In what’s quickly becoming an annual rite of summer, Mike Trout of the Los Angeles Angels once again led the American League in wins above replacement (WAR), the single-number metric of choice for most sabermetricians when it comes to measuring a player’s all-around value. But this season, Trout’s WAR crown came attached to a more conventionally recognized accolade: The AL MVP award. Trout, 23, was announced Thursday as the unanimous choice for the honor, becoming the youngest to ever achieve the distinction.Trout’s quest for the MVP had become something of a cause célèbre for statheads after two seasons of fiercely battling Detroit Tigers third baseman Miguel Cabrera for the award. As a rookie, Trout bested Cabrera by a landslide in WAR (10.8 to 7.2) but finished as MVP runner-up because Cabrera won the triple crown (leading the league in batting average, home runs and RBIs — a somewhat arbitrary feat derided by new-school writers as an out-of-touch relic of the pre-sabermetrics era). The following year, Trout once again out-WARed Cabrera (8.9 to 7.5) and finished second in the voting.By that time, Trout vs. Cabrera had become what NBC Sports’ Craig Calcaterra called a “proxy battle in a larger cold war” — namely, the religious conflict between baseball’s traditionalists and a still relatively new breed of number crunchers who came of age reading Bill James. You could tell a lot about a fan’s viewpoint on the game from which player they decided to back in the AL’s MVP derby.This year, though, Trout had no such opposition. Once again, a Tiger was his closest competitor — designated hitter Victor Martinez finished second in the voting — but Trout easily topped Martinez (and everyone else in the AL), according to WAR. As for Cabrera, his numbers were down across the board this season, limiting his ability to contend for a three-peat.The irony of Trout finally winning the MVP, of course, is that his 7.9 WAR in 2014 represents the worst full season of his career to date. The WAR edge he had over the AL’s No. 2, Josh Donaldson (who trailed Trout by 0.5 WAR), was lower than the margin by which Trout defeated runners-up Robinson Cano in 2012 (2.4) and Donaldson in 2013 (0.9 WAR). Now that the floodgates have opened, Trout — who has more WAR through age 22 than anyone in baseball history — will probably rake in more MVPs as his career goes on, even though he may have already peaked.
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US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has announced that he will be visiting India later this month to build on “an incredibly important relationship” that is “closely tied economically”.Pompeo’s visit will take place as the two countries get ready for a meeting between a newly re-elected Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Donald Trump during the G-20 Summit on June 28 and 29 in Osaka, Japan.In preparation for his visit, Pompeo will be outlining to Indian business leaders in Washington on Wednesday “what we’ve been working on for my entire time here in the Indo-Pacific”, he told reporters at the State Department on Monday.Pompeo’s focus on economic ties comes amid stresses in trade relations from Trump’s America First policy and priority to cut trade deficits.”I’m looking forward to the opportunity both to give the set of remarks about how it is our relationship is so closely tied economically, but also importantly the things that the United States and India can continue to do to build out what is an incredibly important relationship for both countries,” he said.Modi and Trump are to meet during the G-20 Summit hosted by Japan in Osaka on June 28 and 29.Pompeo described India as “an important part of President Trump’s strategy in the Indo-Pacific”.His visit to the region starting on June 24 will “broaden and deepen our partnership with key countries to advance our shared goal of a free and open Indo-Pacific”, State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus said on Monday.”Prime Minister Modi’s recent election victory provides an excellent opportunity for him to implement his vision for a strong and prosperous India that plays a leading role on the global stage,” she added.After India, Pompeo is scheduled to visit Sri Lanka.Pompeo is to deliver the keynote address on Wednesday to the two-day India Ideas Summit of the US-India Business Council on “The US and India: An Economic Foundation for a Free and Open Indo-Pacific”.India has been in Trump’s trade crosshairs. The US ended tariff concessions to some imports from India under the General Scheme of Preferences earlier this month accusing New Delhi of not giving “equitable and reasonable access” to its markets.India was also hit by Trump imposing 25 per cent tariff on steel imports and 10 aluminium imports last year. India has threatened retaliatory tariffs on agricultural imports from the US.Trump has criticised India several times over import duties on Harley Davidson motorcycles, which are a favourite of a section of his base, and whiskey, a product of Kentucky state that was one of his electoral bastions.India has also criticised the US tightening restrictions on H1-B professional visas that affects technology workers from India and moves to strip the spouses of the visa-holders of work permits.India has also been affected by the harsh oil sanctions on Iran and Washington’s refusal to extend the exemption given to New Delhi for buying oil from Teheran.The trade diplomacy baton appears to have been passed on to Pompeo from Trump officials with primary responsibility. