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If you're not familiar with the ongoing discussion about the "first annual" award to be presented by Da Box, the Joaquin Andujar YouNeverKnow Award competition was announced here on Groundhog Day.

The purpose of the award is to recognize, within certain defined parameters, the best offseason free agent acquisition, where "best" also means "most surprising."

The leader heading into the final 18 holes of play this season? No surprise -- it's former Jay Esteban Loaiza. But the field is still wide open as we head down the homestretch. (That's both a golf and a horseracing metaphor so far ... can anyone work in some sort of bowling or billiards terminology?)

Let's review.

First, eligibility ... we tweaked the rules somewhat as we worked through the initial phases, but in a nutshell:

To win an Andujar, a player must have signed as a free agent -- either a major or minor league contract is acceptable -- with a new team in the previous off-season. Players acquired via trade are not eligible. A player shall not be eligible for an Andujar if he (A) has ever been named to a major league All-Star Game roster; or (B) has never appeared in a major league game prior to his free agent signing.

We took nominations on Da Box for a full month; more than 40 players were mentioned, though on closer examination, several were disqualified. Those removed under exception (A) above included Rockies/Cubs/Pirates SS Jose Hernandez, Atlanta 1B Robert Fick and Pittsburgh SP Rolando Arrojo. Those removed under exception (B) were Oakland/Kansas City/Texas OF Rontrez Johnson, Toronto RP Aquilino Lopez and Baltimore RP Mike Garcia. Upon further review, none of those players -- though Fick is having a fine year (.847 OPS, 54 RBI) -- were in any danger of winning the inaugural Andujar.

A look back at the Top 10 Pre-Season Nominees, with their point totals in parentheses:
1. John Halama (19), SP/RP Oakland
2. Frank Catalanotto (12), OF/DH/2B Toronto
3T. Greg Colbrunn (10), DH-type Seattle
3T. David Ortiz (10), 1B/DH Boston
3T. Todd Ritchie (10), SP Milwaukee
3T. Jeff Suppan (10), SP Pittsburgh
7T. Tyler Houston (7), Util. Philadelphia
7T. Shane Spencer (7), OF Cleveland
7T. John Thomson (7), SP Texas
10. Desi Relaford (6), Util. Kansas City
OTHERS RECEIVING VOTES: Chad Fox (5); John VanderWal (3); Brian Daubach (2); Dave Burba (1).

As you can see, the 10 nominees play (actually, played) for 10 different teams and included six hitters and four pitchers. Eight different players received first-place votes, but nobody received more than one first-place vote. In the interest of full disclosure, my personal ballot read: (1) Spencer; (2) Houston; (3) Halama; (4) Daubach and (5) Ritchie. Ouch.

Of the 14 players who received votes, two (Spencer and Burba) have already changed teams -- which by strict interpretation of the rules makes them ineligible -- while one (Ritchie) is out for the season. Others (Houston, Colbrunn, Fox) have had significant injury setbacks as well.

Just for the record, a number of additional players who might spring to mind are not eligible for a variety of reasons. For instance, Kenny Rogers and Shane Reynolds have both made All-Star teams; Rod Beck and Jose Lima to name two prominent examples, were signed as free agents by San Diego and Kansas City after the season started and so do not fit the "off-season" requirement.

That means Chuck Finley could sign with Boston tomorrow, go all Doyle Alexander '87 on the league, and he would not be eligible for the Andujar. And yes, Rickey, this means Rickey can't win the Andujar.

Finally, this was never stated during the pre-season nominations, but players from foreign professional leagues will never be considered eligible. This may be unfair to the occasional Jae Seo of this world, but the Hideki Matsui situations really call for preventatives.

Esteban Loiaza, SP, Chicago White Sox

Let's revisit a throwaway phrase from the pre-season finalists announcement: "Any player on the current ballot who actually makes an All-Star roster will receive an automatic bye onto the post-season ballot." Consider it done. The man started the All-Star Game. Anyone have money on that in Vegas in March? If so, why are you here instead of on the beach on your personal island?

