Consider this incomplete, unofficial and nonbinding, but there's no way Carlos Beltran isn't the most valuable player in the National League this year. That doesn't mean he'll be the Most Valuable Player in the National League vote. I'd be kind of surprised if he is, given the way voting traditionally works.
Rule No. 1: If there's an award worthy of a Met, it will go to someone else. We've had four Cy Youngs, four Rookies of the Year, one Manager of the Year and no MVPs. Without me listing any right now, you and I can trade historical slights all night.
Rule No. 2: Other than screwing over the Mets, there is no set pattern. The gritty, gutty guy with decent numbers gets it over the far more dynamic player who did bigger things (Gibson over Strawberry, 1988). The guy who leads his team to the league's best record is overshadowed by the guy with the longer baseball card back (Bonds over Pujols, 2004). The fellow who is perceived as turning his team around is chosen instead of the guy who just kept being really great for a really good team (Pendleton over Bonds, 1991).
Rule No. 3: The cult of Albert Pujols lives. It's not an unreasonable cult in which to maintain membership. Pujols is scary. He's effective. And he's valuable. But his team's record is roughly where the 2005 Mets was at this time last year and he's not all alone in St. Louis, no matter what the Apujolgists will tell you. He is his team's best player (him or Gary Bennett lately) and his team is in first place, but not the way the Mets are. Still, their standing, his rep, his big start and the fact that it's easier to keep voting for the same guy who won last year may put him over the top. There's no shame in losing an award to Albert Pujols, but it would be a shame if it happened to Beltran this year.
Rule No. 4: Big, loud home runs speak volumes. Except for falling in the right direction and “robbing” the occasional grounder on an overshift, Ryan Howard is a butcher at first base. He is not a complete player by any means. But boy can he hit 'em far and often. It's not a bad talent to have. He was even kind enough to display it at an exhibition in July. I don't mean to diminish Ryan Howard, though I hope Met pitching does for a few turns at bat later today. He is sensational. But he's not a player on the level of Carlos Beltran.
Rule No. 5: Players having great seasons on great teams can't be all that valuable, can they? Carlos Beltran 2006 is a different player from Carlos Beltran 2005. By subtracting the tentative, overwrought, injured Carlos Beltran with the healed, fleet, relaxed, comfortable, confident, powerful Carlos Beltran, the Mets have gone from a Wild Card hopeful to a divisional lock, from a team playing footsie with .500 to one likely to top .600. Delgado's replaced Mietnkiewicz/Jacobs, Wagner's replaced Looper, Valentin's replaced Matsui, but the biggest upgrade was Beltran 2.0 over Beta Beltran. Whether lazy, brainless, hack out-of-town writers who decide this award bother to understand that is up for grabs. (Rule No. 5A: Gotta remember to stop insulting the voters.)
I've heard arguments in recent days that Beltran isn't necessarily the most valuable player on his own team. I take that as a compliment toward the team rather than a slap at Beltran. Jose Reyes in particular is held up as the irreplaceable catalyst and I like that portrayal. But Reyes has gone cold at times this year. Delgado and Wright, the original “M!-V!-P!” kid, have had honest-to-badness slumps that were/are not pretty. Lo Duca, to mock the language of Moneyball, has the intangibles to say nothing of an impressive batting average, but his numbers aren't up to his predecessor's, so he makes more of aesthetic case. Wagner has become huge in the last month and you have to tip your cap all about the field and acknowledge Met contributors galore.
But Carlos Beltran has been outstanding above everybody else since the season's third game, the night he had to be nudged out of the dugout for the touchstone curtain call, the night the Mets moved into first place for good. He missed about a dozen games with a bum leg in late April (remember that it was wondered aloud whether he was being too cautious and if that revealed some character defect?) and then made up for his shortfall in a blink. By the middle of May, Carlos' stats were being marveled at with the caveat “and that's even after missing those games while he was hurt.”
Carlos Beltran has never stopped being very good to excellent for any meaningful portion of 2006. When he's not driving in runs, he's scoring them. He finds a way to get on base almost every day. While Lo Duca bats second, Beltran stands in the on-deck circle getting into the pitcher's head. That can't hurt Lo Duca. Delgado and Wright have RBI opportunities created or extended by Beltran. And without being showy about it, Carlos B has gotten to all but maybe three balls in center. If he doesn't lead the league in any of the glamour categories, he's up there and his accumulation of stats has been part and parcel of a greater good. His team leads in the most important category of them all: winning.
Yes, his team is the best team in the league. But you don't penalize a player for being the best player on that team. You celebrate him. You award him. There's no way that these 2006 Mets are these 2006 Mets without him. I'd rather be these 2006 Mets than those 2006 Cardinals or Phillies or anybody else sticking around the chewy nougat center known as the National League.
The Wild Card race has had an Andy Warhol effect on perception. Everybody but the Pirates, Cubs and Nationals has been a contender for 15 minutes. Some team will outspurt the others to win it and that team will probably be led by some player who puts on a big September push. A great month to boost an OK team into the playoffs will be seen as valuable. A great year to lead a fantastic team will somehow be seen as mundane.
Perhaps, as infrequently occurs, logic will prevail. Perhaps Carlos Beltran will win the Most Valuable Player award this year. For now, he'll have to settle for deserving it.