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, the principal negotiator, did not make an expected visit to India last year and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross cancelled a visit in February.Although Trump’s Indo-Pacific strategy that places democracies India and the US as “bookends of stability” for the region is girded by shared defence interests, the economic factor has also been introduced into it.Late last month, the Quad countries — India, Australia, Japan and the US that are the key players in balancing China in the Indo-Pacific — discussed leveraging the power of the private sector by encouraging “transparent, principles-based investment in quality infrastructure”.This would be a strategy to counter China’s economic diplomacy that promotes infrastructure development in its quest for global influence.The US wants to increase military hardware sales to India and Assistant Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs Clarke Cooper, who oversees defence sales, visited India days after the Indian elections.The State Department said before his visit that the agenda was to focus on “expanding our security cooperation, and furthering opportunities for American industry” and noted that US-India bilateral defence trade has risen from virtually zero in 2008 to $15 billion now.But India buying the Russian S-400 anti-missile defence system could be a roadblock to the US expanding military sales to India.The US has retaliated against NATO partner Turkey over its planned purchase of the system denying the sale of F-35 stealth jets and restricting training for its air force.While Washington opposes India’s purchase of the S-400, it has not directly threatened sanctions. Pompeo is expected to try to persuade India to drop the purchase and offer alternatives.
Alex Wong/Getty ImagesSpecial counsel Robert Mueller (left) arrives at the U.S. Capitol for closed meeting with members of the Senate Judiciary Committee on June 21 in Washington, D.C.Five months into his mandate, Justice Department special counsel Robert Mueller III unleashed a legal version of “shock and awe” on Monday with criminal charges against President Trump’s former campaign chairman and a guilty plea by a foreign policy aide.Mueller made no public comment about the charges or the next steps in an investigation that’s irritating the White House and riveting the nation. But there are some clues in the court documents about where the former FBI director and his investigators may be heading.1. The Foreign Agents Registration ActAmong the charges facing former campaign chairman Paul Manafort and his right-hand man Richard Gates is failing to register as agents of a foreign government, and making false and misleading statements about that. The grand jury indictment unsealed Monday accuses the men of working on behalf of Ukraine and telling the Justice Department their activities “did not include meetings or outreach within the U.S.”Those charges are controversial, in part because violations of the Foreign Agents Registration Act are rarely enforced. Kevin Downing, a lawyer for Manafort, told reporters outside the courthouse that prosecutors have used that “very novel” charge only six times since 1966, winning just one conviction.On Capitol Hill, however, Senate Republican Charles Grassley of Iowa offered praise for that approach: “It’s good to see the Justice Department taking seriously its responsibility to enforce” the law, Grassley said in a written statement.“I’ve been raising concerns about lackluster enforcement of this foreign influence disclosure law for years now, regardless of administration or political party,” he added. “The dirty little secret is that lots of people across the political spectrum in Washington have skirted their FARA obligations for years now with little to no accountability.”Grassley convened an oversight hearing on the issue in July, flagging work by Mercury LLC and the Podesta Group on behalf of what he calls “a front for the Ukrainian government.” The firms are mentioned in the indictment as “Company A” and “Company B.” A prominent Democratic lobbyist, Tony Podesta, announced he would step down from that firm Monday after the charges became public.At least one other person with ties to the Trump campaign, former national security adviser Michael Flynn, belatedly filed a foreign agent registration with the Justice Department this year connected with his work on behalf of Turkey. He has not been charged with a crime.2. Will