On Friday, a writer reviewed the published terms of Dexter Fowler’s new contract with the St. Louis Cardinals and made an interesting observation.
The inclusion of a bonus for being named a League Division Series Most Valuable Player in a contract is unusual, but not new. I first noticed it back in the mid-2000’s in Cardinals deals with four free agents set during the 2005-06 off-season – Gary Bennett, Juan Encarnacion, Junior Spivey and Sidney Ponson.
Around that same time frame, I decided that since the award did not officially exist, I would take it upon myself to name my own Division Series Most Valuable Player - in those series won by St. Louis. I began that in 2005.
Post-Dispatch writer Derrick Goold commented on the LDS MVP discussion as well.
I was curious about the commonality of this, so I did a search of Cot’s Baseball Contracts, the most definitive source of information not always fully shared with the public. Cot’s shows only one active MLB player whose current published contract details include the LDS MVP bonus, one Dexter Fowler.
However, three others in recent years had a similar clause according to Cot’s, all granted by New York teams. They were Carlos Beltran in his 2005-11 contract with the Mets, Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez, also with the Mets in his 2007-08 deal and free agent Alex Rodriguez, who had an LDS MVP bonus in his 2008-17 mega-contract with the Yankees. Of course, there may be others not listed.
There is a possibility that official LDS MVP awards could be added later, as Goold notes. On the other hand, I understand why MLB does not sanction these awards today. After all, there is true meaning in winning a league pennant and the World Series. There are associated trophies, representing long tradition.
That is not the case, however, for simply winning a semi-final series that makes a team a pennant finalist. Sure, there are champagne celebrations, but let’s face it, the LDS is a red-haired stepchild. In fact, MLB has never respected the Division Series enough to even make them a full seven games.
Still, the important contests are played each year and there are clearly standout performances.
As I mentioned above, I began giving out The Cardinal Nation’s League Division Series Most Valuable Player Awards in 2005. Including that first year, St. Louis played in eight Division Series, winning six. In 2009 and 2015, I did not issue awards since the award-winners would have been members of the Dodgers and Cubs, respectively. The Cardinals missed the post-season entirely in 2007, 2008, 2010 and 2016.
Here are the six winners, along with a summary of their LDS accomplishments. Click on the title links to read my full story posted at the time:
With 10 runs batted in during the Cardinals' three-game sweep of the San Diego Padres, Reggie Sanders was our 2005 winner. The well-traveled left fielder’s run-producing feat set a new NLDS record. His series slash line was .333/.385/.750/1.135. However, Sanders turned ice cold, batting just .167, as the Cards fell to the Astros in the LCS.
The 37-year-old had suffered through injuries in his second and final season with St. Louis, batting .271 over 93 regular-season games. As a free agent after the post-season, Sanders moved on to Kansas City, where he finished his career.
Again, the Padres fell to the Cards in the LDS, but this time, another well-traveled veteran stepped up big for St. Louis. Ron Belliard hit .462 over the four-game series with a double and five singles in 13 at-bats. The second baseman drove in two runs, scored twice, walked once, was hit by a pitch and stole a base. His OBP was .533 and he slugged .538, for a 1.071 OPS.
Belliard's huge defensive play in Game 1 not only saved that contest, but it may have been the pivotal play of the entire series. It led to the 31-year-old receiving a game ball from manager Tony La Russa, an unusual move, but a recognition of the importance of the play. It was Belliard’s only partial season with St. Louis before he departed as a free agent that winter.
In the best Division Series I have ever seen, the Cardinals defeated the 102-win Philadelphia Phillies in a hard-fought five games. Faced with two consecutive elimination games, the Cards took both.
Game 5 was Chris Carpenter's. The 36-year-old’s three-hit complete game shutout on the road paced the Cards to a 1-0 victory. The right-hander secured 17 ground ball outs while outdueling another former Cy Young Award winner, Roy Halladay. Carpenter’s dominating performance set the tone for the improbable October run that culminated with the World Championship.
In 2012, the Cards returned to the pattern of unlikely LDS MVP winners in Daniel Descalso, a second baseman who would be non-tendered by the club two years later.
Despite Descalso having hit just .227 in the regular season with four home runs and 26 RBI in 426 plate appearances, manager Mike Matheny penciled him into the LDS lineup each game. Descalso delivered, leading the team in RBI (six), runs scored (seven) and tying for the lead in home runs with two. His slash line was a robust .316/.333/.684/1.017 in the five-game set as the Cards downed the Nationals.
Adam Wainwright opened and closed the LDS with wins over the Pirates, both at home. In the winner-take-all Game 5, the right-hander scattered eight hits in his complete-game victory. Wainwright allowed a run on three hits in seven innings in Game 1 and drew a full-count walk that opened the team's seven-run third-inning offensive burst.
Over his 16 LDS innings, Wainwright yielded just two runs for a 1.13 ERA. The 32-year-old scattered 11 hits, walked just one and struck out 15 as the Pirates batted a collective .196 against him.
In each of the first three games of the Dodgers series, Matt Carpenter both doubled and homered. His hits tied one game and put the Cards ahead in two others. In the opener, a comeback win in Los Angeles, Carpenter plated four. His go-ahead three-run double in the eighth inning knocked out ace Clayton Kershaw.
The 28-year-old finished the four-game set with an impressive slash line of .375/.412/1.125/1.537. Carpenter went 6-for-16, with all hits going for extra bases. He drew one walk, scored four runs and plated seven.
Who knows? Maybe Fowler will lead the Cardinals to a League Division Series win in October and one of these players will finally cash in for his heroics!
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