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AL MVP race raises questions

AL MVP race raises questions

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The 2009 American League Most Valuable Player Award will be announced Monday, and the decision is the result of a familiar philosophical debate.

Should the award go to Derek Jeter, the player with excellent numbers across the board (.334 batting average, 18 home runs, .406 on-base percentage, 107 runs, 30 stolen bases) for the best team in the league, a guy who exuded the intangibles that scream "valuable" and who might have deserved this award three years ago?

Should the hardware be given to Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira, the player with the best power numbers (AL-co-leading 39 homers, AL-leading 122 RBIs, .948 on-base-plus-slugging) on that same team?

Or is it a no-brainer to hand the accolades to Twins catcher Joe Mauer, the rock of a division-winning team who simply dominated the rest of the league in batting average while answering the only question about his offensive value with a career power year -- all from the most demanding position on the field?

That's what the voters from the Baseball Writers' Association of America dealt with when they sat down to select the AL MVP before the postseason began and the Yankees made their historic run to a 27th World Series title.

Minnesota's Mauer, who hit an astounding .365, cruised to a third career AL batting title in four years. But the numbers that make him the likely favorite to be honored with the MVP on Monday are the ones that have long been expected from this former No. 1 overall Draft pick.

Mauer hit 28 home runs, which more than doubled his previous single-season high (13 in 2006). He also achieved career single-season highs in RBIs (96), on-base percentage (an AL-high .444) and slugging (an AL-high .587), all while missing time early on with back problems. He repeated as the AL's Gold Glove Award winner behind the plate and as the Silver Slugger award-winning catcher, too.

"With what he does behind the plate, controlling the game, and offensively dominating, it's amazing," Twins teammate and former AL MVP Justin Morneau said.

So will Mauer Power be enough to best two Bronx Bombers for the hardware?

Here's a rundown of the leading AL MVP candidates:

THE FAVORITE

Joe Mauer, C, Twins (.365, 28, 96): The best thing about him is the fact that he's still only 26 years old. The tough thing for the payroll-challenged Twins is that he's slated to be eligible for free agency after 2010, and the Yankees and Red Sox are reportedly already interested.

CONTENDERS

Derek Jeter, SS, Yankees (.334, 18 HR, 66 RBI, 30 SB): It's crazy to think that he's now an elder statesman of the game, but Jeter, at the age of 35, had a vintage season. His batting average and on-base percentage were the highest they'd been since his near-MVP year of 2006, and he broke Lou Gehrig's all-time Yankees hits record. Most important could be the fact that his defensive ratings were the best they've been in years, which led to another Gold Glove.

Mark Teixeira, 1B, New York Yankees (.292, 39, 122): He put up his highest home run total in a season since he clouted 43 long balls in 2005, and he led the AL in RBIs. Apparently the spotlight of New York didn't bother him one bit.

Miguel Cabrera, 1B, Detroit Tigers (.324, 34, 103): Very quietly, this still-young slugger compiled ridiculous numbers once again, in addition to a .396/.547/.942 on-base-plus-slugging line for the Tigers, who were in the AL Central race until the last day of the season.

DARK HORSES

Kendry Morales, 1B, Los Angeles Angels (.306, 34, 108): His first full season in the Major Leagues was a boon to the division-winning Angels and a big surprise to the rest of the AL. The switch-hitting slugger tailed off a bit in September but still finished the year with big stats plus a .355/.569/.924 OPS line.

Ichiro Suzuki, OF, Seattle Mariners (.352, 11, 46, 26 SB): Perennial All-Star Ichiro would have locked up an AL batting title if it weren't for Mauer. He won another Gold Glove in right field, and he set another Major League record -- nine straight seasons with 200-plus hits -- in the process for the rebounding Mariners. He led the AL with 225 hits.

Jason Bay, OF, Boston Red Sox (.267, 36, 119): It was a roller-coaster season for Bay, who weathered several hot and cold streaks, but at the end of the year, the numbers were there in a big way, making him the most viable MVP candidate on the AL Wild Card team. Bay compiled an OPS line of .384/.537/.921 while winning a Silver Slugger and making the All-Star team.

HONORABLE MENTION

Dustin Pedroia (.295, 15, 72, 20 SB) and Kevin Youkilis (.305, 27, 94), Red Sox; Robinson Cano (.320, 25, 85), Yankees; Michael Young (.322, 22, 68) and Nelson Cruz (.260, 33, 76), Texas Rangers; Adam Lind (.305, 35, 114) and Aaron Hill (.286, 36, 108), Toronto Blue Jays; Evan Longoria (.281, 33, 113), Jason Bartlett (.320, 14, 66, 30 SB), Carl Crawford (.305, 15, 68, 60 SB) and Carlos Pena (.227, 39, 100), Tampa Bay Rays; Morneau (.274, 30, 100), Twins; Bobby Abreu (.293, 15, 103, 30 SB) and Torii Hunter (.299, 22, 90), Angels; Zack Greinke (16-8, 2.16 ERA, 242 K), Royals.

Doug Miller is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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