While spring training is still almost a week away, it's never too early to take a peek at which players have the best chance of playing at an MVP level in each league.
Obviously injuries can play a factor, but in the absence of them I have chosen 10 players from the AL and NL that I believe have legitimate shots at carrying their respective teams.
A lot of these guys will be no-brainers as they are legit candidates every year. There may be a few players who have flown under the radar, but I feel are ready to take their games to another level in 2011.
Enough talk. Let's get this show on the road.
Your first response to seeing Choo here at No. 10 may have been to ask yourself if this is the MVP list or if I may have thought it was something else. I have the right player, and I have the right list.
Most of you are probably unfamiliar with Shin-Soo Choo. Well, that's why I'm here. Readers, meet Mr. Choo and his 2010 stats:
144 G, .300 BA, 81 R, 31 2B, 22 HR, 90 RBI, 22 SB, 83 BB. 118 K, .401 OBP, .484 SLG, .885 OPS
While his numbers aren't eye-popping, they are very good across the board. He is just entering his prime and ready to explode.
I understand the Indians aren't a good team, and Choo is a long shot. That's why he's here at no. 10.
One-hit wonder? That could certainly be the case. When a 29-year-old bursts onto the scene with 54 HR and had never before hit more than 16 in a season, the odds are it's a fluke. A fluke maybe, but it's hard to play that far above your head for an entire season.
Besides the HR, Bautista posted incredible numbers in SLG (.617) and OPS (.995).
Vernon Wells got his ticket out of Toronto, so there isn't much left in the way of established hitters around Bautista in the everyday lineup. That could mean pitchers will try to pitch around Bautista more often.
All that being said, there's no way I could ignore his 2010 season, which is why he is here at No. 9.
I'm sure some people are getting sick of seeing this guy's face whether it's on the field in a Yankees uniform or at the Super Bowl getting popcorn shoved into his pie-hole.
One thing is undeniable. A-Rod is still a big-time run producer. He may not be much of a defender at this stage of his career, but not many Yankees fans care.
Even when he missed games due to injury, as he did in 2010, he still hit 30 bombs and drove in 125. It makes you wonder where those numbers would have ended up if he hadn't missed those 25 games.
Whether you love him or hate him, A-Rod certainly has earned a place on this list.
I'm sure I'll catch some heat for putting Carl Crawford on this list for a couple of reasons. First of all, I put him ahead of A-Rod. Second, I put him on this list instead of Kevin Youkilis. In the end I believe Crawford belongs right exactly where he is.
His numbers last season weren't very far off the line Dustin Pedroia put up in his MVP season in 2008. The difference here is that the only really good hitter behind Crawford in the lineup last season was Evan Longoria. I think you know who will be hitting behind him this season.
Crawford's impressive all-around numbers make him a very attractive candidate for this list.
Speaking of Evan Longoria, here he is at no. 6.
At age 25, Longoria is the youngest of the AL candidates. He has been an All-Star all three of his seasons with the Rays. He has also received votes for MVP in each of those seasons including finishing sixth in 2010.
While his power numbers dropped a bit last season, he still was a consistent run producer. While he won't have Carl Crawford to drive in any longer, he'll have some other experienced hitters in the lineup, including Manny Ramirez, Johnny Damon and Justin Upton, who should bounce back this year. Rookie Desmond Jennings should also be a fixture in that lineup.
Don't expect more of the same from Longoria. Expect A LOT more. He's improving every year and this could be the one he busts out.
A lot of people may have forgotten about the big Canadian from the Twin Cities. That's easy to do when you miss exactly half of the previous season.
Anyone who forgot about Justin Morneau needs to apologize. He's already won one MVP and finished second in the voting for another.
Based on his 81-game numbers from last season, Morneau was on pace to hit .345, 50 2B, 36 HR, 112 RBI with .618 SLG and 1.055 OPS.
That would have put him right there with Josh Hamilton. Expect something similar this year barring injury of course.
Here is the second new addition to the Red Sox on this list. Playing in San Diego didn't do much to give him exposure, but it did provide beautiful weather basically every single day. That counts for something right?
In San Diego, he struggled to drive in 100 runs mainly because of the hitters in front and behind him in the line-up. They were average at best. That won't be the case in Boston. They can't pitch around him anymore.
Even with those challenges in San Diego, he still received MVP votes in each of the past four seasons, including finishing fourth in 2010.
I don't think should be a surprise to anyone. He has been a beast the past two seasons. He's another guy in a great lineup, making it much more difficult for pitchers to pitch around him.
One thing that makes Cano a candidate for MVP every season is his durability. It's hard to win the award if you can't stay healthy. Ignore Josh Hamilton. He doesn't count. He's a freak of nature.
If Cano's power continues to improve, so will his RBI totals. If that happens, he'll win one of these sooner rather than later.
There isn't much I need to say about Hamilton. After all, he was the AL MVP in 2010 even after missing 29 games. He killed it.
Having Adrian Beltre in the lineup this season sure won't hurt, and neither will a healthy Ian Kinsler.
Even the biggest blowhard out there can't help but root for this guy.
It's only a matter of time until Cabrera wins an MVP award. He has probably been the most consistent hitter in the MLB from 2004-2010. During that time he has averaged 34 HR, 117 RBI, .317 BA.
Cabrera has been named on an MVP ballot every single year he has been playing in the majors with both Florida and Detroit. He's finish second, fourth and fifth twice. Last year he finished 96 points behind Josh Hamilton. This could finally be his year.
Having Victor Martinez in the lineup can only be a plus for his MVP candidacy.
David Wright is a star in a big city. He's the best player on the Mets and a consistent run producer. If some of his teammates could stay on the field on a more regular basis, he would have an even better shot at being NL MVP.
