Who wins? The envelope, please ...
Now that the Texas Rangers' season is officially over, it's time to sit back and hand out a few awards. The players head into the offseason knowing they exceeded the expectations of many fans and "experts," but they are also mindful of a disappointing finish that should serve as motivation next season.
These awards weren't kept locked up in any vault and we don't need to worry about tearing open any envelopes. So here goes.
There are some good choices here. Scott Feldman was unexpectedly great, becoming a quality, reliable starter. Marlon Byrd seemed to deliver the big hits when the offense really needed them. But we're giving the award to Michael Young. He moved from shortstop to third in the offseason and quickly learned his new position. Young fought through some injuries, but still managed to lead the team in batting average and OPS. He's also the unquestioned leader of this team. This club appeared ready to slip out of contention several times but showed resiliency. Young was a big reason why. So he gets our vote in a highly contested MVP award contest.
Pitcher of the year
Would you have even made Scott Feldman a nominee in this category in spring training? He was in the bullpen and thought of merely as a long reliever and spot starter. But when the Kris Benson experiment failed, Feldman was ready to take advantage. He led the Rangers with 17 wins and started 31 games, tied for the lead with Kevin Millwood. Feldman stayed healthy, joining the rotation for good on April 25. The 26-year-old right-hander had 18 quality starts and was 5-0 in August with a 2.89 ERA.
Youngster of the year
I say "youngster" because we include more than just rookies in the mix. Plenty of young players had an impact this season. Neftali Feliz wowed the baseball world by hitting triple digits on the radar gun with apparent ease and starting his major league career with a bang (and plenty of whiffs by opponents). Tommy Hunter proved he has the repertoire to be in a major league rotation. Julio Borbon showed his speed and ability at the top of the lineup. But Elvis Andrus has to be on top of the list. The 22 errors, next to last in the AL among shortstops, are misleading because he also leads the league in chances. And he sure showed he could make numerous highlight-reel plays thanks to his great range. He exceeded expectations at the plate, hitting .267 with six homers and 40 RBIs in his first season in the majors. Andrus batted ninth for much of the season, but also hit second. He also stole 33 bases, matching the Rangers' season record for a rookie. And Andrus led all major league rookies in stolen bases, hits (128) and runs (72) and may win AL Rookie of the Year honors. Andrus should be this club's shortstop for a long time.
Feldman fits into this category just fine, but let's pick someone else. Nelson Cruz's power numbers were pretty surprising. But the award goes to Darren O'Day. Here's a guy the Rangers plucked off the waiver wire in April when the New York Mets had to designate him for assignment. O'Day came to Texas and immediately became a trusted reliever for manager Ron Washington. Pitching coach Mike Maddux altered where he was on the rubber and it seemed to make O'Day's sidearm delivery even more effective. O'Day finished with a 1.84 ERA, 20 holds and 56 strikeouts with 17 walks. He'll return next season as a critical late-inning reliever for the Rangers.
The offense as a whole earns this distinction. But if you have to pick one member of that group, it's Josh Hamilton. The slugger, who was coming off a season in which he hit 32 homers and had 130 RBIs (not to mention his captivating Home Run Derby performance at the All-Star Game at Yankee Stadium), couldn't stay healthy and never found his rhythm. Hamilton altered his swing before spring training to something he felt would be even more reliable. But he started the season in a slump and decided to go back to his original swing. Then injuries crept in and Hamilton never got going. He ended up playing in 89 games and hit .268 with 10 homers and 54 RBIs. It left a void in the middle of the Rangers' lineup.
Best debut: Neftali Feliz. The 21-year-old made his first major league appearance in Oakland on Aug. 3 and struck out the first four batters he faced as part of a perfect two innings of work. Feliz hit triple digits on the radar gun and clearly had the opposing batters fooled. It was a pattern that continued for a while. Feliz struck out 16 of the first 29 batters he faced and allowed just one earned run in his first 22 innings in the majors.
Roller coaster performance this year: Ian Kinsler. He was a 30-30 homer and stolen base guy and hit for the cycle in a 6-for-6 night in April, which was a red-hot month for him. But he hit just .157 in July (after batting around .245 in May and June) and struggled to regain his early-season form, finishing at .253 for the season.
Best first half: Kevin Millwood. He made a push for the All-Star Game, pitching deep into games and sporting a 3.46 ERA; he had a quality start in 12 of his 19 starts in the first half. But Millwood could also be in the running for the "worst second half award" as he struggled to go deep into games and was forced to take a break between starts in September to work on his mechanics.
Best power surge: Nelson Cruz. He proved he could hit home runs in the minors the past few seasons. But in 2009, he also showed he could do it in the majors. Cruz led the Rangers with 33 homers, good enough for top-10 in the American League.
Most underappreciated: David Murphy. The left-handed hitter isn't flashy, but there were many times this season when the offense didn't have much and he responded. And when injuries occurred, Murphy was there to step in when needed.
Player most in the Ron Washington mold: Marlon Byrd. Manager Ron Washington likes gamers who can lead on and off the field and push teammates to be better. That's Byrd. He hit .283 with 20 homers and 89 RBIs, and his manager made it clear that he wants him back (his contract has expired).
Biggest question marks: Catcher and first base. The Rangers still don't know exactly what they have in catchers Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Taylor Teagarden. Both had difficulties this season, but they are young and can improve. First baseman Chris Davis struggled early in the season, but he was better after returning from a stint in the minors. Still, his struggles likely mean that Justin Smoak will compete for the job next season.
Biggest mystery: Derek Holland. He showed flashes of brilliance, like a shutout against the Angels that came a couple of starts after he gave up one run in 8 2/3 innings against Seattle the day before the trade deadline. But he also allowed five or more earned runs in five straight starts late in the season. He clearly has the tools to be a good pitcher. Can he put it together next season?
Biggest offseason acquisition: Mike Maddux. The pitching coach helped mold the rotation, which was a big reason the Rangers were competitive for so long in 2009. His pitchers say he understands their personalities and knows when to push their buttons. The bottom line: The staff got better when he arrived.
Most misunderstood by fans: C.J. Wilson. He's a lightning rod for fans when he doesn't pitch well, but the reality is he had a nice season. Wilson was 5-6 with a 2.81 ERA, including 19 holds and 14 saves. He had 84 strikeouts and 32 walks. And while he sometimes made things interesting late in games, for the most he got the job done.
Most valued bench player: Omar Vizquel. He mentored Elvis Andrus and played well when injuries meant Ian Kinsler and Michael Young had to miss some time. The Rangers would like to bring him back next season.
Most in need of a good 2010: Brandon McCarthy. Injuries have cut short his progress since he arrived in Texas (as part of the trade that sent John Danks to the White Sox before the 2007 season). With the number of pitching prospects in the Rangers' system, McCarthy must show he belongs in 2010.
Richard Durrett covers the Texas Rangers for ESPNDallas.com.