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Thursday, November 22, 2007

Jimmy Rollins edges Holliday in close race for NL MVP

By ROB MAADDI, AP Baseball Writer
November 21, 2007

PHILADELPHIA (AP) -- Jimmy Rollins never thought about winning an MVP award until teammate Ryan Howard did it last year.

"Seeing him do it inspired me because the only thing he can do better than me is hit the ball a lot further," Rollins joked.

Howard is nine inches taller and about 80 pounds heavier than Rollins, so he packs a mightier swing. But Rollins' season stood above everyone else's this year.

The switch-hitting shortstop captured the National League MVP award Tuesday, edging Matt Holliday in a close race after leading Philadelphia to its first playoff berth in 14 years with his combination of speed, power and defense.

Rollins, a first-time Gold Glove winner, received 16 of 32 first-place votes and finished with 353 points in balloting by the Baseball Writers' Association of America.

"I just wanted to be mentioned with those guys who are MVP candidates every year," Rollins said on a conference call from California. "To win it is a blessing."

Rollins put pressure on himself and his team back in January when he boldly predicted the Phillies were the team to beat in the NL East. Philadelphia won the division on the last day of the season, helped by the New York Mets' historic collapse.

J-Roll made it possible, proving to be the most indispensable player on a team ravaged by injuries. Howard, Chase Utley and several key pitchers spent time on the disabled list. But with Rollins leading the way, the Phillies went 23-17 in games that Howard and Utley missed.

Batting mostly out of the leadoff spot, Rollins finished with a .296 batting average, 38 doubles, 20 triples, 30 homers, 41 steals, 94 RBIs and scored an NL-best 139 runs. He became the first player in major league history to have 30 doubles, 20 triples, 30 homers and 30 steals in one season.

No shortstop in the NL ever had more extra-base hits (88) and only Alex Rodriguez had more (91) in 1996 with Seattle. The durable Rollins, who's only 5-foot-7 and 170 pounds, played every game, becoming the first NL shortstop in 34 years to do so.

"He's getting the recognition he deserves," team president David Montgomery said. "He's a complete player. Clearly his offense was spectacular and he's so consistent on defense. He was terrific, and he's a solid person."

Rollins, left off the All-Star team in July, had an outstanding second half. He also had more runs, hits and doubles on the road and an equal amount of RBIs away from home, disproving any thought that his stats were inflated because he plays at hitter-friendly Citizens Bank Park.

Holliday, the left fielder who led Colorado's surprising charge to the World Series, got 11 first-place votes and 336 points. Milwaukee slugger Prince Fielder came in third, with five first-place votes and 284 points.

It was the closest election for NL MVP since Atlanta third baseman Terry Pendleton beat out Pittsburgh's Barry Bonds by 15 points in 1991.

Holliday, the NL championship series MVP, hit .340 with 137 RBIs -- becoming the third player since 1967 to lead a league in both categories. He also had 36 homers and topped the NL in hits (216), total bases (386) and doubles (50).

Voting took place before the postseason, when Holliday and the Rockies completed a three-game sweep of Philadelphia in the first round.

Holliday's performance in the wild-card tiebreaker against San Diego did count, however. He hit a tying triple off career saves leader Trevor Hoffman in the bottom of the 13th inning and scored the winning run on a shallow sacrifice fly with a headfirst dive at the plate. Still, it wasn't enough to catch Rollins.

"I called Matt and congratulated him on having a great season and told him how much he inspired me to play," Rollins said. "You never know which way it's going to go."

Rollins, who turns 29 next week, came through when the Phillies needed him most. Booed in New York all season, he batted .346 with six homers and 15 RBIs against the Mets. That helped the Phillies go 12-6 in the season series, winning the final eight meetings with their division rival.

Philadelphia trailed the first-place Mets by seven games on Sept. 12, but went 13-4 down the stretch to finish one game ahead.

Rollins was particularly proud that he, Fielder and AL Cy Young Award winner C.C. Sabathia, also from the Bay Area, have set an example that might encourage more black kids to play baseball.

"I hope they one day say, I want to be Cy Young or I want to be MVP," Rollins said.

In his second full season in the majors, the 23-year-old Fielder led the league with 50 homers -- becoming the youngest player to reach the plateau.

It was the seventh time a Phillies player took the honor. Besides Rollins and Howard, Mike Schmidt won three times (1980, '81, '86), pitcher Jim Konstanty won in 1950 and outfielder Chuck Klein in 1932.

Rollins and Howard became the 11th pair of teammates to win the NL MVP in consecutive seasons, the first since Jeff Kent (2000) and Bonds (2001) with the San Francisco Giants. The previous NL shortstop to win the prize was Cincinnati's Barry Larkin in 1995.

With Torrealba talks dead, Mets get Estrada from Brewers for Mota

Associated Press

NEW YORK -- The New York Mets acquired Johnny Estrada from Milwaukee for reliever Guillermo Mota on Tuesday, moving quickly to plug their hole at catcher after talks with Yorvit Torrealba collapsed.

Estrada batted .278 with 10 homers and 54 RBIs for the Brewers this year. He is eligible for arbitration this winter and can become a free agent after the 2008 season.

"Johnny adds depth to our catching situation," Mets general manager Omar Minaya said. "He's a former All-Star who switch-hits and has hit over .300 three times in his career."

Mota served a 50-game steroids suspension at the beginning of the season and finished 2-2 with a 5.76 ERA in 52 appearances. Often booed at home, the 34-year-old right-hander struck out 47 and walked 18 in 59 1-3 innings.

