Nightengale's Notebook: MLB's first half superlatives, from MVPs to worst free agent signings

As we head into the All-Star break, a look at the best and worst of the 2022 MLB season so far.

LOS ANGELES – Come on, you didn’t know the Baltimore Orioles would actually be the one of the best teams in baseball for the past month and in contention for a playoff berth? 

You didn’t realize that the New York Yankees and Houston Astros would have their divisions sewn up by the All-Star break? 

You didn’t have Clay Holmes as the Yankees’ All-Star closer or Nestor Cortes as an All-Star starter? 

KERSHAW: Dodgers lefty flirts with perfection ahead of All-Star Game

JETER & A-ROD:The Captain reflects on highly-publicized rift

Welcome to the wacky first half of the 2022 season, a year that started late, saw three managers fired and another half-dozen on the hot-seat. 

Here we are with our first-half award winners, award clunkers, winners, losers and those caught stuck in neutral. 

Best team in baseball

Anthony Rizzo and Giancarlo Stanton celebrate a home run.

New York Yankees: Take a bow GM Brian Cashman, remaking the team during the winter, emphasizing pitching and athleticism, and sitting with one of the best records in the first half in franchise history. 

Runner-up: Houston Astros – Carlos Correa walks away. Lance McCullers hasn’t thrown a pitch. But, oh, they still have Dusty Baker working his magic. 

Worst team in baseball  

Oakland Athletics: If you’re into gambling, the bet of the year was taking the under on the A’s winning 77 games this year. What, the oddsmakers weren’t paying attention knowing that once they let manager Bob Melvin walk away, they were planning to gut the roster and tear down the franchise to its foundation. Oh, and guess what, they’re going to get worse after they dump ace Frankie Montas, center fielder Ramon Laureano and more. It will be a miraculous finish if they lose only 100 games. 

Runner-up: Washington Nationals – The 2019 World Series flag looks beautiful at Nationals Park, but who would have ever envisioned that the Orioles have a better future than the Nationals? They also are about to get even worse after the trade deadline with the departures of sluggers Josh Bell and Nelson Cruz. 

TRADE? Juan Soto rejects $440 million offer from Nationals

Most surprising team 

Baltimore Orioles: Funny what a 10-game winning streak, their longest since 1999, can do for a team’s image. The question for the Orioles over the years hasn’t been whether they would lose 100 games, but if they break the all-time record. They lost 110 games last year, were 180 games under .500 the previous three seasons, and opened the year with a $45 million payroll. These days, despite playing in baseball’s toughest division, they are a .500 team, with a 21-9 record since June 11, second-best in baseball. 

The Orioles still plan to sell off some of pieces at the trade deadline, refusing to be sucked in by the hype, but with much more of a balanced scheduled a year from now, they  could be an honest-to-goodness contender. 

Runner-up: Minnesota Twins – A year ago, they were an after-thought, losing 87 games. Even when they picked up Carlos Correa in spring training, he was considered prime trade bait at the deadline. Well, here they are, with a bullpen that regularly melts down, a starting rotation where there are no stars, and leading the AL Central. 

Most disappointing team

Tony La Russa was hired prior to the 2021 season.

Chicago White Sox: Really, it’s not even close, despite their recent winning streak. This team has been hit by injuries, but still, they are a mess, even playing in an awful division. They can’t play defense. They can’t run the bases. Their offense has stunk until lately. And their pitching is wildly erratic. If this team doesn’t turn it around and make the postseason, the front office is going to sit down with Hall of Fame manager Tony La Russa this winter and try to convince him the time has come to walk away into a front-office role. 

Runner-up: Los Angeles Angels – This was supposed to be the year they at least stayed in contention for a playoff berth with Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani. Who thought they’d lose 36 of their last 48 games and be eliminated by July, firing manager Joe Maddon and nothing changing, sitting with a 39-52 record entering Saturday. 

American League MVP

Aaron Judge is a free agent after the 2022 season.

Aaron Judge, Yankees: When you’re the best player on the best team in baseball and are having the best year of your career, how can it go to anyone else? Remember, this is a Most VALUABLE Player award, not a best player award, eliminating Shohei Ohtani. If it was simply about being the best player, Barry Bonds would have won about years in a row. Judge deserves the award for having so much confidence and faith in himself that he casually dismissed a seven-year, $213.5 million offer this spring, saying he’ll talk again in the offseason, and see who’s right. 