Since 2005, he has garnered MVP votes every season. One thing he does that most don't at his position is steal bases. He's not going to go out there and drop 30 on you in a season, but 20 is definitely a realistic number.
I have no reason to believe Wright won't hit over .300 and knock out over 100 RBI. If he does, he'll be right there in the MVP conversation.
The first thing I need to point out is that Fielder becomes a free agent at the end of the 2011 season, which everyone probably knows. I think we've all seen that a situation like that can truly motivate players.
Last season was an "off year" for Prince. He only hit 32 HR and had 83 RBI. That is in contrast to his 2009 numbers of 46 HR and 141 RBI. My guess is that his numbers this season will fall somewhere in between.
Prince doesn't hit for a high average, but he did lead the league in walks last season. He has very good players hitting ahead of him, and the bases should have company when he's at the plate.
Fielder has finished third and fourth in MVP voting in the past, so winning in 2011 is no pipe dream.
Obviously Hanley Ramirez was excited to have LeBron come and join him in Miami. Maybe we'll be looking at two MVP's in South Beach this year.
Playing in south Florida probably doesn't get Ramirez the exposure he deserves. Consequently, not that many people are aware of the kind of numbers he puts up year in and year out. Please let me enlighten those of you that are unaware.
Over the past five seasons, Ramirez has averaged:
.313 BA, 112 R, 40 2B, 25 HR, 39 SB, .385 OBP, .905 OPS
He finished second in MVP voting in 2009, so the voters are aware. This could be the year.
Ryan Howard is another player who there isn't much to say about as far as his chances at winning an MVP go. I suppose I could say, "Been there, done that." I guess I just did. Howard won the award in 2006 and was second in 2008.
Since 2005, Howard has averaged 42 HR and 131 RBI. If you take out the half season he played in 2005, those averages jump to 46 HR and 136 RBI.
Numbers like those will put you in the MVP discussion every single year.
Look, it's the gazillion dollar man! Well, it's close at least. Now that the Rockies have Tulowitzki locked up through 2020, they're expecting a lot from him. With the kind of contract he signed, there will be a lot of pressure.
When Tulowitzki is healthy, he is phenomenal. Last year when he wasn't healthy and missed 40 games, he was still phenomenal. In fact, he finished fifth in MVP voting while playing in only 122 games. In his four seasons in the majors, Tulowitzki received MVP votes in three of them.
Tulowitzki is well-known and well-respected, and as a result will always be there in the voter's minds.
This might be a surprise to many, but Jason Heyward is that good. Did he reach his potential last year? Not even close. Can he improve for the 2011 season? Absolutely. I not only believe he can, but I believe that he will.
There obviously isn't anything to compare Heyward's 2010 stats to, so I'd like to just give one of his stats from last season that I think speaks volumes. What is one area that nearly all young hitters need to improve upon? I'm referring to plate discipline. In 2010 Heyward walked 91 times. That was good for fourth in the NL. You just don't see that in 21-year-old hitters.
If he already has that good of an eye at the plate, odds are it will get even better. I may be taking a leap of faith with Heyward, but I believe he's going to be right in the discussion all the way to the end.
I'm pretty sure some people won't be happy with me putting Votto down in the fourth spot. Just hear me out before you do anything rash.
The only players ever to win back-to-back MVP awards, which started in 1931, are Joe Morgan, Hal Newhouser, Ernie Banks, Frank Thomas, Albert Pujols, Barry Bonds, Jimmie Foxx, Dale Murphy, Mike Schmidt, Yogi Berra, Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle.
I thought that was important because repeating as an MVP is a relatively rare occurrence. Votto certainly has the skills to do it, but can the Reds have the same kind of season they had in 2010? I'm not betting on it. The players around Votto have to play well in order for him to repeat. I don't have confidence that will happen.
In 2010 Ryan Braun had an uneven season. His home run numbers were down, but the rest of his stats seemed to be on par with what you would expect. Anyone who has paid attention over the last few years should know that Braun should be considered right up there with the top players in the NL.
Kicking former manager Ken Macha out the door should only help Braun. From most everything I have heard, the two of them never saw eye to eye. Having Ron Roenicke on board will be a breath of fresh air not only for Braun, but also for the rest of the team.
With Rickie Weeks and possibly Corey Hart still hitting in front of him and Prince Fielder and Casey McGehee behind him, Braun will have ample opportunity to become a frontrunner for NL MVP.
Albert is Albert. He puts up numbers no matter who hits in front or behind him. He's just that good. In the end, Albert will get his. Sometimes it's just difficult to see how with the lack of good hitters around him.
Anyone who knows anything about baseball knows Albert Pujols. He's a three-time MVP, puts up ridiculous numbers every single year and in the end may be in the discussion of the best hitters of all time. He's a perennial MVP candidate. I'm not sure why I wrote all that other stuff.
CarGo made a name for himself in his first full major league season in 2010 with the Rockies. I guess that would be the simple way to put it. The dude was electrifying. That's probably more in line with what he accomplished.
As a result of his play, he finished third in NL MVP voting in 2010. Going into his second full season at age 25, there's no doubt that the best has yet to come. Gonzalez is going to be paired for a long time with Troy Tulowitzki in the Rockies lineup as they both recently signed long-term contract extensions.
Gonzalez's 2010 line looks like this:
.336 BA, 111 R, 197 H, 34 2B, 9 3B, 34 HR, 117 RBI, 26 SB, .376 OBP, .598 SLG, .974 OPS
I'm looking forward to seeing CarGo's game develop even further mainly by walking a bit more and cutting down a little on strikeouts. Now I'm just nit-picking.