying that there is too much pressure in the majors to continue doing it, he simply goes with the flow and takes the opposite tack.

“Honestly, I feel like at times at this level it’s easier because you have the better lights, the better visual backdrops, that sort of thing,” Bryant told B/R. “Obviously, I’ve played third base, but moving around might add a little more of that fresher element.”

Said Ripken: “That’s an interesting attitude. Maybe it does keep him fresher and mentally not worrying about things. Having a balance and thinking about your defense and your offense [separately] can be healthy, so you don’t have a tendency to dwell on a slump or two.”

Ripken couldn’t get to that place in 1996, when B.J. Surhoff was injured and Ripken moved from shortstop to third base for six games.

“I remember from my personality, it was more of a worry,” Ripken said. “I worried and concentrated on my defense, and it felt like my balance was out of whack. I felt like my offense didn’t seem to matter, but my defense did. You constantly had to think about what your responsibilities were at third base versus what they were at shortstop.”

And by then, Ripken was 35 and well into a Hall of Fame career.

“It’s also a tribute to Bryant and his athleticism,” Ripken said. “He runs really well for a big guy. He has the skills to bump around. But it’s also a tribute to him that he’s open-minded and has the attitude to do that. And that becomes valuable to [Cubs manager] Joe Maddon, which ultimately becomes really valuable to the Cubs.”

Conventional wisdom suggests that hopping around defensively does add distractions that might sabotage a player at the plate. But Bryant this year proved otherwise.

The greatest area of Bryant’s offensive improvement in 2016 was in his plate discipline, as Neil Greenberg pointed out in his “Fancy Stats” column in the Washington Post. Bryant sliced his strikeout rate to 22 percent from 30.6 percent last year and improved his power numbers on pitches in the top third of the strike zone and above to .560 from .527.

That suggests Bryant is still improving, and will continue to do so. And, furthermore, he can beat you in myriad ways. According to FanGraphs, Bryant’s acumen as a baserunner in 2016 was worth 7.3 runs above average to the Cubs. Only the San Diego Padres’ Wil Myers (7.8) ranked ahead of him in the NL, and as Greenberg notes in the Post, only Atlanta’s Ender Inciarte went from first to third on a single more often than Bryant last summer.

“I feel like you separate your offense and your defense,” said Bryant, who, as a rookie in ’15, started 136 games at third base and only 10 in the outfield. “You don’t take your offense into the field and you don’t take your fielding into your at-bats, and that’s just kind of what you learn from Little League on.

“There are two sides to the ball. That’s how I approach it.” 

His approach is a boon to both the Cubs and to Maddon, as Ripken pointed out. As Ben Zobrist told me over the summer, it’s one thing for a player to bounce around defensively like Zobrist did back in Tampa Bay when he was breaking in, scratching and clawing for playing time. But Bryant is a bona fide superstar, and they generally are not as willing to bounce around the diamond the way Bryant is.

“Most guys in his position would not do that,” Zobrist said. “That just says the kind of person, the kind of team guy, he is.”

Musial, by the way, wound up with three MVP awards during his career and a plaque in Cooperstown. He also played in four World Series for the Cardinals, helping to win three titles.

Yes, the combination of talent and attitude can prove unbeatable.

“K.B. has a ton of humility,” Padres manager Andy Green told me this summer. “It’s a characteristic you don’t necessarily expect to see from a player as special as he is. I saw it at the Double-A All-Star Game when he was there and I was managing there [in 2014]. He’s a special guy. He’s very unique.

“I don’t think he balks at anything Joe does because he considers Joe the manager and I’ll do whatever you tell me. You want me to play center field, I’ll play center field. You want me to hit third, I’ll hit third. Those are great attributes to have in a young star.”

Those are attributes that will play. Any team, any time, any place.

And in the end, in the right situation, they can lead to moments like Rookie of the Year, World Series ticker-tape parades and, of course, MVPs.


Scott Miller covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report. Follow Scott on Twitter and talk baseball.

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MLB MVP 2016: Examining Predictions for AL and NL Award Races

MLB‘s rightful MVPs don’t always receive the hardware.

The writers voting for the recipients are smarter than ever, though. Those tasked with choosing this year’s most valuable performers appreciate analytics more than they did 10 years ago, when Justin Morneau and Ryan Howard won over the more deserving Grady Sizemore and Albert Pujols, respectively.

Back then, batting average, home runs and RBI towered above all other numbers in significance. Now an intelligent baseball observer knows that plate discipline, gap power, baserunning and defense all matter as well.

