MLB midseason awards: Biggest surprises and disappointments of 2024

PHOENIX — It’s been a first half where two teams getting their last rites suddenly kicked the priests out of the room and are running down the halls ready to party into October.

Yes, we’re talking about you, New York Mets and St. Louis Cardinals.

It’s been a first half where the teams that absolutely stunk a year ago suddenly have become serious playoff contenders.

Take a bow, Kansas City Royals and Cleveland Guardians.

It’s been a first half where Shohei Ohtani is letting us know that he’s the greatest player in history with one healthy elbow; Aaron Judge could be our modern-day Babe Ruth; rookie Paul Skenes could be the most electrifying starter since Pedro Martinez; and A’s rookie reliever Mason Miller is making radar-gun readings look obsolete.

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It’s been a first half where kiddie shortstops Gunnar Henderson, Bobby Witt Jr., Masyn Winn and CJ Abrams have become the new generation of Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez and Nomar Garciaparra and where 35-year-old veteran Chris Sale has turned back time.

Now, with the July 4th holiday at the end of the week, the All-Star break two weeks away, and the trade deadline four weeks away, buckle up, grab a cold one, and take a look at our first-half awards winners.

AL’s biggest surprise: Cleveland Guardians

I picked these guys to win the World Series a year ago and they fell flat on their face.

Future Hall of Fame manager Terry Francona retired after the season. The Guardians didn’t spend any money over the winter. They lost ace Shane Bieber after two starts.

And they have the best record in the American League.

Go figure.

NL’s biggest surprise: Milwaukee Brewers

Let’s see, they traded their Cy Young award winner. They’re without their No. 2 starter, Brandon Woodruff. They lost veteran Wade Miley. They’ve been without All-Star closer Devin Williams.

They’ve had to resort to using a franchise-record 14 different starters.

And, yes, their manager had defected to the rival Chicago Cubs.


They have a 6½-game lead over the St. Louis Cardinals in the NL Central and a whopping 11 ½-game advantage over the Cubs.

AL’s biggest disappointment: Toronto Blue Jays

Remember when they were supposed to be the class of the AL East, and the envy of baseball with all of their fabulous young talent, and be a serious threat to return to their golden age of 1992-1993 when they won back-to-back World Series titles.

Well, they’ve won the AL East once since 1993, haven’t won a postseason game since 2016, and have Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette under team control for only 1 ½ more years.

They are the American League’s most underachieving team.

It will be intriguing to see who pays the price.

NL’s biggest disappointment: Chicago Cubs

They sure don’t have David Ross to blame anymore, do they?

Ross is sitting home this summer, collecting his paycheck, and watching his resume look a whole lot better with the Cubs falling off a cliff.

The Cubs spent money, have gotten tremendous value out of rookie sensation Shota Imanaga, and somehow find themselves in last place.

The only category this team leads is having players thrown out stealing: 35 and counting.

AL MVP: Aaron Judge, Yankees

The Yankees have spent an awful lot of money on free agents over the years, but they may never have made a better investment.

Judge, who’s in contention to win the Triple Crown with 30 homers (first) and 79 RBI (first) while batting .312 (second), is also leading the American League in walks. Having accomplished the feat in 2022, Judge would join Babe Ruth and Ted Williams as the only players to twice lead the league in RBI and walks in the same season.

He’ll have a spot in Monument Park awaiting him.

NL MVP: Bryce Harper, Phillies

He doesn’t lead the league in any offensive categories, but everywhere you look, he’s ranks in the top five, including batting average (.303), homers (20), RBI (58), on-base percentage (.399), slugging percentage (.582,) and OPS (.981).

Oh, and he’s playing a stellar first base.

He means absolutely everything to this franchise, and may mean more to his team than any single player in the game.

AL Cy Young: Tarik Skubal, Tigers

Kingman, Ariz., used to be best-known as a gas-stop on the way to party in Las Vegas.

Now it may forever be known as the home of Tarik Skubal, on the road to the Cy Young award with his 9-3 record and 2.32 ERA.

NL Cy Young: Ranger Suarez, Phillies

Suarez, who has never won more than 10 games in his career, is 10-2 with a league-leading 1.83 ERA.

You know your team is pretty darn good when Suarez’s closest competition for the Cy Young may be his own teammates in Zack Wheeler and Aaron Nola.

AL Rookie of the Year: Luis Gil, Yankees

Gil was running away with the award until his last two clunkers.

