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MLB.com Columnist

Mike Bauman

New year, same debate: Cabrera's 'value' is tops again

New year, same debate: Cabrera's 'value' is tops again

New year, same debate: Cabrera's 'value' is tops again

The lines of argument over the 2013 American League Most Valuable Player Award are already forming. They are looking altogether too much like last year's.

Do we have to do this twice? Wasn't one conventional stats (Miguel Cabrera) vs. advanced metrics (Mike Trout) enough?

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Yes, it was. Actually, it was already one too many.

The Spanish philosopher George Santayana once wrote: "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." This passage has often been misquoted to read "history" rather than "the past." But the real issue here is that Santayana clearly would be a Miggy voter, especially this year.

Whatever superlative you attached to Cabrera's Triple Crown-winning 2012 season, you have to find something even more glorious to say about his work this season. Barring serious injury or the slump he doesn't seem likely to go through, his production this year will be of historic quality.

Still, there will be challengers, because statistics are now sophisticated enough to allow for more than one reasoned interpretation of baseball reality. The AL MVP Award candidate pulling this kind of support this summer is the brilliant young third baseman of the Baltimore Orioles, Manny Machado.

And no one should make light of this candidacy, simply because Cabrera has the overwhelming offensive production.

There is a deeper reason that this argument is not the correct argument to be made. The problem here is not with numbers. The problem is with semantics.

The award is Most Valuable Player. The award is not Best Player.

Maybe Trout was the best player in the AL in 2012. Maybe some of the advanced metrics proved that case.

But the most valuable player in the AL in 2012 was Cabrera. He and his first-place standing with the Tigers proved that case.

The Detroit Tigers won the AL Central with Cabrera. Without him, they could not have won the division. The Angels finished third in the AL West with Trout. Without him, they still would have finished third. The concept of "most valuable" is neatly contained in this small package of information.

The voting members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America were not divided evenly in their view of this matter -- 22 of them voting for Cabrera, six voting for Trout. Many of Trout's supporters believed that a serious miscarriage of justice had taken place. They had numbers, after all, that proved that Trout was the better player.

In fact, the MVP voters were acting as the English language suggested they should in the accepted sense of what "valuable" meant. And they were in step with the votes of the recent past.

The Most Valuable Player Award is now an award for individual excellence within the context of team achievement. That isn't written on stone tablets anywhere, but it is the current reality of the selection.

The last eight men who won an MVP Award all played for division-winning teams. Eleven of the last 12 MVP Award winners played on teams that qualified for the postseason.

And again, under a standard understanding of what "most valuable" means, that is an acceptable direction for the voters to take. But the days when an Ernie Banks could win back-to-back MVPs while laboring on behalf of sub-.500 Cubs teams are probably no longer with us.

A lot of people spent a lot of time and considerable brainpower last year attempting to prove that Trout was the best player in the AL. Maybe he was. But that was never the real question.

So when you see the beginnings of the Machado for AL MVP Award campaign, and you hear the rumblings of, "You know he's a much, much better defensive third baseman than Cabrera," you worry the 2013 AL MVP Award saga will turn into a mere sequel.

Given a second-half performance that resembles what he has done over the past two seasons, Cabrera will once again win the AL MVP Award. The one thing that could change that would be the Tigers failing to win their division and/or failing to qualify for the postseason. There are some very good numbers suggesting that this won't happen.

Who is the best player in the AL? That's a fascinating question. But it is still not the question being asked by the MVP Award. The answer to that question, as the second half of the 2013 season beckons, is still Cabrera.

Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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