Nevertheless, that doesn’t necessarily mean the guy with the best WAR will win. Voters are still suckers for a good narrative, which almost always must involve a playoff bid. As a result, the game’s premier superstar may again pay the price for his peers’ failures.

Let’s take a look at who should and who will win the MVP awards in both leagues.


National League

Who Should Win: Kris Bryant

The National League is nice and easy: Chicago Cubs star Kris Bryant is the clear choice, so let’s not overthink this.

No, this is not getting swept up in Cubs fever. Don’t accuse writers of any such recency bias if he wins, as they submitted their ballots before the postseason. Instead of giving the third baseman bonus points for helping break a 108-year title drought, they’ll award him extra credit for being the NL’s best player on a 103-win squad.

Bryant comfortably led the NL in WAR on both FanGraphs and Baseball-Reference.com. He also scored an NL-best 121 runs while blasting 39 long balls. Having batted .292/.385/.554 with strong defensive contributions, Bryant has no holes in his portfolio.

Two possible competitors stand in his way.

Daniel Murphy wielded a superior .347/.390/.595 slash line for the NL East-winning Washington Nationals, but he was also a subpar defensive second baseman who played 142 games, 13 less than Bryant.

Corey Seager, an NL Rookie of the Year lock, is an interesting choice. The Los Angeles Dodgers shortstop hit .308/.365/.512 with 26 homers and 105 runs scored. For all of the talk about the 6’4″ youngster needing to change positions one day, he waved off that concern with stellar defense at a premium position.

Despite Seager‘s excellent first year, CBSSports.com’s Jonah Keri argued that Bryant played better across the board:

Bryant’s [bat] was just a little better, even after adjusting for the offensive gap between Wrigley Field and Dodger Stadium. Seager helped his team on the basepaths … but Bryant was, by advanced metrics, the third-most valuable baserunner in the entire league, despite swiping a relatively modest eight bases. And while Seager‘s solid defense at short is a major asset, Bryant displaying above-average glovework at third while also playing plus D in left and right field makes him the kind of invaluably versatile player the Cubs crave.

Offensively, the 22-year-old lags behind Bryant, Murphy and a handful of other second-tier candidates on lesser teams (Joey Votto, Nolan Arenado, Freddie Freeman, Paul Goldschmidt). It’s unfair to penalize him for receiving less run-producing opportunities in the No. 2 slot, but Seager‘s 72 RBI will likely cost him some votes.

There’s no shame in saying a rookie should finish second on the MVP ballot, especially with a second-year stud like Bryant in the top spot.


Who Will Win: Kris Bryant

Bryant offers the best of all worlds. He registered gaudy counting numbers on baseball’s best team while running the bases and fielding well. Every voter will find something to like.

The only possible case to levy against Bryant is this: The Cubs were too good to consider him the most valuable. They won the division by 17.5 games and have another star slugger, Anthony Rizzo, across the diamond, so they conceivably could have still claimed the NL Central with a mediocre third baseman filling Bryant’s shoes.

This is an even bigger reach than punishing a superstar on a subpar team. Bryant was the league’s best player, and he contributed a great deal of value to an amazing club. Why complicate a simple decision?  

Seager doesn’t have enough offensive merits. Murphy’s defense will cost him, although it may have been a different story if he had crushed 36 homers instead of 25.

Had Dodgers starting pitcher Clayton Kershaw not missed more than two months with a back injury, he would have made things interesting. If he had maintained a 1.69 ERA and 15.64 strikeout-to-walk ratio over 30-plus starts, how could voters not have given him the nod?

Since the Dodgers ace was limited to 21 starts, Bryant will run away with the hardware.


American League

Who Should Win: Mike Trout

Once again, Los Angeles Angels outfielder Mike Trout is the best player in baseball. If writers didn’t attribute his team’s shortcomings to diminished individual value, the superstar would be in line to win his fifth straight AL MVP trophy.

The 25-year-old has finished every season of his remarkable career first in both FanGraphs‘ and Baseball-Reference.com‘s AL WAR calculations. Even in 2016’s crowded field, he handily led the way on both sites:

By Trout’s standards, it was merely another ordinary season. His .550 slugging percentage represents the worst mark of his career, and defensive metrics no longer support his status as a supreme center fielder.

He did, however, hit .315 with a career-high .441 on-base percentage. Only six other players in MLB reached base at a clip of .400 or higher, and the Angels stud can thank an AL-best 17.0 walk percentage that ranked second in the bigs behind Bryce Harper’s 17.2 percent.