He’s still in the lead, but this race is wide open.

NL Rookie of the Year: Paul Skenes, Pirates

He just got to the Show, but the way he’s pitching, he is the show.

He’s also the only major league player since the days of Ted Williams and Bob Feller who has openly said that he wants to serve his country in the military once his playing career is over.

AL Manager of the Year: Stephen Vogt, Guardians

Come on, someone has got to tell this dude it’s not this easy.

Just two years after retiring, hitting a home run in his final at-bat, he’s the runaway leader to win the award in his rookie season.

NL Manager of the Year: Pat Murphy, Brewers

His claim to fame entering the year was being Craig Counsell’s collegiate coach at Notre Dame, Dustin Pedroia’s coach at Arizona State, and Counsell’s sargeant-at-arms with the Brewers.

Now that he’s the man in charge, they may be building a statue of him outside of Miller Park if they continue to run away with the division.

Won’t Be Opting Out award

Blake Snell (Giants) and Jordan Montgomery (Diamondbacks)

Remember when they signed their contracts in the waning days of spring training, told the world there was no need for spring training, and they’d be just fine when the season started?

Well, the Giants and the D-backs sure wish they had their own opt-outs, because they’d be exercising them as soon as someone gave them a pen.

Montgomery is 6-5 with a 6.03 ERA, has a negative 1.3 WAR, and twice has been heavily booed off the field at Chase Field. He is earning $25 million this year, and already has vested a player option for $20 million in 2025 year with a chance to make it $25 million if he makes 25 starts.

While Montgomery has been a mess, at least he’s pitching.

Snell, who is receiving $32 million in salary and a signing bonus this year, has a $30 million player option for 2025. He has made only six starts, going 0-3 with a 9.51 ERA over 23⅔ innings, without pitching five innings in a start, and a negative 1.1 WAR.

Needless to say, both will probably be staying put.

AL’s best trade: Orioles

The Orioles, who decided to stay away from the free-agent market, determined that no one would be better than Milwaukee Brewers Cy Young winner Corbin Burnes.

They struck gold.

Burnes has been everything they hoped, and more, posting every fifth day with a 2.28 ERA while pitching 106 ⅔ innings, second-most in baseball. He has gone at least five innings in all but one start, and will be their No. 1 starter in October

Best non-trade: Guardians

The Guardians told the world all winter that beleaguered closer Emmanuel Clase was available, wondering if his 2023 struggles (12 blown saves, 3-9, 3.22 ERA) were a sign the best was behind him.

Well, no one met their asking price, and there’s not a finer closer in the game this year.

Clase has 25 saves for one of the best teams in baseball, going 3-1 with a 0.70 ERA.

Best free agent signing: Jurickson Profar, Padres

He signed a one-year, $1 million contract on the eve of spring training with just $1.5 million in incentives.

Four months later, he’s the best outfielder in the National League and the MVP of the Padres, hitting .316 with 11 homers, 55 RBI and an .894 OPS.

Worst free agent signing: Blake Snell, Giants

Farhan Zaidi, president of baseball operations for the Giants, should have listened to himself when he declared in March that his team was set and would not be in the market for any more marquee free agents.

Three weeks later, they signed Snell to a two-year, $62 million contract, which has been nothing short of disastrous.

Snell has already given up more earned runs (25) in six starts with the Giants than he did in is his final 23 starts (18 earned runs) for the Padres last season.

Comeback Player of the Year: Marcell Ozuna, Atlanta

It was 13 months ago when Atlanta’s fans were pleading for Ozuna to be released, hitting .085 with two RBI. He was kept around only because he was in the third year of a four-year, $65 million contract.

Well, since May 1, 2023, no one has driven in more runs (165), and only Shohei Ohtani and Aaron Judge have hit more than his 59 homers or produced a higher slugging percentage.

His $16 million club option in 2025 now looks like a bargain.

Comeback manager of the year: Oli Marmol, Cardinals

The Cardinals were a mess in mid-May, sitting in last place with a 15-24 record, losing seven consecutive games, with the Cardinals’ fanbase calling for Marmol to be fired.

Well, look who weathered the storm, refused to give in, and has led the Cardinals to a 27-15 record, best in the Nationals League since May 12.

If the season ended today, they would be back in the playoffs.

Rebuild of the year: Mike Rizzo, Nationals

There’s no one in the business who does a more magnificent job rebuilding franchises than Rizzo. He turned a Nationals franchise that lost more than 100 games two consecutive years and turned it into a playoff team in two years, reaching the postseason five times in eight years, winning the 2019 World Series championship.

