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Huff the easy MVP pick

MARC TOPKIN
Published September 28, 2003

The debate over the annual league MVP awards could be settled by a good English teacher, because it often comes down to the definition of the phrase Most Valuable Player.

Some voters consider the player who has the Most outstanding performance. Others (including this one) put more weight on the Valuable part, considering how vital the player is to his team and what his team accomplished. The defining question becomes: Where would that team be without that player?

With the Devil Rays, no matter how you look at it, there is really no debate or question: Aubrey Huff is their MVP.

Sure, Lance Carter had a hand in 32 of the 62 wins, but his fingerprints were on too many losses. Victor Zambrano had 10 of the starters' 35 wins but was way too inconsistent. Rocco Baldelli and Carl Crawford both impact a lineup, but neither yet produces enough runs.

Huff has had the best all-around season of any Devil Ray in history, taking or threatening a handful of team records while piling up dazzling numbers: .310, 34 homers, 106 RBIs, 90 runs, 46 doubles, 348 total bases. He personally accounted for 22.9 percent of their runs. For those who snicker and say that's a relative achievement, look around the leagues; you won't find but a handful of players who've done better.

Not bad for a 26-year-old, in his first full major-league season, playing a new position, with little support behind him in the lineup.

By any definition, most valuable.

TOP ROOKIE: Baldelli is the best of an impressive Tampa Bay crop. He may not have the polish of, say, someone who played 10 years in Japan, but his combination of hitting, speed, defense and baseball acumen make it very clear - trophy or not - that he is, and will be, a special player.

MOST PLEASANT SURPRISE: Carter's ability to handle the vacant closer's role was one of the most important, and least written-about, developments. As manager Lou Piniella said, "How many rookies do you see step into the closer's role and save 25 games? If Lance hadn't pitched the way he pitched, I don't know where those 60-something wins would come from."

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT: Besides Greg Vaughn (who was done), Seth McClung and Rey Ordonez (who were hurt) and Ben Grieve (who was both), it would have to be Joe Kennedy. From one of the promising young left-handed starters in the game to middle reliever in six months.

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