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Marlins' Ramirez top rookie

Hanley Ramirez, the onetime prized prospect of the Red Sox who was traded to Florida in the Josh Beckett-Mike Lowell deal, yesterday was named National League Rookie of the Year.

The Marlins shortstop edged Nationals third baseman Ryan Zimmerman by four points in the closest NL vote since the current format was adopted 26 years ago.

Tigers pitcher Justin Verlander took American League honors, with Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon a distant second.

Ramirez, who batted .292 with 17 homers, 46 doubles, 59 RBIs, 119 runs, and 51 stolen bases, got 14 of 30 first-place votes and finished with 105 points. Zimmerman received 10 first-place votes and totaled 101 points and actually appeared on more ballots than Ramirez (29-27), He hit .287 with 20 homers, 110 RBIs, and 47 doubles. Three of the top four NL finishers were Marlins. Second baseman Dan Uggla came in third, getting the other six first-place votes, and pitcher Josh Johnson was fourth.

"I'm so happy," Ramirez said. "I want to thank each one of my teammates, because every day they gave me the energy to play in the big leagues."

Verlander easily won the AL honor after his closest competitors in a race dominated by pitchers were sidelined late in the season because of injuries. The hard-throwing righthander, who helped the surprising Tigers reach the World Series, was listed first on 26 of 28 ballots for a total of 133 points.

Papelbon had 63 points, and Minnesota lefty Francisco Liriano finished third.

"I was pretty excited. I was actually outside washing the car. I totally forgot that today was the day it was announced," Verlander said. "It was pretty fun just to be a part of this rookie class."

The 23-year-old Verlander, who went 17-9 with a 3.63 ERA, became the first starting pitcher to win AL Rookie of the Year since Dave Righetti of the Yankees in 1981.

Valentin, Matsui stay put
Second baseman Jose Valentin decided to stay in New York, reaching a preliminary agreement with the Mets on a one-year contract worth about $3 million, pending a physical. The deal includes an option for 2008 that could become guaranteed. The 37-year-old hit .271 with 18 homers and 62 RBIs last season, displacing Kaz Matsui as New York's second baseman. Matsui also decided to stay put, agreeing to a $1.5 million, one-year deal with the Rockies. Matsui, 31, hit .267 with 3 homers and 26 RBIs in 70 games for the Rockies and Mets last season. The Mets dealt Matsui to the Rockies June 9, and he spent nearly three months at Triple A Colorado Springs before returning to the majors Aug. 23. A seven-time All-Star in Japan, Matsui was the first Japanese infielder to sign with a major league team when he joined the Mets in 2003 for a $20.1 million, three-year contract . . . The Devil Rays released righthanded reliever Tyler Walker, who missed much of the season after undergoing Tommy John surgery in June. He appeared in 20 games with Tampa Bay, going 1-3 with a 4.95 ERA and 10 saves.

A's zeroing in on manager
The Athletics narrowed their list of managerial candidates to three, eliminating Trey Hillman from consideration. The team said because Hillman has a contractual obligation to give notice to his club in Japan either way, Oakland informed him of its decision to move forward in the process without him. That leaves A's bench coach Bob Geren, Rockies bench coach Jamie Quirk, and ESPN analyst and former Rangers pitching coach Orel Hershiser still in the mix. Geren has been considered the front-runner . . . Joe Girardi, who was fired after one successful season as manager of the low-rent Marlins, will rejoin the Yankees' cable network, YES, as an analyst. Girardi, a former Yankees catcher and coach, said he might leave if a manager's job opens during the season . . . The Mets' new $800 million stadium, slated to open for the 2009 season, will be called CitiField, part of a 20-year sponsorship deal between the team and Citigroup Inc. that is said to be worth an average of $20 million annually. The stadium, designed to kindle memories of Ebbets Field, will include the Jackie Robinson Rotunda, which will pay tribute to the former Dodger who broke the color barrier in professional baseball . . . The world champion Cardinals will host the Mets in the 2007 season opener Sunday night April 1 on ESPN2 . . . Twins general manager Terry Ryan was named Executive of the Year by the Sporting News in balloting by 60 major league officials.

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