Trout is the best player in baseball. This is not up for debate.

Yet writers are too busy conjuring different meanings of “value” to make their jobs easier. Because of this flawed logic, Trout won his only MVP trophy during the worst season of his career.

In September, teammate Tyler Skaggs discussed the perceived correlation between value and team success with ESPN.com’s Jerry Crasnick

If we’re in first place, this guy is literally on the top of everybody’s MVP charts. Very rarely do you see a guy win the MVP who’s on a last-place team that’s 20 games out in the division. But at the same time, would they be 50 games out in the division if he’s not on the team? There’s something to be said about that.

If the Angels had a deeper lineup and any pitching, Trout would receive the recognition he deserves. But they squandered their superstar’s season with a meandering 74-88 record.

At least there’s no Triple Crown winner, like Miguel Cabrera in 2012, blocking his path, but a handful of candidates will make a case for the award.


Who Will Win: Mookie Betts

If not Trout, who? Jose Altuve, Mookie Betts, Josh Donaldson, Francisco Lindor, Manny Machado and David Ortiz will all earn votes. That’s not even mentioning Adrian Beltre, Cabrera and Robinson Cano.

Ortiz has an MLB-best 1.021 OPS and the allure of a feel-good sendoff fueling his candidacy, but serving as a designated hitter stymies his overall worth. Lindor would have had a better case if writers submitted their ballots after the postseason, but his case conversely relies too heavily on defense to win the popular vote.

Donaldson matched Machado‘s 37 homers with an OPS that was 77 percentage points higher. That narrows down the final four to Altuve, Betts, Donaldson and Trout, who already has three runner-up finishes.

This year, Trout could settle for No. 3 or 4.

According to Odds Shark, the 5’6″ Altuve stood tall as the AL MVP favorite to start September. He then closed the season by hitting .276/.328/.371, and the Houston Astros fell short of a playoff berth. 

Even an old-school writer should now comprehend the vast universe beyond batting average, so the second baseman’s AL-best .338 clip won’t overcome a rocky finish.

That could leave Donaldson to edge out Trout for the second straight season. The Toronto Blue Jays third baseman notched a higher OPS this season (.953) than in his award-winning 2015 campaign (.939) while scoring an identical 122 runs.

Some other dips, however, may cost him. His batting average fell from .297 to .284, and his RBI count decayed from 123 to 99. While those stats are overrated, many writers who overrate them still have votes. The more analytically inclined scribes will note a decrease in defensive runs saved from 11 to two.

And then there was one.

Betts had a season fantasy baseball gamers can usually only dream about, batting .318 with 31 home runs, 26 stolen bases, 122 runs and 113 RBI. The Gold Glove finalist also accounted for more DRS (32) than anyone in baseball by a wide margin:

He played a pivotal role in the Boston Red Sox’s first-place finish in the AL East with 93 wins. As long as Ortiz doesn’t take too many votes away, Betts looks like the probable choice.


Note: All advanced stats courtesy of FanGraphs unless otherwise noted.

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

Why Stop at One: Cubs Built for a Long Run of Title Contention

CLEVELAND — It was the wise Satchel Paige who warned, “Don’t look back; something might be gaining on you.”

Don’t the Cleveland Indians, who let a three-games-to-one World Series lead slip away to the Chicago Cubs, know it. Didn’t the Los Angeles Dodgers, who fumbled a two-games-to-one National League Championship Series lead, learn it. Weren’t the San Francisco Giants, who allowed a 5-2 lead in Game 4 of the NL Division Series to dissipate, guilty of it.

It took 108 years for the Chicago Cubs to catch up to the rest of baseball in the month of October.

But now that they’re champions, look out, because it may take everyone else several years to catch back up to them. Here’s something worth stashing in your closet next to the sunblock for next spring training: The last time the Cubs won a World Series, they did it in back-to-back years, 1907 and 1908.

These Cubs waged a campaign on multiple fronts this autumn to exorcise a century’s worth of demons: Rival teams, curses, ghosts and, to a degree, their own youth.

Youth is resilient and youth is beautiful, but it also is not on the clock. Players develop at their own pace, which is why the 2015 Cubs came steaming down the tracks ahead of schedule, and why still-learning uber-talents like Javier Baez (23), Addison Russell (22), Willson Contreras (24) and, at times, even Kris Bryant (24) maybe weren’t the perfect, mistake-free players Cubs fans expected at times as 2016 climaxed.

