Who is going to win the National League Most Valuable Player?
That is the question on everyone's minds as we enter the first week of spring training.
You can't really say there is a front-runner going into the 2012 season. All you can say is that there are a handful of candidates who have the capability to capture the award.
Here is a breakdown of the top-five MVP candidates entering spring training.
Much to the chagrin of New York Mets fans, Jose Reyes decided to pull a LeBron James and take his "talents to South Beach." The Miami Marlins now have a bona-fide MVP candidate to lead them into a new home.
Reyes had a strong 2011 season in which he won his first batting title with a .337 BA. He also led the league in triples with 16.
There are two obstacles for Reyes: durability and consistency. Reyes has averaged 98 games over the past three seasons. He missed a significant part of 2009 with a myriad of leg injuries, playing in only 36 games.
His numbers have been inconsistent as well. Although he won the batting title last year, he has put up very pedestrian numbers, averaging .286 over the three seasons prior to 2011. Those two factors loom large for Reyes.
Another factor could be his contract. Reyes signed a six-year, $106 million contract, and if he struggles, his relationship with Marlin fans and ownership could head south in a hurry.
You have to feel bad for Matt Kemp.
If not for Jose Reyes' .337 BA, Kemp would have had a great chance to become the first player since Carl Yastrzemski to win the Triple Crown, (.324 BA, 39 HR, 126 RBI). Unfortunately for Kemp, the Los Angeles Dodgers did not qualify for the playoffs with an 82-79 record. Some will say that was part of the determining factor of why Ryan Braun won the MVP award.
So, what can you expect Kemp to bring to the table in 2012?
At 26, Kemp is a five-tool player entering his prime. He has been relatively healthy over the past four seasons, which will definitely help his cause. The key determining factor for Kemp will be how much lineup protection he receives from his supporting cast.
You can look at this two ways: If he receives as little support as he did last year and his team manages to win their division or secure a postseason berth, he may be the front-runner. On the other hand, if teams pitch around Kemp (i.e., Barry Bonds) and players like James Loney, Rod Barajas and Andre Ethier can't contribute, it will be difficult for Kemp to win the award.
This could be a significant breakout year for the 21-year-old Chicago Cubs shortstop. Castro avoided the dreaded sophomoric slump by posting strong numbers (.307 BA, 10 HRs, 66 RBI). He also led the National League in hits with 207.
One aspect of Castro's game that needs to improve is his defensive play at shortstop. He led the National League in errors last year with 29. This followed up his freshman campaign, where he tallied 27 errors in 125 games.
The Cubs will need Castro to shine in 2012 in order to contend. If he can cut down on mistakes at shortstop, he may ultimately be in the MVP mix by season's end.
Ryan Braun won his appeal to have his 50-game suspension for a positive drug test overturned. The reigning National League MVP can now be thrown into the mix.
Braun led the Milwaukee Brewers to the 2011 National League Central crown with a 96-66 record. His stellar numbers, (.332 BA, 33 HR, 111 RBI) earned him his first MVP in 2011. Braun has been consistent over his five-year career. He has averaged about 30 HR and 100 RBI over that span.
Can Braun win a second consecutive MVP award?
The hardest thing for Braun to overcome may not be statistical, but more perceptual. If Braun duplicates his 2011 season, it will be interesting to see how the baseball writers choose to vote.
What about Ryan Howard, Joey Votto, Justin Upton and Troy Tulowitzki?
The one thing about baseball is that nothing ever stays the same. One player who comes to mind is Lance Berkman. No one could have ever imagined that Berkman would have had such a strong season (.301 BA, 31 HR, 94 RBI) in 2011. The previous season, he was downright average (.248 BA, 14 HR, 58 RBI).
Berkman looked like he was on his way to the broadcast booth. Instead, he was named Comeback Player of the Year, finished seventh in MVP voting and helped lead the St. Louis Cardinals to a championship.
Will Zimmerman do the same for the Washington Nationals?
The Nationals' slugger had a decent year in 2011. His numbers (.289 BA, 12 HR, 49 RBI) were good, considering the fact he missed 61 games due to an abdominal injury.
Zimmerman, 27, is entering his prime and has shown promise in the past that he can put it all together. In 2009, he put up strong numbers (.292 BA, 33 HR, 106 RBI). If he can stay healthy and receives support from incumbents such as Jayson Werth, those numbers could go up.