Runner-up: Yordan Alvarez, Astros – The guy signed a $115 million extension in his first year of salary arbitration and it already looks like a steal two months in Alvarez is that talented – hitting .306 with 26 homers, 60 RBI, and a league-leading.653 slugging percentage and 1.058 OPS – and with a strong second half, could steal the award from Judge. 

National League MVP

Paul Goldschmidt is an All-Star for the first time since 2018.

Paul Goldschmidt, Cardinals: OK, there’s hardly anyone still alive who actually met Lou Gehrig, but Goldschmidt may be the second coming of the Iron Horse. He has played more games than anyone in baseball since joining the Cardinals, and has been the NL’s best overall hitter, leading the league in batting average (.329), on-base percentage (.414) and OPS (.998). How rare is the feat? No Cardinals player has ever accomplished it. He also remains an elite defensive first baseman and baserunner. 

Runner-up: Manny Machado, Padres – The Padres would be dead and buried without Machado’s fabulous first half (.307, 15 homers, 51 RBI, .906 OPS) and Gold Glove defense. He has become their team leader, and is the primary reason they’ve hung around in the NL West race without Fernando Tatis Jr. stepping onto the field.  

Best free agent signing

Max Scherzer, Mets: The guy has been worth every penny of his $43 million annual salary. He missed time due to injury but has come back strong and is a force in the clubhouse, commanding respect. 

Runner-up: Matt Carpenter, Yankees – Nobody wanted him all winter. He was in Triple-A for the Rangers until mid-May. He asked for his release, the Yankees were the only team that called, and he now has hit more home runs (12) for the Yankees in 72 at-bats than he did the entire past two years for the St. Louis Cardinals. Pretty nice getting a guy off the scrap heap averaging a homer every six at-bats.

Worst free agent signing

Baez spent 2021 with the Cubs and Mets before signing with Detroit.

Javy Baez, Tigers: Sure, the Tigers knew he was a free swinger, but maybe not to this extent, chasing 47.5% of pitches outside the strike zone. He is hitting just .218 with a .256 on-base percentage and .384 slugging percentage. The guy is even struggling in the field, with a minus-3 in defensive runs saved. The Tigers have five more years of Baez to see him get right. 

Runner-up: Kris Bryant, Rockies – You don’t pay a fella $182 million to hit four home runs with 11 RBI playing at Coors Field. Bryant has been hurt, missing nearly two months with a bad back and entering the weekend having played just 30 games. He needs a solid second half for Rockies fans to believe this was the right move. 

AL Cy Young

Shane McClanahan, Rays: He is a blast to watch, striking out a league-high 147 batters with twice as many strikeouts as hits (69) allowed. McClanahan (10-3, 1.71 ERA) is most dominant pitcher in the league, giving up more than two earned runs in just two of his 18 starts, and leading the league in ERA, WHIP (0.795), opponent’s batting average (.176) and strikeout percentage (35.7 percent). He could join Hall of Famer Pedro Martinez as the only pitchers in history to strike out at least 200 batters, give up half as many hits, and have a sub-2.00 ERA. 

Runner-up: Justin Verlander, Astros – The guy is 39 years old, coming back from Tommy John surgery, and is 11-3 with a 2.00 ERA. He’s one of the game’s greatest pitchers of his era, with a plaque awaiting him at Cooperstown. 

NL Cy Young

Sandy Alcantara is an All-Star for the second time in his career.

Sandy Alcantara, Marlins: Who does he think he is, Bob Gibson? You talk about old-school. Alcantara (9-4, 1.76 ERA) has pitched at least eight innings in nine of his starts this year – six more than any other pitcher in baseball – and has gone a full nine innings three times. He has made 13 consecutive starts pitching at least seven innings, allowing two or fewer runs in 12 of the starts. It’s the longest stretch by any pitcher since 2014. He has pitched an MLB-leading 138⅓ innings, 30 more than anyone else. 

