Is the Cy Young the pitcher whose team helped him to the most wins or the one who put his team in the best position to win?
Is the MVP the best player or the player with the best story?
Could these questions be any more loaded?
Well, no. So try to think of them as argument starters as the season enters its final month with few clear favorites for the postseason awards.
FRONT-RUNNER: Gary Sheffield. I'd actually written " Vlad Guerrero," and given a little time to think about it I might change my mind again. Guerrero's story was written in the offseason: Free-spending owner reels in big star to help Anaheim overtake the evil Moneyball empire in the West. That it's still possible is a credit to Guerrero, but is he the MVP? He's having pretty much the season he always does, but then, so is Sheffield, and their numbers don't point to a clear favorite. But Sheffield's going to get points for playing through excruciating pain and for virtually carrying a Yankee offense that has suffered some high-profile slumps.
IN THE HUNT: Manny Ramirez also is doing what he always does, and Boston's late surge could help his case. Hurting his case could be teammate David Ortiz, who isn't as good but has more RBIs, and awards voters, being somewhat behind the curve regarding modern statistical analysis, sure do love RBIs.
OVERLOOKED: Carlos Guillen. From out of nowhere, the first-year Tiger has been baseball's best shortstop. But he doesn't have a single eye-popping stat, and voters are going to be more impressed by Ichiro Suzuki's hits and average than Guillen's broader production.
AL ROOKIE OF THE YEAR
FRONT-RUNNER: Bobby Crosby, without a doubt. The A's shortstop has shown good pop, some patience and a solid glove at a key position.
IN THE HUNT: Hardly anyone; it's an uninspiring group. White Sox closer Shingo Takatsu will get some votes. Some are hyping Twins outfielder Lew Ford, but he's not a rookie; he spent too many days on a big-league roster before last Sept. 1.
AL CY YOUNG
FRONT-RUNNER: Mark Mulder ... maybe. Conventional wisdom has it that the wins leader gets an edge, and though voters have diverged from that several times (usually to pick the right guy), it's unusual for a pitcher to wind up with anything like 23-24 wins and fall short. That's where Mulder seems to be headed.
IN THE HUNT: On the other hand, it would be nearly unprecedented for a pitcher with anything like a 3.72 ERA to win the Cy, which is why the more deserving Johan Santana still has a shot. The Twins left-hander leads the league in strikeouts and batting average allowed and is second in ERA, and it'd take some kind of mulishness to believe a few wins could outweigh that. Yankees closer Mariano Rivera is on track for more than 50 saves and a career-best ERA, and he might appeal to voters turned off by Santana's win total and Mulder's underwhelming peripherals.
FRONT-RUNNER: Barry Bonds, until he decides he isn't. I'm giving the voters a month to come to their senses here. If Bonds keeps up his production and fails to win, it can only mean they're tired of voting for him, and at last look there were no term limits on being the best player in baseball.
IN THE HUNT: In a Bondsless universe, the Cardinals' Albert Pujols and Scott Rolen and the Dodgers' Adrian Beltre would be excellent candidates. Beltre probably has the best chance to unseat Bonds; his emergence is one of baseball's best stories, and the gap between him and the next-best Dodger is almost Bondsian.
OVERLOOKED: Mark Loretta. As with Guillen, the Padres second baseman has been a broad-based performer who's getting no favors from his home park. But voters who overvalue RBIs and undervalue doubles, runs, on-base percentage and defense aren't likely to notice him.
NL CY YOUNG
FRONT-RUNNER: Jason Schmidt, an easy pick though not necessarily a no-brainer. The Giants right-hander is tied for second in the NL in ERA and tied for first in wins, and that combo's hard to beat.
IN THE HUNT: Houston's Roger Clemens and Florida's Carl Pavano have solid records and ERAs, and Armando Benitez has been a monster out of the Marlins bullpen, but this is Schmidt's to lose.
OVERLOOKED: Arizona's Randy Johnson may still be the NL's best pitcher. He has the same ERA as Schmidt despite a much tougher home park, his strikeout-to-walk ratio is almost twice as good and he has pitched more innings. His .500 record is entirely the product of miserable run support: He has received two runs or fewer 13 times in 28 starts.
NL ROOKIE OF THE YEAR
FRONT-RUNNER: Khalil Greene isn't lapping the field, but he has hit well enough despite cavernous Petco Park and has played well enough at short to provide hope he might stick there.
IN THE HUNT: Per at-bat, the league's top rookie is probably Pirates outfielder Jason Bay, but he has only 291 of them. The Padres' Akinori Otsuka has been one of the best setup men in the league, but pitchers who don't get wins or saves don't get votes. By far the most promising and exciting rookie, Mets third baseman David Wright, hasn't played enough to be seriously considered.