Best, worst of 2004

Well, it's about that time again. Time to wave good-bye to another spectacular baseball season. And time to reach for the annual award ballots. So the envelopes please ...

American League MVP
VLADIMIR GUERRERO, ANGELS -- For everyone who wondered how Vladimir Guerrero would react if he ever had a chance to propel a team into the great Octoberfest, here's your answer: He headed into the weekend leading everyone in the major leagues (with 100 or more AB) in home runs (10) and slugging (.733) since Sept. 1. And over the last two weeks, he has hit a ridiculous .500 (23-for-46), with three multi-homer games, two four-hit games, 13 RBI and zero games in which he didn't reach base at least once. Now that, friends, is how MVP awards are won. But the fact is, Guerrero might have deserved this award, anyway. As tremendous as Gary Sheffield, Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz have been, the Vladmeister has scored or driven in a higher percentage of his team's runs (15.7 percent) than any other candidate except Miguel Tejada. BALLOT: 1) Guerrero, 2) Sheffield, 3) Ramirez, 4) Tejada, 5) Ortiz.

National League MVP
BARRY BONDS, GIANTS -- We're reaching the point where, if Barry Bonds wants to keep on playing, baseball might need to create two of these awards. One would simply go to him. Every single year. The other would be the If Barry Would Just Retire MVP award. We would be happy to hand out the IBWJRMVP to Adrian Beltre, Albert Pujols or Scott Rolen. But the real MVP? Sorry, there's no debate. The Giants are in another down-to-the-wire pennant race. And they're barely going to miss leading the league in runs scored. So exactly why do you think that is? Sorry, folks. It ain't Deivi Cruz. One of our sabermetrician friends, Lee Sinins, estimates that a team comprised of all Barry Bondses would have averaged more than 23 runs a game this year. That's the highest figure in history, and it's approximately double what a team of all anyone elses would average. This is Bonds' greatest season ever. And that's saying something. BALLOT: 1) Bonds, 2) Beltre, 3) Rolen, 4) Pujols, 5) Lance Berkman.

American League LVP (Least Valuable Player)
JUAN GONZALEZ, ROYALS -- This is one of those awards that you could pick about 20 Royals, or 20 Mariners, and make a compelling case for any of them. But there's something about that image of Juan Gonzalez grabbing his side after a May 21 trot down the first-base line that sticks with us. At the time, he was supposed to be day-to-day with a tight back. It's now more than 130 days later, and he's been seen about as much as Amelia Earhart -- who also has as many at-bats as him since then, by the way. This makes 11 visits to the disabled list for Gonzalez now, and who knows how many episodes that sure did suspiciously resemble this one. So as another season comes to an end, we find ourselves asking once again: Has any active player stolen as much money as this guy? SIGHS OF RELIEF FOR: Pick the Mariner or Royal of your choice.

National League LVP
RANDALL SIMON, PIRATES -- In the last week of spring training, Pirates manager Lloyd McClendon actually predicted that Randall Simon would have a bigger offensive year than the first baseman who replaced him at Wrigley Field, Derrek Lee. Well, uh, oops. No, on second thought, better make that double oops. The good news was: Simon did set a career high in walks (with 18). The bad news was: That was about it for the good news. It's still hard to believe this guy hit just .194, with a whopping nine extra-base hits and a .264 on-base percentage before the Pirates released him in August. Whereupon he surfaced in Tampa Bay and was even worse (.118, with no extra-base hits). And got axed again. But at least he wound up with more homers (three) than releases (two). This guy's swing was so fouled up, he couldn't hit a sausage racer. SIGHS OF RELIEF FOR: Raul Mondesi, Ramon Castro and about a dozen Diamondbacks.

American League Cy Young
JOHAN SANTANA, TWINS -- Nobody admires the best big-game pitcher in America, Curt Schilling, more than we do. But this award is about performance, period. And nobody has outperformed Johan Santana, a man who has had one of the great second halves of modern times. Santana's second-half numbers (13-0, 1.21 ERA, 4.74 hits per 9 IP, 6.73 baserunners per 9 IP, 11.13 strikeouts per 9 IP), are actually better, in almost every category, than Bob Gibson's fabled 1968 numbers (1.12 ERA, 5.84 hits per 9 IP, 7.77 baserunners per 9 IP, 7.91 strikeouts per 9 IP). And you can make a case that the only more dominating seasons by an AL pitcher in the DH era were by Pedro Martinez in 2000 and 1999, and by Ron Guidry in 1978. It took two historic seasons by Randy Johnson to deny Schilling an NL Cy Young. And only this historic season by Santana could have denied him this AL Cy Young. BALLOT: 1) Santana, 2) Schilling, 3) Mariano Rivera.

National League Cy Young
RANDY JOHNSON, DIAMONDBACKS -- There is probably no tougher call to make on any award than trying to sort out the Randy Johnson-versus-Roger Clemens Cy Young debate. But this isn't supposed to be the Most Valuable Pitcher award. And it isn't the Best Pitcher on a Winning Team award. It's supposed to go to the guy who has pitched the best. So if we apply that standard for Johan Santana in the AL, how can we not apply it for the Unit in the NL? Except for wins and losses, Johnson has outpitched Clemens in every significant category. And in many ways, it's the Unit's greatest season ever. No NL pitcher since Gibson in '68 has pitched as many innings as Johnson and allowed this few baserunners (7.99 per 9 IP). Entering the weekend, he was 12-2 when his team scored more than two runs for him. He has more wins against teams with a winning record (10-5) than Clemens (8-3) -- or any other Cy Young contender, for that matter. And Johnson has made six starts in which he allowed one earned run or none but didn't win. So there's not much more he could have done to win this thing -- except maybe hit 20 homers, or approve that trade to the Dodgers. BALLOT: 1) Johnson, 2) Clemens, 3) Carlos Zambrano.

