FORT MYERS, FLA. -- I wound up with an opportunity to cast one of the two baseball-writers ballots from the Twin Cities for the American League’s MVP award in 2017. I enjoyed considerably the chance to sort through that season's collection of candidates.
Altuve. Judge. Ramirez. Lindor. Sale. Kluber. Trout (despite injury).
The field was stupendous. I put Jose Altuve, Houston’s wonderful second baseman, at the top. I also found a place for Marwin Gonzalez, the Astros’ extra-productive utility player, at No. 9.
The deadline for ballots is the last day of the regular season. The Astros winning the World Series was a bonus for backers of Altuve and Gonzalez.
On Friday, Jon Heyman broke the news on FanRag Sports that the Twins had outlasted several competitors and had a made a deal to sign Gonzalez. This was confirmed quickly and Gonzalez will be signing a two-year, $21 million contract after passing a Twins’ physical.
Richard Justice has been a sports writer in Houston for two decades – 11 years as a Chronicle columnist, and now an MLB.com columnist since 2011. He knows his Astros and was asked by text for a Gonzalez scouting report that went beyond the numbers.
“One heckuva guy. Funny. One of those players every other player loves. Altuve’s best friend. Out of all the guys that the Astros have let go, Marwin is the one the fans love.
“A good reason for that is he hit the biggest home run in franchise history. Game 2, 2017 World Series, two outs in ninth, takes 0-2 Kenley Jansen fastball over the wall. He don’t hit that one, Astros don’t win the World Series.
“I don’t know if he can be as a good as he was in 2017 when he should have been an All-Star, but he still can play anywhere. [Astros manager] A.J. Hinch says all the time, ‘That’s an amazing thing to know when you come to the ballpark … that you have a guy who can play anywhere.’
“I kept thinking the Astros would bring him back, although he did decline a little in 2018.’’
Justice then issued this warning: “He takes a stroll around home plate after every pitch. If you need to use the restroom, do it while Marwin’s at-bat.’’