Desi Relaford, IF/OF, Kansas City Royals

Make that Desi Relaford of your first-place Kansas City Royals. The Desi Relaford who Rob Neyer recently credited with much of KC's success this season. The .254 career hitter batting .284 with 41 RBI and 15 steals -- and playing enough positions to shame Tony Phillips. Quick kudo to Craig B., who warned us all in the pre-season discussion, "Desi Relaford, believe it or not, can hit. He's moving to a real good hitters' park in Kansas City, and a wide-open shortstop job, with the third base job waiting should the Royals finally manage to trade Joe Randa." Craig should have stopped there, though, as he continued "Another Royal worth taking a look at is Albie Lopez ... "

Frank Catalanotto, OF, Toronto Blue Jays

Sure, there's been a bit of a slide recently, but Coach's personal pre-season favorite is hovering near a .300 average and has been quite a deal for the Jays. The speedy Cat is even battling for the club lead in stolen bases with one steal in three tries. However, if recent speculation about the Bobby Kielty acquisition leading to a Catalanotto trade bears out, of course the Little Cat will suffer Shane Spencer Disqualification.

Jose Cruz, Jr., OF, San Francisco Giants

Okay, he didn't keep up the All-Star pace of the season's first three weeks, but 16 homers and an OPS of .845 has been plenty to replace Reggie Sanders at a discount price. Cruz probably doesn't really fit the "biggest surprise" criterion, however.

Darren Oliver, SP, Colorado Rockies

Okay, the ERA is still pretty ugly (4.95), but we've come to expect that from Oliver (career 5.02) whose name is an acronym for "I Love Earn'd RR" ("I love earned runs"). So, you put this guy in Coors Field, toss him out there every fifth day, and he settles into the #3 starter role behind Shawn Chacon and Jason Jennings. Yeah, we all saw that coming.

John Halama has not earned the pre-season props paid his way, and with Rich Harden in Oakland, that's not likely to change ... Jeff Suppan and John Thomson have both been hot and cold and both will probably be traded ... Tyler Houston is healthy and David Bell isn't, so something could happen there ... Tom Gordon has stepped into the "co-closer" role along with Damaso Marte for the White Sox and could rack up some numbers as the Pale Hose hurtle out of the race ... Danny Kolb looks like he will get a chance to close for Milwaukee, as former Ranger GM Doug Melvin continues to collect Texas-Exes like Scott Podsednik (.314 BA, .812 OPS, 20 SB) ...

Aaron Fultz has had a nice year in Texas, but Ranger pitchers don't win awards ... Casey Blake has shown some promise on the Jacobs Field hot corner, but not enough to make Relaford sweat ... Chris Hammond hasn't been great in the Bronx, and will have fewer chances to redeem his contract with the Yankees' acquisition of Jesse Orosco today; the Elderly One is Spencerized as the only Padre candidate ... Pre-season darkhorse mention Warren Morris is getting regular at-bats for the Tigers. Is that a good thing? ... What ever happened to "20-Game Winner" Rick Helling, anyway?

Boston. Yeah, the Whole Franchise.

The Red Sox look to be bucking for the unofficial title of Overall Andujar Haven. No less than five Sox received pre-season mention as YouNeverKnow candidates, although one (Dave Nilsson) never made it out of Spring Training and is now back in Australia. The other four included Chad Fox and Ryan Rupe, who have not helped the Sox in their struggle to develop a bullpen this season, and good-bat-weak-glove corner guys Jeremy Giambi and David Ortiz.

But fear not, Sox fans; four more Andujar-eligibles have surfaced in Beantown during 2003, including former Blue Jay Brandon Lyon, who had the potential look of an early favorite as he briefly grabbed the Red Sox "closer by committee chairman" role. Lyon's move to Pittsburgh today, though, Spencerizes him from the competition.

Ramiro Mendoza, originally slotted for that committee of closers as well, has stepped up into a starting role since returning from injury and flashed signs of the brilliance that led him to occasionally complain that he, not some scrub like Andy Pettitte, should be in the Yankee rotation. And of course, Bill Mueller and Kevin Millar have been solid additions to the Boston roster as they compete with -- and generally best -- Giambi and Ortiz in the battle for at-bats.