Runner-up: Tony Gonsolin, Dodgers – When you’re 11-0 with a 2.02 ERA, it doesn’t matter how many innings you’re pitching. And don’t let anyone tell you differently. Wins means everything to starting pitchers. 

AL Rookie of the Year

Julio Rodriguez, Mariners: He may be the best outfielder to come out of Seattle since a fella by the name of Ken Griffey Jr. He can do anything and everything. He had a miserable April getting acclimated, hitting .206 without a home run, and has since hit 16 homers, with 44 of his 50 RBI, and has stolen 12 of his MLB-leading 21 steals since May 1. 

He became the fastest player in big-league history to reach 15 or more home runs and 20 or more stolen bases, and the first rookie with that many homers and stolen bases before the All-Star break since Devon White of the Angels in 1987. 

He could join Mike Trout as the only players in baseball history to hit 30 homers and steal 40 bases in a season at the age of 21 or younger. He is the reason for the Mariners’ resurgence and could certainly wind up in AL MVP discussions.  

Runner-up: Jeremy Pena, Astros: Carlos Correa may be gone, and certainly he is a force in the middle of any lineup, but man, has Pena ever stepped in nicely with his magnificent defense. 

NL Rookie of the Year

Michael Harris' promotion coincided with Atlanta catching fire.

Michael Harris, Atlanta: Harris, 21, stepped into Atlanta’s lineup on May 28, without having played a single game at Class AAA, and they have been winning virtually every day since. He has been phenomenal defensively, and his offense has surprised Atlanta executives, and even himself, hitting .277 with eight homers, 26 RBI and an .804 OPS.

Runner-up: Spencer Strider, Atlanta – He made his first start on May 30 in an experiment to see if he could cut it out of the bullpen. He proved he’s not only ready, but is flourishing with a 3-1, 2.74 ERA as a starter, striking out 73 batters in 46 innings, and yielding a .180 batting average and measly .536 OPS. 

AL Manager of the Year

Brandon Hyde, Orioles: Remember when no one could tell whether Hyde was a good manager or a poor one considering he didn’t have any players? Well, despite having the least amount of talent of any team in the AL East, if not the entire American League, no one has gotten more out of his players. He is the leader of the league’s biggest surprise. 

Runner-up: Dusty Baker, Astros – Baker, 72, owns his own vineyard he’s getting better with age, too. The Astros were expected to take a step backwards this year and perhaps even relinquish their AL West crown. Instead, they’re running away from the pack. 

NL Manager of the Year

Mets manager Buck Showalter talks with shortstop Francisco Lindor.

Buck Showalter, Mets: The only real question is why he remained on the sidelines for three years while everyone snubbed him looking for managers. He has always been one of the game’s best managers and now he’s excelling on the biggest stage in the game. It’s hard to believe that no Mets manager has ever won the NL award. That will end this year. 

Runner-up: Bob Melvin, Padres – The Padres melted down when they were in contention last summer. This time around, there’s so much confidence and trust in Melvin that they believe they’re as good as any team in baseball. He’s one the game’s most underrated managers in the last two decades. 

Managers on the hot seat

There have been three managers already fired in the first half of the season. 

The last time we’ve seen such a turnover before the All-Star Game was back in 2015: 

So who’s next on the chopping block in 2022? 

While it’s hard to see anyone getting fired until the offseason, there are six managers who may be gone before the December winter meetings. 

Tony La Russa, White Sox

The White Sox certainly won’t fire him during the season, but may have no choice to re-assign him if they don’t reach the playoffs. The team is dysfunctional with lack of leadership, and although it’s hardly all La Russa’s fault, he hasn’t changed the culture. 

Torey Lovullo, Diamondbacks

The Diamondbacks are still rebuilding, and like Charlie Montoyo, Lovullo is loved in the organization but too many fundamental mistakes continue to be made, with ownership already rejecting the front office’s request for an extension. 

Mike Matheny, Royals

The Royals expected to make great strides this year and at least flirt with mediocrity. They’ve instead gone backwards and have the second-worst record in the American League. 

Don Mattingly, Marlins

Mattingly took a pay cut just to come back to the Marlins. They need to make the playoffs, or at least come awfully close, to assure his job security for another year. 

