Let’s get this out of the way right at the top: Joe Mauer is having the best season of any American League player. But the Twins are in third place, and if there’s a deserving Yankee who can also be credited with resurrecting the Bombers after their horrific one-year playoff drought, he’s going to get an awful lot of votes. But not only is there one such player, there are two. So who is more deserving of the MVP: Mark Teixeira or Derek Jeter?
The Teixeira-for-MVP campaign has been heating up over the past couple of weeks, boosted by a couple of big late-inning home runs, including a particularly dramatic one to give the Yankees a sweep against Boston. His power numbers — which are the type of thing that will catch the eye of voters — have been impressive: He’s on pace for 42 home runs and 120 RBI. And his stellar fielding looks all the better considering his predecessor’s defensive shortcomings. Quite simply, he’s been as good as advertised, and he was advertised as an eventual MVP.
But over the past few days, Jeter — who's hitting .409 over the last fifteen games — has emerged as a candidate as well. Leading this campaign is Sports Illustrated’s Joe Posnanski, whose excellent column yesterday made a convincing argument that the perpetually “overrated” Jeter is now actually underrated. He has numbers to back it up: As of today he’s not only hitting .331 but hitting well in all sorts of situations; he has a better OBP than Teixieira (and every other Yankee, too); and the stat-geek defensive numbers once used to mock him have him as a top-ten shortstop. Plus, we’d add, he’s Derek Jeter, and he’s never won it before. This could be his Martin Scorsese–winning-the-Oscar-for–The Departed moment.
Of the two, though, we think Teixeira has the edge here. Assuming both are deserving come season's end, if the Yankees win the East (something they haven’t done since 2006), it’ll only be natural to look at what’s changed between this year and the last two. And though Teixeira is far from the only addition, he’ll get a lot of credit for putting the Yankees over the top. He’s shiny and new, and has lived up to the considerable hype. Jeter's certainly having a great season, but much like Mariano Rivera, he's been a constant, someone you can all too easily take for granted. Which is what will probably happen come voting time.