"We are getting a quality relief pitcher who can pitch out of the back of the pen," Milwaukee general manager Doug Melvin said. "We have been looking for a pitcher who can give us multiple innings, and last season Mota showed he could do that, pitching 2.0 innings 13 times."

The trade leaves Paul Lo Duca, New York's starting backstop the past two seasons, looking for a job elsewhere. Last week, the Mets re-signed Ramon Castro to be their backup catcher again, though he could get more playing time now than he did behind Lo Duca.

The 31-year-old Estrada had arthroscopic surgery on his left knee Oct. 4 to repair a torn meniscus. He also had a bone spur removed from his right elbow. The operations were performed by Dr. James Andrews in Birmingham, Ala.

Estrada threw out only 11 of 84 basestealers (13 percent) in his lone season with the Brewers, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, and he also lacks discipline at the plate. He drew just 12 walks despite getting 442 at-bats, leaving him with a meager .296 on-base percentage.

Torrealba appeared set to become New York's No. 1 catcher when he and the Mets reached a preliminary agreement last week on a $14.4 million, three-year contract that was subject to a physical.

The Mets said Saturday they had ended negotiations with Torrealba, leading to speculation that a medical exam left them with concerns about his throwing shoulder. Torrealba, who helped Colorado reach the World Series this year, missed nearly three months in 2006 with a strained right shoulder.

"I'm just going to say that we couldn't get a deal done," Minaya said Monday.

An All-Star in 2004 with Atlanta, the slow-footed Estrada is a .280 career hitter with 42 homers and 281 RBIs in 589 games spanning seven major league seasons. He has spent his entire career in the National League, also playing for Philadelphia and Arizona.

Estrada made $3.4 million this year. Mota is guaranteed $3.2 million next season, then can become a free agent.

The Mets acquired the 6-foot-6 Mota in August 2006 after he struggled with Cleveland, but he pitched extremely well down the stretch to help New York wrap up an NL East title.

News of his positive test for a performance-enhancing substance surfaced after the season, and Mota said he felt terrible for making a mistake. Knowing he would be suspended for the first 50 games of 2007, the Mets re-signed Mota to a $5 million, two-year contract.

Mota is 28-29 with a 3.91 ERA and seven saves in nine major league seasons with Montreal, the Los Angeles Dodgers, Florida, Cleveland and the Mets. Since 2002, he ranks fourth among big league relievers with 444 1-3 innings pitched.

Former Twins star Hunter agrees to 5-year contract with Angels

ESPN.com news services
ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Outfielder Torii Hunter and the Los Angeles Angels reached a preliminary agreement Wednesday night on a five-year contract thought to be worth $90 million.

"They play the game the right way," Hunter said. "They play hard-nosed baseball."

The agreement is subject to a physical.

The 32-year-old becomes the much-needed hitter the Angels sought to protect Vladimir Guerrero in the batting order. Hunter hit .297 with 28 homers and 107 RBIs for the Minnesota Twins this year and is a seven-time Gold Glove winner.

He finished 15th in AL MVP balloting and was on the AL's All-Star team for the second time in his career.

"We are very excited to have Torii joining our organization," Angels general manager Tony Reagins said in a statement. "Not only is he an outstanding ballplayer but he's also an outstanding human being. He'll impact our ballclub and community in a very positive way."

According to the Los Angeles Times, the Los Angeles Dodgers, Texas Rangers, Chicago White Sox, Atlanta Braves, Kansas City Royals and Washington Nationals were among those interested in Hunter. The newspaper reports that Reagins, the Angels' rookie general manager, called Hunter's agent Larry Reynolds on Tuesday and a deal for Hunter came together quickly.

"You're a little surprised, huh?" Reynolds told the newspaper Wednesday night. "It all happened within the last 24 hours."

Said Reagins: "In the past, we said we're going to pursue every opportunity to make our club better. This was an opportunity. I had the support of some people around me, then I got aggressive."

Hunter will join a talented outfield that includes Gary Matthews Jr., Garret Anderson, Guerrero, Juan Rivera and Reggie Willits.

With Guerrero in right and Anderson in left, the move leaves no space in the starting outfield for Matthews Jr. The Angels said the center fielder, who signed a $50 million, five-year deal as a free agent last offseason, could see time at designated hitter and spell the corner outfielders.

Matthews was sent human growth hormone in 2004 from a pharmacy being investigated for illegal distribution of performance-enhancing drugs, The Times Union of Albany, N.Y., reported last winter. Matthews denied using HGH, which was not banned by baseball for players with major league contracts until 2005.

With Hunter gone, the low-budget Twins' attention turns to two-time Cy Young Award winner Johan Santana. His contract expires after the 2008 season, and other teams think Minnesota will make him available if he doesn't agree to an extension.

Hunter said he also had negotiated seriously with the Rangers, but he thought they were a year or two from contending. The White Sox and Royals also were interested.

Staying with the Twins wasn't a real option.

"Sometimes it's time to move on," Hunter said. "Sometimes your welcome is gone."

Hunter recalled when the Angels eliminated his Twins in the 2002 AL playoffs en route to the World Series title.

"I watched the Angels go to work on us. They play the game the right way," he said. "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em."

Hunter added: "Maybe I can do some damage and get about three rings out of this."

According to the Times, the Angels were also in trade talks with the Florida Marlins for Miguel Cabrera, but it wasn't known Wednesday night whether the Angels would still pursue Cabrera.

Reagins has made a splash on the job even before the agreement with Hunter. On Monday, the Angels traded Orlando Cabrera to the White Sox for pitcher Jon Garland.

For his career, Hunter is a .271 hitter with 192 homers and 711 RBIs in 1,234 games.

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