The true MVP
Manny Machado should've joined Ken Caminiti as the only Padres players to win the National League Most Valuable Player award.
A top-flight, Gold Glove-caliber third baseman who battled through injuries to carry the Padres — single-handedly, at times — into the playoffs.
Ken Caminiti won the MVP on those credentials in 1996.
Manny Machado fell just short this season, finishing in second place behind Paul Goldschmidt, 380-291. The vote results were announced Thursday. Goldschmidt had 22 first-place votes, to Machado's seven.
Machado was just as deserving of the award as Caminiti was. But the award represents something different now than it did when Caminiti won.
My book Playing Through the Pain: Ken Caminiti and the Steroids Confession That Changed Baseball Forever is a finalist for the CASEY Award as one of the year’s best baseball books.
Machado batted .298 on the season, with 32 home runs and 102 RBI. Fellow finalists Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado both had slightly higher WAR than Machado, as did Marlins pitcher Sandy Alcantara, but Machado had the more palpable impact on his team. Without Machado, where would San Diego have finished the season? It certainly wouldn't have been in the postseason, let alone the NLCS.
At the time Caminiti won, the MVP award was more focused on the player who meant more to his team's success. It has since become more stats-centered to honor the best and not necessarily the player whose team would've been lost without them.
Caminiti, who endured a torn rotator cuff to bat .330 with 40 home runs and 130 RBI, won the award unanimously after leading the Padres to the playoffs for the first time in 12 seasons. He had such a great story that year. Like the time in Mexico when he got food poisoning, got two liters of IV fluid, scarfed down a Snickers, then went out and hit two home runs.
Machado endured a badly sprained ankle and other bumps and bruises throughout the year. His leadership helped the Padres to maintain calm, even in the face of teammate Fernando Tatis Jr.'s lost season and other swirling uncertainty.
The NLCS appearance was the team's first in 24 years. And along the way, Machado broke Caminiti's franchise mark for playoff home runs.
During the season, I noted how Machado was closing in on eclipsing Caminiti as the best third baseman in the team's history.
"He has to earn some hardware first. Like an MVP award. Or a ring," I wrote.
Machado's pursuit of both continues. He's deserving of the first. If he keeps playing like he has, the second is only a matter of time.