Scott Servais, Mariners

Servais and GM Jerry Dipoto are joined at the hip since arriving to Seattle seven years ago, but if the Mariners miss the playoffs for the 21st consecutive year after their recent hot streak, someone may have to pay the price. 

Chris Woodward, Rangers 

You don’t spend a half-billion in free agency and expect to be doormats. Woodward’s job with the Rangers may hinge on just how close they come to the playoffs without making it. 

Around the basepaths

– The Washington Nationals may be telling teams that All-Star outfielder Juan Soto is now available after he rejected their 15-year, $440 million contract offer, but it still appears unlikely that he’ll be moved by the Aug. 2 trade deadline. 

Nats officials say they will have to be overwhelmed by an offer to trade him in the next three weeks knowing he’s still under control through the 2024 season. 

Teams realize that if he’s not going to sign a $440 million deal with his homegrown team, he’s not about to turn around and immediately sign with them. 

Still, he easily becomes the hottest name on the trade market, and it will be fascinating just who will make serious offers. 

– The Angels have gone from potential buyers to sellers, and with the thin market for starting pitchers, they could get a prized prospect for Noah Syndergaard, even with his $21 million salary. 

– Just how much will the Reds gets for ace Luis Castillo, who clearly is the No. 1 trade chip in baseball? yielding a 1.00 ERA in his last four starts with a 1.38 ERA against the powerful AL East. 

Executives predict it will cost a team at least two of its top five prospects, and perhaps three of their top 10. 

Castillo has yielded a 1.00 ERA in his last four starts  and isn't a free agent until after the 2023 season. 

The Yankees would love to have him as their No. 2 starter behind Gerrit Cole. The Yankees’ starting rotation had the lowest ERA in the major leagues on June 5, but since has a 4.42 ERA, ranking just 18th. 

This is a rotation with Luis Severino, who’s on the IL with a lat strain, and hasn’t pitched a full season since 2018. 

Nestor Cortes is just shy of his career high in inninga. 

Jameson Taillon, who was yielding a.353 slugging percentage on June 5, since has a major-league worst .608. 

The Reds, badly in need of young position players, will have one of the top 10 farm systems after trading Castillo. 

Luis Castillo is one of the top pitchers who could be traded in the coming weeks.

– The Yankees and other teams were already informed by the Royals that Andrew Benintendi was not vaccinated, which has turned off the Yankees and other AL teams who could play the Blue Jays in Toronto during the postseason. The Yankees have been keeping a close eye on D-backs left fielder David Peralta. 

– The Mets are expressing strong interest in Nationals first baseman Josh Bell to become their full-time DH, along with Royals’ outfielder Andrew Benintendi. They badly need another power bat and will certainly grab a hitter at the trade deadline.  

– The Padres are listening to offers for erratic starter Blake Snell (1-5, 5.22 ERA), the 2018 AL Cy Young winner, but he hasn’t been the same pitcher since being traded from Tampa. 

He could bring back the power hitter the Padres desperately need. 

– The Yankees privately believe they have no choice but to trade outfielder Joey Gallo, whose miseries continue. He is hitting .073 (4-for-55) in 21 games since June 18 with 27 strikeouts. 

– There are plenty of teams who could use Royals veteran Zack Greinke (3-6, 4.64), but Kansas City has no plans to move him unless he asks out. 

– Trade talks will start getting hot and heavy once the amateur draft ends Tuesday. 

– While the debate over the international draft continues with MLB and the union still negotiating before the July 25 deadline, one GM offered this suggestion: 

Just combine the domestic and international draft, and instead of 20 rounds, have 40 rounds. 

The proponents against the international draft would go ballistic, considering it would greatly reduce the signing bonuses, but it would be interesting. 

– St. Louis Cardinals third baseman Nolan Arenado is not opting out of his contract, and walking away from $144 million over the next five years. He loves St. Louis, and the city loves him. 

The Rockies will pay the Cardinals $4 million over the next five years once it becomes official. 

– While GMs and scouting directors would love to see the draft return to June, the TV ratings for last year’s draft during All-Star week nearly rivaled the NBA draft. 

It’s staying put. 

– Tale of caution for all of these managers who think it’s smart to use a position player to pitch during blowouts. 

