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First, I need to start with a disclaimer here.
Derek Jeter has a strong relationship with Upper Deck, and is a class act. He was gracious, warm and friendly to the winners of our Yankee Stadium Legacy contest a few months back, answered tons of questions for kids on UpperDeckU, and all our internal staff who met him had nothing but great things to say about his personality when they returned from the event. He is one of the best players from this generation and has kept himself away from the off-field controversies that plagued so many of his contemporaries. His career numbers at shortstop put him among the best at all time at his position, making him an easy first ballot Hall of Famer. Fifty years from now, he’ll still be talked about by fans. He’s having one of his best seasons yet, and is an integral part of the Yankees dominance over the league during the regular season so far.
All this being said, in my own humble opinion, he is not the 2009 AL MVP (despite some arguments I’ve seen to the contrary). He can’t be the MVP, because what Joe Mauer is doing right now is more appropriate for a video game with the difficulty turned to “Easy” than reality. He’s currently leading the American League in average, on-base percentage, and slugging.
To reiterate, in the American League this season, Joe Mauer is simultaneously the best at getting hits, the best at getting on base, and the best at hitting for power. This is an incredible feat. Even more impressive? He’s doing it while catching, which is by far the hardest position to play in baseball. By all accounts, Mauer handles his pitching staff very well, and is an asset behind the plate. Combine with his offense, and you’ve got the most valuable player in the league. Not even close.
This is not to take anything away from Jeter. He’s having one of the best seasons of his career at 35. He’s the catalyst for an offense that gives opposing pitchers nightmares. He’s hitting for a high average, taking plenty of walks, hitting for some power, and stealing bases while playing improved defense at a premium position. In any other year, he’d be MVP. In fact, in a similar 2006 campaign, he probably should have been MVP: that honor went to Justin Morneau for reasons that still puzzle me today (sure he had a great season, but not nearly the best). Actually, I take that back a bit. Morneau won the award, in part, because writers felt the Twins couldn’t have made the playoffs without him. Hence, he was the “most valuable” player in the league.
Sorry, but this is crazy. In 2006, it wasn’t Jeter’s fault that he was surrounded by good hitters, while Morneau was the only power hitter on his team. Morneau’s MVP seemed to speak more to the weakness of the Twins compared to the strength of the Yankees.
And to that point, in 2009, Joe Mauer has no control over the players the Minnesota Twins sign to play for the team. He can’t make decisions about which pitchers to trade for or sign, or which batters will surround him. That’s the General Manager’s job, and it’s miles away from his responsibilities. Joe Mauer is paid to catch and hit, and he’s done his job at a historical level of excellence this year. To discredit Mauer’s MVP credentials based on the performance of players around him defies logic. With this type of voter, it’s as if a player needs to find the right balance between playing on a team with just enough talent to get to the playoffs with his help, while avoiding being on a team that would have been good enough to get there without him.
External circumstances out of the player’s control shouldn’t be incorporated into the decision here; and at the end of the day, I’m confident they won’t be. Some writers may still vote along these lines, but it’s hard to ignore any player putting up the performance Mauer has this year, much less at catcher.
And as for Jeter? He’ll probably get another second place finish in the voting (to go along with the one that probably should have been an MVP campaign in 2006). He’ll definitely go to the playoffs, he’s the face of a franchise that is the most famous in the world, and he has four more championship rings than Joe Mauer does. So let’s not give him an MVP as a “lifetime achievement award” (as Allen Barra suggested in the Wall Street Journal). If anything, it does a disservice to his genuine career accomplishments, of which there are plenty.