National League midseason awards - NBC Right Now/KNDO/KNDU Tri-Cities, Yakima, WA |

By Tony Massarotti

National League midseason awards

As colleague Evan Grant pointed out, every expert and his sister will have the conventional award winners as baseball cruises into the All-Star break this week. But where else can you get an honest assessment on some of the less publicized players as the 2007 baseball season reaches intermission?

Here is one man's opinion on the first half of the '07 campaign:

MOP (Most Overrated Player): Alfonso Soriano
Time for everyone to fess up: Soriano means more to the fantasy geeks than he does to any real team. Sure, the final numbers always look good, but there are things nobody notices. For example: Of his 15 home runs this year, 14 have been solo shots; meanwhile, with men on base, he's hitting .240 and slugging .330. That might seem like an aberration were it not for last year, when he hit 46 homers and somehow managed to knock in only 95 runs because 30 of them were solo shots.

And, again, he failed in key situations, batting just .231 with runners in scoring position. It seems he can get a hit in any situation except for when his team truly needs one.

Look, he's a good player.

Just not a great one.

MUG (Most Underrated Guy): Eric Byrnes, Arizona.
OK, we admit it: We thought his 2006 season was fluke. But we're now more than halfway through the schedule and Byrnes is on pace for roughly a 30-30 season in an Arizona lineup that's weaker than a watered-down Shirley Temple. He hits for power, he runs and he hits with men on base and in scoring position.

Last season, Byrnes was one of just seven major leaguers with at least 20 home runs and 20 steals, but he didn't receive nearly the hype of the others, a group that includes Soriano, David Wright, Jimmy Rollins, Johnny Damon and Grady Sizemore, among others.

No respect.

I'd Pay To See: Jose Reyes.
Who wouldn't?

A year ago, Reyes was just one of four major leaguers with double figures in doubles, triples, home runs and stolen bases, joining Carl Crawford, Grady Sizemore and Hanley Ramirez. This year, while his home run total is down, Reyes is on pace for roughly 80 steals and is walking more, making him perhaps the best leadoff hitter in the game.

Our suggested title for him: The Most Dynamic Player In Baseball.

After all, when you get right down to it, he can hit for average and power, run, field and throw.

And in those last two areas, he's just as good as in the first three.

ODI (Outstanding Defensive Individual): A. Jones.
We all know the facts: Since becoming a regular big league center fielder in 1998, Jones has won nine straight Gold Gloves. As a center fielder, he has not played a season without winning one. This season, his defense has remained nearly flawless while his batting average has slipped below .200 -- in a free agent year, no less -- which means that dollars literally may be going down the drain.

A lesser professional -- and lesser defensive player -- might have let his offensive difficulties affect his defense under the circumstances.

Not Andruw.

Best Setup Man: Ryan Franklin.
Here's the amazing thing: During the three-year span from 2003-05, Ryan Franklin lost more games than any major league pitcher but Mike Maroth, Jeremy Bonderman and Brian Lawrence. (But he really wasn't that bad. So now Franklin is a set-up man with the sub-mediocre St. Louis Cardinals, and few have recognized that he is having as good a year (actually, better) than any non-closing reliever in the National League.

You want the numbers? In 37 appearances covering 42 innings this season, Franklin is 3-0 with a 1.29 ERA, 13 holds, 16 strikeouts and three walks. That's right: Three walks.

Think a contender might take a chance on this guy at the trading deadline?

Best Role Player: Mark DeRosa, Chicago Cubs.
First, we admit that term "role player" is somewhat vague, but it is not to be confused with ``utility man.'' What we're looking for here is someone who can fill a variety of needs and never really skip a beat, which is precisely what DeRosa has done for the Cubs. Acquired by the Cubs largely to play second base, DeRosa has played five positions on the diamond while batting .287 and posting an OPS of .820.

When a manager has a player like that, he has countless options at his disposal to deal with injuries and slumps. A player like DeRosa allows the skipper to always pick the best one.

Best Moment: Craig Biggio's 3000th hit.
In this era, especially, most every accomplishment is tainted, particularly with regard to home runs. The truth is that we don't know anything about any player anymore, but here's the great thing about Biggio: win or lose, he has always played his tail off and carried himself with the utmost professionalism. This guy looks like an old school Hall of Famer, the kind of man who had to grind his way there.

And it looks like he now has.

A close second: Trevor Hoffman's 500th save. Generally, we believe the save to be the most worthless statistic of all-time. Still, Hoffman has a better career save percentage during the regular season than Mariano Rivera.

Best Offseason Acquisition: Rafael Soriano, Atlanta Braves.
In some ways, of course, he wins this award by default. While big-money acquisitions like Jason Schmidt and Barry Zito have looked like busts, Soriano has been a key member of the Atlanta bullpen, even closing when Bob Wickman went down with injury. When you factor in the injury to Mike Gonzalez, too, Soriano has been a savior for an Atlanta bullpen that has made a huge improvement over last season.

Where would the Braves be without him?

Honorable mention: Dmitri Young, Washington Nationals. Nice story. But Soriano has done it for a team in playoff contention.

Worst Offseason Acquisition: Jason Schmidt.
Before we get any further, let's get this out there: Barry Zito is a close second. And while Zito is signed for seven years, the Los Angeles Dodgers made a three-year, $47 investment in Schmidt that already is starting to look like the Carl Pavano signing. Zito has plenty of time to turn it around, after all, and he is still young. Schmidt, meanwhile, already is done for the season (one win) and will be 35 by next Opening Day, and he has had a recent history of injuries.

Think the Dodgers would go back on this deal if they could?

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