The Royals tried that last weekend with center fielder Michael A. Taylor. 

Guess what? He hasn’t played a game since because of shoulder soreness. 

Better think again before getting cute.  

– The Orioles may be winning but they still plan on trading Trey Mancini and Rougned Odor. What they won’t do is trade players simply for fringe prospects. They likely won’t move starter Jordan Lyles or closer Jorge Lopez unless the offers are simply too good to pass up. 

– Remember when the Tigers were lauded for their trade of outfielder Austin Meadows, and the Rays were ripped taking on unproven prospect Isaac Paredes, believing it was just a move to save money with Meadows’ $4 million salary. 

Now, take a look. 

Paredes, who never hit more than 15 homers in a single minor-league season, already has 13 homers (more than any Tiger) with 28 RBI since his May call-up and has an .826 OPS. 

Meadows, who hit 60 homers in his two full seasons with the Rays, has yet to hit a homer while playing just 36 games this season because of injuries. 

– Curious that the Blue Jays gave manager Charlie Montoyo a one-year extension through 2023 in March, and fired him less than four months later. 

The Blue Jays suddenly believed that Montoyo wasn’t the right man to take them to the next level, much like the Cubs and White Sox felt with Rick Renteria. He became the first Jays manager to be fired during the season since John Gibbons in 2008. 

They can only hope they have the same success as the Phillies who fired Joe Girardi and promoted Rob Thomson on June 3. 

– Robinson Cano, 39, has already made quite the impression since joining Atlanta, mentoring the young players and being among the first on the field to undertake infield drills with guru Ron Washington. 

With no openings in the big leagues with San Diego, he spent a month in El Paso hitting .333 with three homers and 20 RBI before Atlanta came calling, giving the Padres just $1 for his services. 

“I thank the Padres for giving me that opportunity to be able to go down there and be able to play every day,’’ Cano says, “and just get back and be myself. I love this game. And I know I can play it.’’ 

– David Ortiz, a Red Sox special assistant who’ll be inducted into the Hall of Fame in a week, said his team will be making a huge mistake if they don’t keep All-Star shortstop Xander Bogaerts this winter and giving a long-term extension to All-Star third baseman Rafael Devers. 

“I know what to expect from those guys,” Ortiz said. “I know exactly what I’m going to get from the two of them. … They are the best players that can represent the Red Sox better than anybody else as of right now, and we need to lock them in. They know how it is to play in Boston. Trust me, playing in Boston is not for every type of player. I played there for so long and it’s a distraction for a lot of players. They don’t know how to handle it. I played with a lot of superstars, they did great somewhere else and when they got to Boston they struggled because they couldn’t put up with what’s going on up there. 

“These two guys, they grew up there. You would know what to expect from them. You know what they’re going to give you. That’s why sometimes I don’t understand how come organizations sometimes walk away from that. They prefer to explore some other options. … 

“I hope the Red Sox make sense about the decision they have to make with him. We have to keep Devers around, man. He’s the face of that organization right now and nobody can argue that.” 

– Atlanta’s bullpen could get a huge boost with 2019 All-Star closer Kirby Yates expected to join the team in August after returning from his second Tommy John surgery. 

Yates saved 41 games for the Padres with a 1.19 ERA in 2019, but hasn’t pitched in a big-league game since 2020. He signed a two-year, $8.25 million deal with Atlanta in November, paying him a $1 million salary this season, $6 million in 2023 with a $5.75 million club option in 2024 or a $1.25 million buyout.

“I’m excited about seeing when he gets going,” Atlanta manager Brian Snitker says. “Just a valuable guy for us.” 

– If it wasn’t enough that the Royals had 10 players had an All-Star break that started four days early, refusing to be vaccinated and permitted to play in Toronto, they were also missing three coaches: 

Pitching coach Cal Eldred, assistant hitting coach Keoni De Renne and bullpen catcher Parker Morin. 

They are the first known unvaccinated coaches who missed games because of the Canadian law. 

– Brian Krehmeyer, the head baseball coach of Wesleyan High School in Atlanta, believes that Druw Jones, son of former MLB All-Star Andruw Jones, will be a star in the big leagues. 

