Koji Uehara Was Right Choice for 2013 10th Player Award, Although at Least Three Others Deserved Consideration

Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Koji UeharaRed Sox fans are an intelligent bunch. It’s no surprise that they made the right call for this year’s 10th Player Award.

Koji Uehara was voted this year’s 10th Player for going above and beyond expectations. It’s nearly impossible to argue with the pick, although there are at least three other Red Sox players who deserve a tip of the cap when it comes to this year’s voting.

First, there’s Daniel Nava.

To say that Nava has exceeded expectations this season would be a massive understatement. Not only has the 30-year-old come out of nowhere to enjoy his best major league season to date, but he has also been one of the Red Sox’ most important players all season. He has produced in a number of different roles, and his versatility — both defensively and in terms of being able to move up and down the lineup — has allowed John Farrell to get creative.

Nava went undrafted out of college and signed with an Independent League team. The Red Sox later purchased the rights to Nava for $1 after the outfielder’s 2007 season with the Chico Outlaws of the Golden Baseball League. Red Sox fans are well-aware of Nava’s grand slam in his first major league at-bat, but it looked like he’d be nothing more than an up-and-down fringe player until this season’s outburst.

Now, Nava enters Saturday’s game in Baltimore as one of baseball’s most productive switch-hitting outfielders. Nava is hitting .336 (43-for-128) since Aug. 1 and .297 overall. His .381 on-base percentage this season is first in the majors among switch-hitters and second only to Mike Trout’s .431 mark among American League outfielders. Nava’s .821 OPS is third among AL outfielders, and he even had a streak of 41 consecutive starts reaching base from June 22 to Sept. 6.

Then, there’s John Lackey.

Lackey was the ultimate wild card entering this season. He was awful during his first two seasons in Boston, and then missed all of 2012 following Tommy John surgery. There were admittedly some who were optimistic that the 34-year-old could rebound and be respectable in 2013, but even the biggest optimist probably didn’t envision the right-hander serving as Boston’s most consistent starter for a lengthy stretch.

Lackey’s 10-13 record is, by no means, indicative of how good he’s been this season. Lackey’s ERA has jumped from 2.78 on July 12 to its current mark of 3.52, but the veteran hurler was instrumental in keeping the Red Sox’ rotation rolling during Clay Buchholz’s prolonged absence. With some extra run support, Lackey would probably be looking at somewhere between 15 and 17 wins in the middle of the Red Sox’ rotation.

And don’t forget about Mike Carp, who fits the term, “10th player,” in its traditional sense.

One of the biggest reasons for the Red Sox’ success this season has been their depth. It’s something that Farrell has lauded time and time again, and it’s why the Sox didn’t skip a beat whenever one of their starters battled an injury. Carp truly personifies Boston’s “next man up” mantra.

Whether it’s starting in place of Mike Napoli at first base, getting the call at one of the corner outfield positions or taking his cuts off the bench in a pinch-hit role, Carp has thrived. And rather than complain about playing time — which no one would have blamed him for — he has stayed focused, sharp and willing to help out in any way possible.

Carp enters Saturday’s game hitting .295 with nine home runs and 42 RBIs in 210 at-bats over 84 games. Carp leads the AL with nine pinch-hit RBIs, and among players with at least 200 plate appearances, he ranks eighth in the league with a .524 slugging percentage. That’s not a bad plug-and-play option.

There are other players who Red Sox fans could have gravitated toward as well. Shane Victorino has been excellent all year, Stephen Drew showed why Boston signed him and Felix Doubront was as consistent as they come for a 15-start stretch. Nava, Lackey and Carp are just worth noting because they sit a single step below Uehara when it comes to the surprise factor.

Uehara ultimately deserved the nod for this year’s 10th Player because he didn’t just exceed expectations. He blew them out of the water en route to becoming one of baseball’s best closers and perhaps even the Red Sox’ MVP. But as we head toward October baseball, it’s worth noting that this year’s 10th Player voting was made extremely fascinating by its can’t-miss nature.

Uehara was the right choice. Everyone else — especially Nava, Lackey and Carp — deserves a tip of the cap.

Have a question for Ricky Doyle? Send it to him via Twitter at @TheRickyDoyle or send it here.

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