He tore it down, traded Juan Soto to San Diego for five prospects, lost 295 games the last three years, and here they are, knocking on the door of a playoff berth, with the best prospect in that deal, outfielder James Wood, scheduled to make his major-league debut Monday.

They should return to being a perennial contender in 2025.

Around the basepaths

– The Chicago White Sox quietly engaged in brief contract extension talks with ace Garrett Crochet, but with no optimism towards reaching an agreement, the White Sox intend to trade him by the July 30 trade deadline.

The White Sox have had 15 teams calling to express interest in Crochet, who is making just $800,000 and is under team control through 2026. The X-factor for suitors will be determining just how much Crochet can help them in the pennant stretch and October.

He has already pitched 94 ⅓ innings as a first-year starter, 21 more than his entire career total entering the season, and the White Sox and Crochet already have a firm plan in place to greatly limit his workload in the second half.

It’s quite possible that a team acquiring Crochet may have to offer a contract extension for him to lift those innings restrictions in the second half because of the potential of an injury risk.

– The Los Angeles Dodgers have already made an offer to the White Sox for Crochet, but it was quickly rejected. The White Sox have informed teams they are seeking young prospects with enormous upside.

– Rival teams who have expressed interest in New York Mets first baseman Pete Alonso are convinced Alonso will definitely stay put as long as the Mets are within five games of the wild-card race.

– The Blue Jays, whose season is already on the brink, plan to place starter Yusei Kikuchi, catcher Danny Jansen, reliever Yimi Garcia, DH Justin Turner and outfielder Kevin Kiermaier on the trade block. Yet, they still want to make one last run with Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette. They should be staying until at least this winter, if not next summer.

– The White Sox have had several teams also contact them about center fielder Luis Robert Jr., but with his struggles, they are considering hanging onto him into at least the winter since he’s under control through 2027.

– The Dodgers have to be thankful they didn’t deal rookie starter Gavin Stone this past winter when his name came up with several teams in trade talks.

Stone threw the first complete game shutout by a Dodgers pitcher since 2022, and the first on the road since Hideo Nomo’s no-hitter in Colorado in 1995. Stone, 9-2, 2.73, has emerged as a legitimate front-line starter.

– The best reliever on the trade market will be Tanner Scott of the Marlins, with Mason Miller of the A’s expected to stay put.

– The White Sox are openly shopping outfielder Andrew Benintendi, and would love to get out of his contract. He’s still owed nearly $50 million from 2025-2027.

– It has been a hearbreaking 10 days for the San Francisco Giants who lost Hall of Famers Willie Mays and then Orlando Cepeda on Friday night.

“Another gut punch,’’ Giants manager Bob Melvin told reporters. “Another just incredible personality who’s just beloved here, his statue out front, the numbers he put up. There are a lot of legends here, and he’s certainly right in the middle of that, and to have it so close in proximity to Willie, it’s just staggering.’’

– While Mets closer Edwin Diaz was the latest to be caught using an illegal foreign substance. Team executives and scouts say it’s a widespread problem with pitchers finding ways to greatly enhance their spin rate without being caught.

“The key is trying to see how they’re doing it,’ one veteran executive said. “If umpires started checking infielders’ gloves, I think they’d find the answer.’

– Teams have begun sending their top scouts to watch the Oakland A’s because of their surplus of relievers and outfielders available at the trade deadline, featuring outfielders Brent Rooker and Miguel Andujar, along with relievers Austin Adams, Scott Alexander, Lucas Erceg and T.J. McFarland.

– While Mets first baseman Pete Alonso may be a prized commodity on the free agent market, and will be seeking at least $200 million, several teams may prefer signing Arizona’s Christian Walker, who will also hit the market at a cheaper cost.

Walker, a two-time Gold Glove winner, has averaged 35 homers and 98 RBI the past two seasons, and is on pace for 34 homers and 102 RBI this season.

The D-backs would love to keep him.

– You can be sure that ESPN and baseball officials will be heavily lobbying Shohei Ohtani to participate in the Home Run Derby these next two weeks with Aaron Judge bowing out.

Ohtani’s presence would be a massive ratings difference maker.