Certainly, he has never had anyone like him, watching Jones hit .570 with 13 homers, 39 RBI, 72 runs scored with 32 stolen bases, while going 10-1 with 53 strikeouts in 41 innings on the mound. 

“I admire the player,” Krehmeyer told the Atlanta Journal, “but I love the person. …Druw was incredibly humble as a player and encouraging as a teammate. He handled the publicity and the scrutiny and the attention incredibly well. He never allowed that to get in the way of what he could do for the team or what the team had set out to accomplish. It was never about Druw and his opportunities, it was always about the team goals. That’s where his humility really shows out, and that’s what endeared him to his teammates, as well.” 

– It could be a rather interesting starting pitching free-agent class this year: 

Justin Verlander, Jacob deGrom, Taijuan Walker, Carlos Rodon, Chris Bassitt, Sean Manaea and James Taillon are either free agents or have opt-outs. 

– The false narrative with Phillies GM Dave Dombrowski is that he’ll gut the farm system to win a World Series title. 

Well, take a look at the Red Sox minor-league system he left behind: Thirteen of their top 20 prospects were players that Dombrowski signed or drafted, led by Triston Casas. 

– The Padres have lost 13 of 16 games to the Rockies at Coors Field since the start of the 2021 season. 

– It’s unreal that the Red Sox still are in contention for a wild-card berth given that they are just 11-24 in the AL East without winning a single series (0-9-1). 

Their playoff hopes can hardly be encouraging considering that 38 of their final 69 games after the All-Star break are against AL East teams. 

– The last time the All-Star Game was at Dodger Stadium, AL starting pitcher Steve Stone threw three perfect innings and Houston’s J.R. Richard struck out three batters in two scoreless innings. 

It turned out to be their last All-Star Game.

Richard made one more start, suffered a stroke, and his career ended. Stone pitched one more season because of arm problems. 

How long ago was that game? Ken Griffey Sr. was the game’s MVP. 

His son, Ken Griffey Jr., was 10 years old. 

– There’s no one the Giants hate seeing more than Brewers ace Corbin Burnes. 

He has yielded a 1.00 ERA in three starts against the Giants, striking out 35 in 27 innings. 

On the flip side, there's no one the Cardinals hate facing more than Freddie Freeman. 

He reached base in 12 of his 14 plate appearances in the three-game trip to St. Louis with five singles, three doubles and a home run. He now has a .387 batting average and 1.152 OPS in 33 games at Busch Stadium. 

– The Tampa Bay Rays have had 12 pitchers go on the injured list this season, and now are expected to be without starter Shane Baz until at least September with an elbow strain. 

– The Texas Rangers’ record would look, oh, so different if they could win one-run games. 

They are an MLB-worst 5-19 in one-run games this season, including blowing seven games when leading after seven innings. 

– It wasn’t until this past week that future Hall of Famer Miguel Cabrera of the Tigers, who had played 230 games against the Royals, met Hall of Famer George Brett in an introduction made by Tigers manager A.J. Hinch. 

“George walked in and said he’d never met Miguel,” Hinch told Detroit reporters. “I went out and got Miggy and brought him in. George told him how much he loved watching him hit and watching him play … 

“Watching those two talk back and forth was one of the coolest things to experience. “That's 6,000-plus hits between the two of them. It awesome.’’ 

– Oakland A’s pitcher James Kaprielian and Blue Jays third baseman Matt Chapman are best of friends, dating back to their high school days in Southern California, and just this past season, Kaprielian officiated Chapman’s wedding. 

“Yeah, I was a little nervous the night before, I'm not going to lie,” Kaprielian told NBC Sports. “Fortunately, we were in Mexico and I was able to try some good tequila and a couple good cervezas right before to just kind of mellow me down.’’ 

– Atlanta has hit 147 homers entering Sunday, the most before the All-Star break in franchise history, with seven different players hitting at least 10 homers. Third baseman Austin Riley, who once again is in the MVP conversation, leads the team with 27 homers. 

– The national anthem sung before the Hall of Fame induction ceremony next weekend will be none other than Alex Veda, the 21-year-old daughter of Hall of Famer David Ortiz. She is a senior at the Berklee College of Music. 

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