And the team MVP is ...
Here is my take on some team awards, excerpted from Sunday's season review package. What do you think?
Most Valuable Ray
3B Evan Longoria, at just 24, in only his third season, already has a reputation as being the guy. He has the look. And, because he's searching for that dang cap in the one TV spot, and he's Beyond Baseball in another, and he's in this magazine or on the cover of that one, he's known nationally as the Ray.
When the 28 members of the Baseball Writers Association of America (two in each AL city) cast their MVP ballots tonight and the winner is announced in November, there's a good chance Longoria will have the most votes of any Ray and potentially their first finish in the top seven.
Longoria, obviously, has good numbers — .294, 22 homers, 104 RBIs, 46 doubles. And the Rays' poor play during his injury absence over the past week highlights — glaringly, perhaps — his importance to the lineup every day.
But he's not the MVP of this team.
(And, for what it's worth, in voting by 12 Tampa Bay BBWAA members, he finished fourth, without a single first-place ballot.)
That honor, as odd as it sounds, goes to a player who participated in less than 5 percent of the action.
If the team's ultimate goal is to win games, then the MVP should be the player who most helps accomplish that.
And on this Rays team, in this season, that player is closer Rafael Soriano.
He has the most impact on the team's overall success of any one player, and he has been the biggest difference in this year's team from last year's.
Yes, he pitched just 60-some innings. He has saved "only" 44 of their 94 wins. And they would have found somebody else to get some of the work done.
But if you disagree, ask yourself this valuable question: Where would the Rays be without Soriano?
Runnersup: 2. LF Carl Crawford (who had his best overall season), 3. Longoria, 4. LHP David Price, 5. RHP Joaquin Benoit
Most pleasant surprises
It's convenient when an off-the-radar acquisition works out for team execs to play coy and say they didn't know what to expect and, by golly, didn't it turn out well as they pat themselves on the back.
But in the case of RH reliever Joaquin Benoit, the Rays deserve all praise. And so does he.
Benoit missed all of 2009 recovering from shoulder surgery, wasn't particularly impressive in some winter workouts and wouldn't be ready to start the season.
But the Rays saw enough to take a (low-priced) chance, and Benoit took advantage, turning in what is actually a historic performance, with the third-lowest average of baserunners per nine innings (6.02) of any reliever ever.
Runnersup: 2. C John Jaso (who wasn't supposed to be in the majors, much less playing regularly and hitting leadoff), 3. INF Sean Rodriguez, 4. LHP David Price (to be this good), 5. INF Reid Brignac
It's actually pretty amazing that the Rays won as much as they did given how many players are worthy of mention and discussion in this category.
Do you start on the mound, where James Shields went from opening day starter to postseason question mark over the course of one miserable season?
Look at Ben Zobrist, whose statistical decline was staggering:
Last year .297 27 HRs 91 RBIs .948 OPS
This year .241 10 75 .706?
Or Jason Bartlett, who similarly went from:
Last year .320 14 66 .879
This year .254 4 47 .674?
Carlos Peña, who cost the team with his ongoing offensive struggles and himself millions, if not tens of millions, that he now won't get in free agency?
B.J. Upton? Kelly Shoppach? Dioner Navarro? Pat Burrell?
Based on expectations compared to performance, Zobrist is the choice. But it's a very tough call, which says something.
Runnersup: 2. Peña, 3. Shields, 4. Bartlett, 5. Shoppach