American League Cy Yuk
DARRELL MAY, ROYALS -- There is never a shortage of deserving Cy Yuk candidates. But it's hard to overlook a guy who lost 19 games -- most by a Royals pitcher in three decades. And gave up 107 extra-base hits, the third-highest total by any pitcher in the last quarter-century. And served up 58 doubles, almost three times as many as Johan Santana (who allowed just 22). And lost to every team in the American League -- the first pitcher to do that, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, in a dozen years (Erik Hanson). Darrell May could have cemented this award by losing 20, too. But he was spared his final start by humanitarian manager Tony Pena. CYS OF RELIEF FOR: Brian Anderson, Ryan Franklin, Jose Jimenez.

National League Cy Yuk
EDGAR GONZALEZ, DIAMONDBACKS -- It may be true that Edgar Gonzalez spent less than half of the season in the big leagues. But he still had a season so historically horrendous, it was impossible to overlook. He made 10 starts, and his team lost all 10 of them. But at least that's been done. Going 0-9, with a 9.32 ERA, for his season's work, on the other hand -- that hadn't been done in over a century. The only other pitcher in history to make that many starts, win none of them and have an ERA over 9.00 was the immortal Charlie Stecher, who went 0-10, 10.32, for the 1890 Philadelphia Athletics -- and was actually worse than that, if those 32 unearned runs he also gave up were any indication. But in more modern times, Gonzalez joins just the unforgettable Terry Felton (0-13 for the 1982 Twins) as the only starting pitchers in the last 75 years to go winless in a season of nine decisions or more. And it took every one of those nine losses for him to out-yuk Hideo Nomo, whose 8.25 ERA in 18 starts was the second-highest in history for a pitcher who was allowed out there that often (trailing only Steve Blass' 9.81 in 1973). CYS OF RELIEF TO: Nomo, Casey Fossum, Jose Acevedo, Rocky Biddle.

American League Rookie of the Year
BOBBY CROSBY, A'S -- Eight shortstops have won this award in the last 25 years -- from Cal Ripken to Pat Listach. Well, make it nine. Bobby Crosby may have run out of steam down the stretch (.196 in August and September). But he still leads a lousy crop of AL rookies in homers (22), RBI (64) and just about everything else. He's fortunate Joe Mauer got hurt, and Justin Morneau just missed qualifying as a rookie. But that's not his fault. Considering all that was asked of him, Bobby Crosby had a terrific year. BALLOT: 1) Crosby, 2) Shingo Takatsu, 3) Daniel Cabrera. ROOKIES OF THE HALF-YEAR (POST JULY 1): 1) Bobby Madritsch, 2) Jesse Crain, 3) John Buck.

National League Rookie of the Year
JASON BAY, PIRATES -- Over the last 57 years, the Pirates have won three World Series, seven division titles, six MVP awards, two Cy Youngs and more than 4,400 games -- but no rookie-of-the-year awards. They're the only team that has been around that long that can make that claim. But not for long. Maybe Barry Bonds, Willie Stargell and Dave Parker couldn't win this thing. But Jason Bay ought to, if the voters are really paying attention. The argument for Khalil Greene is that he has been so spectacular defensively. Which is true -- to a point. But he also ranks near the bottom of the league in errors, fielding percentage and range factor. Meanwhile, Bay missed five weeks with shoulder surgery -- but has rolled up quasi-historic numbers since he was activated in May. His .566 slugging percentage would be the third-highest by any NL rookie in history who got as many at-bats as he has. And he has hit a home run every 15.35 at-bats, the fourth-best homer rate of any NL rookie in history (just ahead of Mike Piazza's 15.63 in 1993). Had Bay been around all year, this would be the easiest rookie pick since Albert Pujols. BALLOT: 1) Bay, 2) Greene, 3) Akinori Otsuka. ROOKIES OF THE HALF-YEAR: 1) David Wright, 2) Noah Lowry, 3) Luke Hudson.

Managers of the Year
BUCK SHOWALTER, RANGERS, AND BOBBY COX, BRAVES -- No team has ever made the postseason in a season in which it had to use (gulp) 17 starting pitchers. But Showalter almost pulled that off with one of the all-time pitching-staff juggling acts. Jugglers this good shouldn't work for Tom Hicks. They should work for Cirque du Soleil. Meanwhile, we're not sure why Cox hasn't won about eight manager-of-the-year awards by now. But if he doesn't get one for steering this seemingly ordinary team to about 97 wins, then why are we even bothering to award these things? AL BALLOT: 1) Showalter, 2) Mike Scioscia, 3) Eric Wedge. NL BALLOT: 1) Cox, 2) Phil Garner, 3) Tony La Russa.

Best Season By A Jayson Award
JAYSON WERTH, DODGERS -- 16 homers in 277 at-bats, higher slugging percentage (.495) than Shawn Green or Steve Finley.

Worst Season By A Stark Award
DENNY STARK, ROCKIES -- Good thing this guy isn't in our family, or we'd have to eject him. An 11.42 ERA. Allowed 53 hits in 26 innings. Made six starts and gave up seven runs or more in four of them. And we can't even blame the Rocky Mountains. He made only two starts at home.

Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com.