Experience is the great teacher. That this band of incredibly skilled, and young, Cubs was able to win it all while gaining it was impressive. That there is every reason to believe we haven’t seen the best yet of a team that won 103 games this summer is the stuff of imagination and wonder.

“Hey, listen,” Ryan Dempster, the retired pitcher who serves as a special assistant to Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein, said as champagne sprayed in the Cubs’ clubhouse early Thursday morning. “The tough part is to realize that that’s the next goal, right?

“They can do it again and again down the road. Right now they deserve to embrace this moment. All year, they had a target on their back from other teams, the media, fans, and yet they still were the best team in baseball. They did it.

“To see what they did tonight bodes well for the future.”

Bryant, Russell, Baez, Kyle Schwarber (23), Anthony Rizzo (27) and Kyle Hendricks (26) are among the core players who are under contract through at least 2020. Jorge Soler (24) is another whom the Cubs think will develop into an impact player, though he had a disappointing season and stayed in the background this fall. Outfielder Albert Almora (22), who also played some but mostly remained on the bench during the postseason, was a first-round pick in 2012.

In Game 2 last week, the Cubs set a World Series record by starting six players under the age of 25: Schwarber, Bryant, Baez, Russell, Contreras and Soler. The previous record was five players, set by Cincinnati in Game 4 of the 1970 World Series.

Russell and Baez are growing up together in the middle of the infield and already are setting the bar high.

“I think the combination we have up the middle is as good as you’ll ever see,” starter Jake Arrieta said.

Bryant likely will be named the NL’s Most Valuable Player later this month when the awards are announced. Schwarber had just five plate appearances before a devastating knee injury ended his season. Then, in a stunning comeback on the game’s grandest stage, he batted .412 (7-for-17) with two RBI and two runs scored in 20 World Series plate appearances.

“He jacks everybody up,” manager Joe Maddon said of Schwarber during the World Series. “He makes the lineup better, thicker. Zo is seeing better pitches.”

Zo, Ben Zobrist, used one of those pitches to push an RBI double into left field in the 10th inning of Wednesday night’s Game 7, snapping a 6-6 tie.

There were times this postseason, especially at the plate, in which the Cubs were maddeningly inconsistent compared to what we generally expect of a 103-win team. There also were reasons.

“I think a lot of it has to do with youth,” Maddon said. “That’s what I keep bringing up. As we continue to move forward together, the one area of our club that I anticipate is going to get better is offense.

“If you put your scout’s cap on right now, normally you look at our group, or any group, you’re going to see running speed that should hopefully remain the same, possibly regress a little bit. Defense should remain the same, possibly get a little bit better. Arm strength the same thing, you want to at least maintain what you have. But if you had to write numbers down on a piece of paper, the one you’re going to project a lot on would be offense, whether it’s hitting or hitting with power.”

Over 17 postseason games, the Cubs batted .233 with a .293 on-base percentage and a .399 slugging percentage.

In the World Series, they batted .249 with a .316 on-base percentage and a .404 slugging percentage.

During the regular season, they hit .256/.343/.429.

Part of the struggle during the postseason, of course, is attributable to a steady diet of Corey Klubers, Madison Bumgarners and Clayton Kershaws. You’re not facing the Milwaukee Brewers‘ fourth and fifth starters in October.

But part of the inconsistency is growing pains, too. Baez was the MVP of the NLCS, then hit .167 with 13 strikeouts in 30 at-bats in the World Series. As one veteran scout said, Baez suddenly regressed to the young kid whom the Cubs first called up in 2014.

Everybody handles moments differently, and those who have an excitable personality, like Baez, sometimes have difficulty slowing things down when the noise becomes deafening. Also, opposing scouting reports are thick and detailed in the postseason, and these intelligence briefings expose the holes of even the greatest hitters. Not everybody is capable of making adjustments from at-bat to at-bat, or even from game to game, especially on the big stage. Baez, who is eminently capable of winning a Gold Glove at multiple positions (second base, third base, shortstop), made great strides offensively this summer, cutting his strikeout percentage down to 24 percent from 30 percent in 2015 and 41.5 percent in 2014, per Fangraphs.

“It’s going to be easy to understand that the area we’re going to get better at is offense,” Maddon said. “Understanding themselves better. Understanding what the pitcher’s going to try to do against them. Understanding how to make adjustments in the game. Understanding how to utilize the entire field more consistently as they gain experience.

“The part that’s really exciting to me is that we’re in this position right now, two years in a row. Last year we didn’t quite get here, but two years in a row now we’ve been one of the last four teams playing with a really young group of baseball players that are going to continually get better.”