Manafort fight?Despite an onslaught of pressure from federal investigators, including an FBI raid on his residence in July, Manafort has steadfastly denied wrongdoing, and people close to Manafort say he has little of use to offer the special counsel.Even so, the 31-page indictment suggests that federal investigators are not finished squeezing him. Authorities want to seize Manafort’s properties in New York and Virginia, at a time when he’s already strapped for cash. The court papers refer to business dealings with Manafort’s daughter and son-in-law, who have not been publicly charged with any crimes.And the Manafort indictment doesn’t refer to contacts between Manafort and Russians with close ties to Vladimir Putin, despite media reports that he emailed with a longtime Ukrainian client in Putin’s camp to offer private briefings on the election.3. Fallout from the Papadopoulos pleaThe guilty plea by George Papadopoulos, a 30-year-old former foreign policy adviser to the Trump campaign, detailed a series of contacts he had with people close to the Russian government in 2016. The court documents said Papadopoulos reported his conversations to a “supervisor” and “high-ranking” members of the campaign team.Investigators said that after his secret arrest in July, Papadopoulos has been meeting with the government “on numerous occasions to provide information and answer questions.”The message: He may be offering evidence against others still under investigation. Other people inside the Trump campaign also are said to have received overtures from Russians or Russian agents at about the same time that Trump named Papadopoulos as an adviser. One of them, Carter Page, traveled to Moscow at least twice last year.Thomas Breen and Robert Stanley, lawyers for Papadopoulos, said they had to refrain from comment on the case for now. But, they added, “We will have the opportunity to comment on George’s involvement when called upon by the court at a later date. We look forward to telling all of the details of George’s story at that time.”4. Will Mueller keep his job?Congressional Democrats reacted quickly after the indictments to insist that the independence of special counsel Mueller and his team must be protected. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said the rule of law is “paramount.”“The president must not, under any circumstances, interfere with the special counsel’s work in any way,” Schumer added. “If he does so, Congress must respond swiftly, unequivocally, and in a bipartisan way to ensure that the investigation continues.”At the White House, press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said there was “no intention or plan to make any changes in regards to the special counsel.”Trump lawyer Jay Sekulow told CNN he’s had no conversations with Trump about issuing pardons for Manafort or others implicated in the Russia investigation.But Mueller could charge more people in Trump’s world and bring even more heat onto the president’s camp — which might prompt Trump to revise his thinking about trying to get rid of the special counsel.And legal experts say they don’t know what might happen if Trump exercises his sweeping power to pardon people in a way that obstructs the Mueller probe.Copyright 2017 NPR. 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WikiCommonsMedical marijuana.A ruling by a New Mexico judge this week may enable Texas residents to register for that state’s medical marijuana program. But critics are worried that Texans may end up breaking state and federal laws.New Mexico’s Department of Health went to court this summer to challenge a law that would issue ID cards to out-of-state residents, including Texans, to buy medical marijuana. It argued the law encourages non-residents to violate state and federal laws and was never meant to include them.But a state district judge in Santa Fe disagreed and ordered the state agency to issue the cards to non-residents. The court will hear arguments against the ruling on Aug. 19.Jax Finkel is the executive director of the Texas chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, or NORML. She agrees with News Mexico’s Department of Health that the change would lead to an increase in arrests.She’s also concerned the program could lead to both confusion among Texan patients and an increase in arrests.“While we want patients to have access to medical cannabis, it is problematic that they would have to cross state lines. This would lead them to break federal law,” Finkel said.Finkel said these patients could face marijuana possession charges if they cross back into Texas because the Lone Star State’s Compassionate Use Program only covers CBD oil that has a psychoactive THC concentration of less than 0.5%, and patients must be listed on Texas’ registry. The ruling applies to all U.S. states, but in the lawsuit, Texas and Arizona are named as two states that could specifically benefit. This story has been updated.Ryan Poppe can be reached at RPoppe@TPR.org and on Twitter at @RyanPoppe1. Share