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Albert Pujols, Joey Votto, and the MVP

I would have liked to see Albert Pujols win the MVP this year, and I think—but can't be sure—that under Pepsi Challenge conditions I still would have voted for him. Choice P would have nearly identical hitting numbers, nine additional games, and a better long-term record as a defensive player. (Pragmatically, he would also have a higher bWAR, and I always check Baseball-Reference before Fangraphs, and if I wasn't taking voting very seriously...)

But I definitely can't be mad about it, even if Votto is probably more like the player he was in 2009 than the one he was in 2010, going forward. For one thing, he wasn't picked for the wrong statistical reasons—in fact, Pujols was more likely to win the MVP that way this year, with the RBI and home run titles. Votto had a higher OPS and, like Pujols, wasn't doing the damage on defense or the basepaths that's expected of slugging first basemen. 

For another, Albert Pujols isn't coming off his best season. Having spent all year worrying about his performance and his single-season UZR and his constant, nagging injuries I can't in good faith act like nobody else saw it or was influenced by it, however irrational it finally is to worry about the long-term value of a guy who finished the season with an OPS+ of 173. 

Votto, meanwhile, had his best season—probably the best one he'll ever had—and came on strong with a team that was doing the same thing. That gives a different subjective impression of a player and his value, and I'm not above that kind of thing when it comes to voting for awards like these that do—whether we like it or not—have some narrative component. 

You can see what I'm getting at, here: I can't get mad at Joey Votto because he's not Ryan Howard. And luckily for Votto, Howard managed to inadvertently stumble into another ridiculous MVP decision, earning a second-place MVP vote from somebody who must not have watched any baseball this season. As I mentioned on SB Nation yesterday, Ryan Howard finished eighth in the National League in WAR.

Oh, sorry, I read that wrong. Eighth on the Philadelphia Phillies in WAR, behind Roy Oswalt, who pitched 83 innings as a Phillie and did not, I'm told, receive any MVP votes at all. 

So this isn't Ryan Howard, and as a result I'm fine with it; it's much closer to the Derrek Lee situation in 2005. (Lee actually also finished that season with a 174 OPS+, weirdly enough.) I remember being surprised Pujols was named MVP that year, and I'm not surprised he wasn't this year. 

MLB Trade Rumors is reporting that the Reds and Votto are now engaged in intermittent, inscrutable discussions regarding a long-term contract. If that doesn't allow you a little sympathy for Votto and Reds fans everywhere, I don't know what will. 

Meanwhile, the Cardinals are apparently interested in Jason Bartlett, which seems like a move that's being contemplated two years too late. Bartlett had a huge 2009—.320/.389/.490 with 14 home runs and 30 stolen bases—but the rest of his career looks similar enough to 2010 to give me serious pause about 2011. This year he's not a bad player to have, but he's not a great player to get.  

He's just another infielder who would probably be an upgrade at second base but is far from a certain boon at shortstop, and given the Cardinals' stated position on Ryan and Schumaker he's another infielder I can't assume Mozeliak/La Russa would utilize effectively. 

Apparently any Bartlett move is on hold pending the results of the posting process for Japanese shortstop Tsuyoshi Nishioka; bidding ends this afternoon at four o'clock. The Cardinals haven't been connected with Nishioka at all, but despite my reservations about his true talent level I feel like he's our last hope for an upgrade that doesn't cause the team to unnecessarily displace a lot of defensive value by benching Ryan instead of Skip Schumaker.

How's this for an endorsement: I like Nishioka because his weak arm and teams' general post-Kaz-Matsui suspicion of Japanese shortstops make him more likely to end up at second base than Bartlett or Juan Uribe. I hope his agents use that quote when they're negotiating his contract.