Even despite Baez’s World Series struggles at the plate, there were moments like this one:

While Baez, Russell and Bryant consume most of the spotlight, signs of talented young Cubs were everywhere this autumn. At one point during a pivotal moment in Game 5 against Cleveland, rookie Carl Edwards Jr. (25) was on the mound throwing to catcher Contreras.

Both players started this 103-win season at Triple-A Iowa.

Contreras, too, was guilty of a rookie mistake under the bright lights. Though he was behind the plate in Game 2, catching Arrieta’s 5 1/3 no-hit innings, he rightfully caught heat for preening after a double in Game 1. After blasting a Cody Allen pitch to right field, Contreras flipped his bat and walked about five steps, admiring the fly, before realizing it wasn’t over the fence and turning on the afterburners to reach second.

Contreras apologized to Cubs fans via Twitter:

Said Maddon, “As [the young players] gain more experience, you’re going to see a lot of that stuff go away.”

Not surprisingly, the Cubs have left a trail of admirers in their wake.

“They’ve got a lot of versatility,” retired manager Jim Leyland, who now works for the commissioner’s office, said. “I love their young shortstop [Russell]. … He kind of gets lost a little bit with [Cleveland’s Francisco] Lindor and [Houston‘s Carlos] Correa and some of the other guys, [Corey] Seager out in Los Angeles, but this kid’s really good.

“Anthony Rizzo’s a two-way player; he’s an excellent fielder as well as a power guy. … And I think a guy like Ben Zobrist has been a big key for them. He kind of solidifies things. They’ve got a nice combination, and Joe does a great job with them.”

Perhaps as impressive as anything else was this young core’s ability to block out the anguish of more than a century of Cubs baseball, the billy goats and curses and black cats, and lift this franchise to heights few of us have ever before seen. And though it was far more difficult than it sometimes appeared, they made it look as if they were lifting a simple Louisville Slugger more often than not.

“I think the way they did it,” catcher David Ross said. “There are a lot of young, successful and talented players here, and they expect to succeed. They’re not worried about past things. They’re looking at now, and the future is very bright. …

“I’m happy for the city of Chicago, for Cubs fans who have been so dedicated. These guys worked their tails off. They’ve all been through a lot, and they deserve everything they get for the rest of their life.”

Not only will the surging Cubs be favored again in 2017, but there also doesn’t even appear to be a spot for Zobrist, the World Series MVP. Baez is the projected second baseman and Schwarber the left fielder with Almora expected to supplant Dexter Fowler in center field. Where might that leave Zobrist? Possibly on the trade block. Or in even more of a super-utility role than he’s accustomed to.

“There’s no question this should be a very good team for a very long time,” Leyland said. “Whether they’re going to get back to the World Series every year, that’s a different story. It’s pretty hard to do.”

Undoubtedly. But in winning it all this year, the Cubs have taken that long, difficult first step. Maybe this powerful young core develops into the next dynasty, or maybe not. But one thing is certain: Given the talent, youth and build of this team, the Cubs should be powerful for the next five or six years, minimum.

And as this group writes its own history, it will do so from a blank canvas that includes no previous baggage.

“It’s really great for our entire Cub-dom to get beyond that moment and continue to move forward,” Maddon said, “because now, based on the young players we have in this organization, we have an opportunity to be good for a long time, and without any constraints, without any of the negative dialogue.

“The burden has been lifted.”


Scott Miller covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report.

Follow Scott on Twitter and talk baseball.

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

Bleacher Report’s 2016 World Series Awards

The better team won.

After all the talk of curses and droughts, and all the angst about which manager shouldn’t have used which pitcher at which point, it came down to simple baseball logic. The Chicago Cubs had more dependable starting pitchers and more productive stars.

They have the World Series title they deserve, and they have a more-than-memorable Game 7 to talk about for the next 108 years.

And here at Bleacher Report, we have World Series awards I started working on Sunday, when the Cleveland Indians had a 3-1 series lead. As you might imagine, it looked a little different then.

It changed Sunday night when the Cubs won Game 5. It changed even more when they won Game 6 Tuesday. And it changed two or three more times over the course of a Game 7 that began Wednesday night and ended after midnight Cleveland time Thursday morning.

It won’t change again, because after a baseball season that went the distance and then some, the Cubs have ended a legendary drought that went the distance and then some.

It’s safe now, I think, so here are Bleacher Report’s 2016 World Series awards.