A quick note on Millar, who had not yet signed a major league contract during the pre-season nomination time period, but who did beat the Opening Day "off-season" deadline for eligibility; Da Box did at least presciently predict, in running down the list of possible additional candidates, "Kevin Millar is in Japan somewhere, trying to buy a plane ticket to Logan International Airport in Boston." Nice chi, Kev.

One Boxer's guess at how the final post-season balloting will look:

1. Relaford
2. Millar
3. Podsednik
4. Loaiza
5. Kolb

Whatcha got, Boxers?

Andujar Update: YouNeverKnows Come Into Focus | 5 comments | Create New Account
The following comments are owned by whomever posted them. This site is not responsible for what they say.
_Best Mate - Wednesday, July 23 2003 @ 05:41 AM EDT (#33419) #
Given the nature of the people under discussion, it is only natural to assume that those who have outperformed to date are likely to regress in the second half. Thus, on inspection of the top 5, Relaford and Podsednik both look shaky to me. Kolb's position is vastly elevated, given that Milwaukee closers are unlikely to reach too many radar screens.

All of which leads me to my current pet project, namely Casey Blake. For a guy with 149 AB in four seasons prior to this one, he's batting his way to full time job security for next year. Contrary to the hot starts outlined above, Blake has attracted my attention by going 27/6/26/2/.298 since June 1st, and earned himself a place on my 12 team auction keeper league for the princely sum of $1. Look for further improvement in the second half as the Cleveland lineup finds its feet, and remember him at voting time
Gitz - Wednesday, July 23 2003 @ 12:38 PM EDT (#33420) #
A nice recommendation on Blake, who has been surprisingly adequate for the Indians.

However, I still think Loaiza is going to win the award unless he goes Ted Lilly in his last 12 starts. He'll still get to face the Tigers and Indians (and I think the A's, another weak offensive club), making that possibility unlikely. I have no feelings one way or another for Loaiza, though I can see where Jays fans might hold a grudge, and I think we need to give the guy some credit for his season thus far -- a season which shows little sign of going south.
_Jordan - Wednesday, July 23 2003 @ 09:26 PM EDT (#33421) #
I still like my David Ortiz nomination. Even though he only has 237 ABs, he's at .287/.369/.532, and since I highly doubt Little G will see the light of day again for Boston this year, he should continue to get all the DH at-bats the rest of the way. But I don't see any way that Loiaza doesn't claim the Andujar this year.
_Mick - Wednesday, July 23 2003 @ 11:04 PM EDT (#33422) #
Well, I appear to be in the minority so far, but I expect Loiaza to seriously tank at some point. He's never thrown this much this regularly in one season, and the Sox are going to divebomb out of the AL Central race any time now ... I dunno, maybe that makes it easier on Esteban.

I also believe the Royals are going to win the AL Central, which was one of my primary motivations for thinking Relaford will jump to the top of the list.

Kolb is on my list mostly as a whim because I saw him pitch pre-injury here in Texas and thought "Wetteland" -- only he was hitting 99 on the gun. And I understand he is back up in the 97-99 range, at least occasionally.

Podsednik strikes me as being one of the major unnoticed stories of the year. You know, the feel-good, veteran minor leaguer gets a shot and turns out to hit .300 and steal 40 bases.

Of all the guys on the page, Millar is the one I think we look back on in 2008 and say "hey, that was a GREAT pickup five years ago" ... but that won't help him win an Andy.
_Spicol - Thursday, July 24 2003 @ 08:29 AM EDT (#33423) #
Thus, on inspection of the top 5, Relaford and Podsednik both look shaky to me.

Podsednik, for sure. But Relaford is for real...he isn't even close to his career best season. That would have to be 2001, when he went 302/364/472 with the Mets in nearly 400 PA. He would have had a much better 2002 as well, if he hadn't played half his games in Safeco.
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