Last year, Mookie Betts and Christian Yelich won the 2018 American League and National League Most Valuable Player awards, respectively, for the first time. Betts was a popular preseason pick leading the Boston Red Sox to a league best 108-win season and a World Series. In his first year with the Milwaukee Brewers, Christian Yelich exploded especially in the second half hitting over .350 and putting the club in championship contention before coming up short in Game 7 of the NL Championship Series.
We still don’t have a definitive black and white answer when judging what the qualifications are, but an all-around game and being a part of a good team certainly helps. J.D. Martinez might have been just as responsible as Betts for the Red Sox’s success, and joining a team that came up short before he arrived didn’t even make him a finalist. Also, the fact that Martinez was Betts’ teammate sharing the weight did not affect Betts’ candidacy.
This year, just like any other, there will be the household names along with a couple who might come as a surprise. As the 2019 regular season resumes this week, here are five candidates who should be in the mix to win their first MVP Award.
Aaron Judge, New York Yankees
Judge, who finished second for the award in his rookie campaign behind Astros’ second baseman Jose Altuve actually had a better start to his season in 2018 than in 2017. In the months of March and April, Judge hit .317 with an OPS over 1.000. A broken wrist derailed his season keeping Judge sidelined for nearly two months, and despite Giancarlo Stanton picking up his play during that span, his missing presence was felt.
Although the Yankees have a World Series or bust mentality, the Red Sox had a historic season, being far and away the best team in baseball. The Yankees still won 100 games under a first year manager in Aaron Boone and there are many reasons to be optimistic in the Bronx. Injuries have been a storyline this spring for the club, but with a favorable schedule early on and Aaron Judge healthy and producing, they will be right in the mix yet again.
Nolan Arenado, Colorado Rockies
In 2018, Arenado finished third in the MVP race to Yelich and second-place Javier Baez. Arenado, who would have been a free agent at the end of the season, recently signed an eight-year extension worth $260 million, putting him in position to finish his career in Colorado.With two players winning the MVP Awards for the first time in 2018, @kyle_oneill96 examines five players who could make for another first-time MVP in 2019. Click To Tweet
It’s common that most players want to play their best in a contract year, and that’s true, but for someone of Arenado’s stature, perhaps getting the contract out of the way would be in his best interest. Free agency isn’t necessarily broken, however it’s been a common trend in the game to sign an extension especially for someone like Arenado who wanted to stay with the Rockies anyway.
Despite the Coors Field narrative, Arenado’s dominance on offense and defense will have him in the mix to win his first MVP award. The splits show he is a much better player at Coors than on the road, although if the Rockies are in postseason contention which they should be, he’ll deserve to be considered. Over the past four seasons, Arenado has been a Gold Glove lock, and is averaging 40 home runs and a .931 OPS. Unlike most of the other candidates, Arenado is by far the best player on his team, and if he keeps up his steady production along with winning, 2019 could be the year that gives Arenado his first MVP.
Jose Ramirez, Cleveland Indians
Ramirez, like Judge and Arenado has been an MVP finalist, and should contend for it in 2019. Late in spring training, Ramirez suffered a knee contusion, but at this point Ramirez is day-to-day with an expectation he will be ready for Thursday’s season opener. Francisco Lindor will start the year on the injured list, paving the way for Ramirez to carry the load in the early stages of the season.
In 2018, Ramirez batted .270 with 39 home runs and 105 RBIs. Ramirez also had a 7.9 WAR, which was identical to Lindor, showing how they both have an effect on all aspects of the game. Last year, Ramirez also had a career high of 34 stolen bases doubling the amount he had in 2017.
This winter has been a busy one for the Cleveland Indians, shedding payroll while still contending for a World Series. They were able to do so without trading Corey Kluber or Trevor Bauer, and a favorable division makes them the frontrunners to win the AL Central for the fourth straight year. For someone who was once considered the most underrated player in the game, another MVP race will have fans more than aware of the player that Jose Ramirez is.
Alex Bregman, Houston Astros
Bregman is more of an X-factor candidate to win the award since he hasn’t been a finalist before, and is just entering his age-25 season. Bregman has contributed immediately since his promotion in 2016 working his way to the top of the order, and having one of the biggest hits in Astros history, a walk-off RBI against the Los Angeles Dodgers in Game 5 of the 2017 World Series.
Bregman was one of those candidates to also sign an extension buying out his arbitration years along with a year of free agency. After winning the World Series in 2017, Bregman picked up right where he left off in 2018 posting a .921 OPS and a MLB-leading 51 doubles. He also produced at this level while nursing an elbow injury which led to offseason surgery. Fortunately this spring, it hasn’t been an issue especially on the defensive end, showing no limitations when he makes those throws across the diamond.
Bregman’s teammate, Jose Altuve, is also looking to rebound after suffering an injury of his own as well, and as we saw last year, a dynamic duo does not eliminate someone from MVP consideration. Bregman’s future is as bright as anyone in the game, and with his flare on and off the field, he has the chance not only add to his All-Star MVP, but be one of the faces of baseball.
Anthony Rendon, Washington Nationals
When people say that Jose Ramirez is the most underrated player, they usually follow that with Anthony Rendon is second. Rendon hit 44 doubles in 2018 and was limited to only 136 games due to a toe injury. Barring injuries, he has been one of the most consistent players nobody talks about due to the amount of great third basemen in baseball. Over the past two seasons, Rendon had an OPS above .900 and an OBP north of .370.
Rendon is in a contract year, and for someone who has been reserved, this could be his coming out year where people start to take notice. The club has expressed a desire to extend him, but if he hits the open market, he could be the best offensive player available.
It’s hard to say that when a team loses a player like Bryce Harper that they might actually be better now, yet that very well could be true. The Nationals have made tons of moves from the bullpen, to a front line starter, two new catchers, and a new second baseman. Not to mention, rookie phenom Juan Soto will enter his first full season in the big leagues. The NL East is one of the most intriguing divisions, and if they can make noise when they haven’t been able to in years past with Rendon leading the way, an MVP could be in his sights the same way it was for Yelich.