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Anthony Rizzo’s Brutal Playoff Slump Holding Back Cubs Lineup

Anthony Rizzo is an excellent hitter. That needs to be said, because for the first six games of the 2016 MLB postseason, he has looked like anything but.

The Chicago Cubs first baseman went 0-for-3 with a walk in Sunday’s 1-0 loss to Clayton Kershaw and the Los Angeles Dodgers in Game 2 of the National League Championship Series. Rizzo is now 1-for-23 in the playoffs with six strikeouts and zero extra-base hits.

That’s bad for anyone. For a guy who’s going to get NL MVP votes, it’s bad with a side of awful.

It’s not as if the Cubs are on the ropes. They defeated the San Francisco Giants in four games in the division series and won Game 1 of the NLCS Saturday.

Rizzo’s free fall, however, is disturbing. More specifically, it’s handicapping a lineup that ranked second only to the altitude-aided Colorado Rockies among Senior Circuit clubs in runs and OPS.

“Anytime you struggle, it’s going to be tough,” Cubs lefty Jon Lester said of Rizzo, per Rick Telander of the Chicago Sun-Times. “So I think that says a lot about our team. One of our big horses isn’t swinging the bat well, and we’ve got guys ahead of him and below him that are picking him up.”

That’s true. Kris Bryant, Rizzo’s bash brother for much of the season, has been doing damage, as has second baseman Javier Baez, who appears to be throwing a budding-superstar coming-out party.

But Rizzo is one of the biggest-stirring straws in this drink. He posted a .292/.385/.544 slash line in the regular season with 32 homers and a career-high 109 RBI.

Since Game 162, that guy has been entirely missing in action.

As if to punctuate his ill-timed slump, Rizzo came up with two outs in the bottom of the ninth in Game 2 against the Dodgers and lined out weakly to second base to send the Cubs to the showers and disappointed North Side fans to the exits.

He might as well have been a Triple-A scrub, or a pitcher pressed into emergency pinch-hitting duty.

What gives? 

Rizzo’s numbers dipped in the second half. He posted a 1.006 OPS before the All-Star break compared to an .837 mark after. But he hit six homers and tallied 16 RBI in September and October, so it’s not as if his bat turned into an undercooked spaghetti noodle.

His splits also skew worse against southpaws, not surprising for a left-handed swinger. And he’s faced three lefty starters in six playoff games, including Kershaw and Madison Bumgarner, two of the best in the business. 

More than anything, we’re dealing with a small sample size. Players slump, even the great ones, and Rizzo is slumping. He’s also battling elite competition, because that’s how it works in the postseason.

He’s not the only Cubs hitter who’s scuffling. All-Star shortstop Addison Russell and big-money free-agent Jason Heyward have likewise failed to deliver, as CBS Sports’ Kent Sterling pointed out:

Heyward, in particular, stands out because of his gaudy paychecks and grossly underwhelming regular season.

Rizzo, however, is a team leader. At age 27, he’s long in the tooth compared to many of the Cubbies’ nascent mashers. He’s a bellwether bat, the type of guy whose performance is important symbolically as well as practically.

If he can come up with a key knock or two in Game 3, it’ll energize the entire Cubs dugout. If, on the other hand, he continues his frigid ways against Dodgers lefty Rich Hill, the hand-wringing will intensify.

Anthony Rizzo is an excellent hitter. If the Cubs are going to continue their curse-busting run, he needs to start acting like it.


All statistics current as of Sunday and courtesy of MLB.com unless otherwise noted.

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

NLCS 2016: Cubs vs. Dodgers Position-by-Position Breakdown, Predictions

Here’s one thing we know for sure: The 2016 National League Championship Series is going to feature a lot of blue.

The Chicago Cubs knocked the orange-and-black San Francisco Giants off in four games, and on Thursday the Los Angeles Dodgers beat the red-clad Washington Nationals in Game 5 of their division series matchup.

It’s the Cubs’ second consecutive trip to the NLCS and the Dodgers’ second in four years. 

Chicago has the infamous World Series drought, which dates back to 1908, as if you needed to be reminded. L.A., though, is working on a decent dry spell of its own. The last time the Dodgers hoisted a Commissioner’s Trophy was in 1988.

The North Side faithful will surely look at that 80-year gap and scoff. The point, though, is that both fanbases are hungry.

With the series set to kick off at Wrigley Field on Saturday (8 p.m. ET on FS1), let’s break down the position-by-position matchups to see who’s got the edge, contrast the skippers who will be calling the shots, and finally, make a prediction for what figures to be an entertaining clash of blue.

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