“For the game, I think it’s great, for the workload part of it, I’d probably not want him to do it,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts told reporters. “No one can argue that a manager wouldn’t want their player to swing as hard as he can for essentially 45 minutes when [he] is supposed to be on a break, right? But the other side is, obviously, he’s the biggest star in the game, and it makes it more attractive. So, I think whatever he decides, I’ll support it.”

– Major League Baseball plans to return to historic Rickwood Field in the future, and could play the East-West Classic in Birmingham as well as Hinchcliffe Stadium in Paterson, N.J., in upcoming years.

– It’s hard to believe that second baseman Marcus Semien may be the only player from the reigning World Series champion Texas Rangers to be in the All-Star Game, playing for his own manager and coaching staff at his home ballpark.

A year ago, the Rangers had five starters in the game.

– MLB will make sure that Pirates rookie sensation Paul Skenes will be in the All-Star Game.

– Seattle Mariners All-Star outfielder Julio Rodriguez opened his career hitting .279 with 60 home runs and a .834 OPS his first two seasons.

This year? The Mariners are scratching their head watching him hit .251 with no power, producing just seven homers, six doubles and a .635 OPS.

– The Diamondbacks were fourth in the major leagues with 43 comeback victories a year ago, winning 20 games after being behind by two or more runs.

This year, they have only 12 comeback victories, second-lowest in MLB, while winning just one game when down by two or more runs.

– Do you realize that Guardians outfielder Steven Kwan is hitting .310 with two strikes?

– Now that Mookie Betts is sidelined and Trea Turner just returned from the injured list, Reds shortstop Elly De La Cruz deserves to be in the All-Star Game, where he just may steal the show.

– Remember when the Detroit Tigers opened the season by winning their first five games and had folks believing this could be the year they return to the playoffs?


They since have gone 32-45 and once again will be sellers at the deadline, shopping Jack Flaherty, who signed a one-year, $14 million contract.

– The Houston Astros aren’t dead yet. They are 28-17 since May 9, with an American League-leading 3.26 ERA, despite starters Cristian Javier, Jose Urquidy and J.P. France done for the season and Justin Verlander on the injured list.

– Orioles shortstop sensation Gunnar Henderson, who nearly has twice as many homers as any shortstop in baseball with 26, is on pace to join Alex Rodriguez as the only shortstops in history with 50 homers in a season.

– Just in case you still don’t believe in the Mets, who won 16 of their last 20 games, you may want to know that they also happen to have the third-easiest schedule in the NL the rest of the season, according to tankathon.com.

– The Yankees’ starting rotation was the best in the game through June 14 with a 2.77 ERA.

Well, in their 13 games since June 14, their starters have been bludgeoned, yielding an 8.31 ERA.

– Here’s hoping that Bryce Harper can return in time for the All-Star Game. Harper has made seven All-Star teams, but never has played in the game as a member of the Phillies.

– Ever so quietly, Cardinals closer Ryan Helsley has converted 29 consecutive saves, the longest streak in franchise history.

– While umpires lost the fight to prohibit players from having a strike-zone box on their iPads during games this season after a union grievance, players’ fines will substantially increase if they “embarrass, denigrate or question the impartiality or ability of an umpire.’’ Players can now be fined between $2,500 to $7,500 for first-time violations.

– As bad as the White Sox are now, just think how ugly it’s going to get when they start trading away their best players.

The 1962 Mets, who went 40-120-1, may soon become only the second-worst team in MLB history.

– Considering how many balls get fouled off into the dugouts, nearly striking Shohei Ohtani in the head last week if not for the quick hands of batboy Javier Herrera, it’s absurd that MLB has not mandated ballparks to have protective netting in front of dugouts for player safety.

– Beloved former Phillies manager Charlie Manuel, who suffered from a stroke last year that left him partially paralyzed, presented the Philadelphia Public League with a donation from Perfect Game of more than 30,000 pieces of sports apparel. It’s the largest donation ever presented to Philadelphia public school athletic departments.

– It will be a heartwarming moment in Boston on Sunday with Padres knuckleballer Matt Waldron taking the mound at Fenway Park. Waldron, who grew up a Red Sox fan, and mastered his knuckleball thanks to the help of the late, great Tim Wakefield.

Wakefield, a knuckleball pitcher, spent two hours on a zoom call with Waldron three years ago and provided constant feedback from his minor-league outings.

Wakefield died of brain cancer at the age 57 last October.

“I think it’d be cool to toe that rubber, knowing that Wakefield has been there too,’’ Waldron told The Athletic. “I think it’ll be a surreal moment.”

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