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Combing through the crowded 2016 MLB MVP races

Can Boston Red Sox designated hitter David Ortiz end his career in a high with an MVP award?
2016 has seen a wide spanning offering of elite level play across the game. Seven players have hit 40 home runs, with another handful that could join them before the season closes out. By the time it is all said and done, 25 different players stand to drive in 100 runs, the most since 2010. All in all, 15 different players have contributed Wins Above Replacement impacts of greater than six games, proving that there is no lack of big play elements reaching the box score everyday. And these impacts have come from players ranging from age 40 all the way down to 22.
All of those things added together makes it a difficult year to sort out who deserves what in regards to Most Valuable Player honors. It is a year where very definition of the award will have to be questioned and evaluated from many different angles. Teammate will be pitted against teammate. The value of many great seasons that may not be attached to contenders will be pitted against those that have long punched their ticket to October.
While there is still a month to go until the dust settles and hardware is handed out, with the season’s final weekend about to kick off, it is the perfect time to look at the top MVP contenders in both leagues and their case for the honor.
American League MVP
Jose Altuve, Astros
Pros: He is in line to run away with the AL batting crown and has ran past 200 hits as well. His .930 OPS is built on the back of 42 doubles, a .396 on-base percentage and a career-best 24 home runs as well.
Cons: The Astros as a team took a step backwards this year, hurting the impact of his career best season.
Prediction: Altuve will win his second batting title in three years and have his best finish in the MVP race, but still fall outside of the top three.
Adrian Beltre, Rangers
Pros: The ageless Beltre posted his highest WAR (6.2) since 2012, by hitting 32 home runs and topping 100 RBI, the third time he has reached both marks in his career.
Cons: Not really as much of a detraction as just a fact: the Rangers are by and for the best team in the AL West and it’s easy to say that his effort didn’t make or break them being so.
Prediction: Another fine season from the perpetually undervalued Beltre, but one worthy of a top 10 finish in the MVP race, albeit on the lower half.
Mookie Betts, Red Sox
Pros: The breakout player of the year in all of baseball has over 200 hits, 30 home runs, 40 doubles, 25 stolen bases, 100 runs scored and 100 RBI, all while sititng in the top five in batting average as well.
Cons: There is the chance that his fantastic all-around effort gets blended into the mix with the rest of the fantastic offensive seasons around him in the Red Sox lineup, especially the departing David Ortiz’.
Prediction: It will be awfully hard to look at his all-around game (including his base running and defense) and not see an MVP front runner. He will have to pull off the annually difficult task of overcoming Mike Trout, but it is a very realistic opportunity.
Miguel Cabrera, Tigers
Pros: Ho hum, another .300/35/100 season easily in the books for the generation’s best hitter.
Cons: He is not atop the leaderboard in any specific statistic and the Tigers are not the head of their division.
Prediction: Miggy will forever be a victim of his own success. It is hard to underrate his numbers, but since so much more has been seen from him in the past, he’ll likely be given a lesser finish in the vote that could potentially even land outside of the top 10.
Robinson Cano, Mariners
Pros: Top five in the AL in hits, while topping 30 home runs and 100 runs scored for the first time since 2012. His effort has been massive in keeping the Mariners in their first legit playoff push in years.
Cons: After being one of the most dependable, clutch performers in the game through most of the summer, his production had tailed off some in September, hitting close to .250 over 22 games.
Prediction: Cano has played as meaningful ball as anyone in the league for his particular team, and should show up prominently on many ballots, but probably belongs more towards the 4-7 range than towards the top.
Josh Donaldson, Blue Jays
Pros: A career-best .407 on-base percentage joins another season of 35+ home runs and 95+ RBI, along with highlight reel level defense on the hot corner for Donaldson.
Cons: It’s splitting hairs, but he has not reached the same heights that he did during his 41 homer, 124 RBI MVP season a year ago, as the Blue Jays are embroiled in a wild card chase as opposed to winning the East again.
Prediction: Donaldson will get his due none the less. He is firmly entrenched as one of the game’s best players and has played as well as he did a year ago while seeing far less pitches (34 more walks). A top 4 finish is virtual certainty and could be propelled higher if he has a big final weekend of the regular season.
Edwin Encarnacion, Blue Jays
Pros: Encarnacion leads the AL in RBI and is second in home runs, topping 40 for the second time in his career.
Cons: As is the case any time multiple MVP candidates are on the same team, his contributions will be both measured against (and marginalized) by those of Donaldson’s.
Prediction: Encarnacion has never finished within the top 10 of the MVP vote, but this should be the year.
Manny Machado, Orioles
Pros: Career highs in home runs, RBI, batting average, runs scored and hits in a fantastic all-around year for the 24-year-old third baseman.
Cons: Even with his standout performance, it will be hard for him to standout among some of the other significant individual seasons.
Prediction: Machado will get a top 10 finish, but won’t be able to break into the upper tiers of the race.
David Ortiz, Red Sox
Pros: Papi has ripped extra base hits at a record pace for a guy his age, and has had one of (if not the) best farewell seasons of all-time. He is the oldest Major Leaguer to hit both 30 home runs and reach 100 RBI, and his 1.022 OPS is by and far the best in the AL.
Cons: There is always the issues that a DH doesn’t play enough to be evenly compared to a positional player, especially when one of those excellent everyday guys is on his team (Betts).
Prediction: Papi has been the most buzzworthy player of the year and has reasonably created the hype. He is certainly worthy of the nod, as he has been the most impactful hitter in the game this year.
Mike Trout, Angels
Pros: No one is capable of doing more across a game than Trout is, and his jaw dropping, MLB-best 10.6 WAR proves this yet again. He leads the AL in runs scored, OPS and walks, while stealing 27 bags, hitting 29 homers and creeping up on 100 RBI.
Cons: The woeful Angels have relegated his best efforts to being overlooked in the ‘valuable’ portion of the award in the past, as his numbers have not been able to pull them up the standings.
Prediction: It may not be fair, but another phenomenal season for Trout will see him come in as a runner-up for the fourth time in five years, simply because he’s nowhere close to the postseason race.
National League MVP
Nolan Arenado, Rockies
Pros: He leads the Majors in RBI and the NL in home runs, hitting 40 for the second straight year. Add in his regularly highlight worthy defense, and you have one of the best all-around players in baseball.
Cons: He plays in anonymity in Colorado.
Prediction: A top five finish, but his distance from the pennant chase hurts his award chances yet again.
Kris Bryant, Cubs
Pros: He is the leading man on baseball’s best team. His 7.7 WAR is over a game higher than any other player in the league and sits in the top five in home runs, runs scored, OPS and slugging percentage.
Cons: He could split some votes with his infield mate Anthony Rizzo, whose presence has been of great value in making sure Bryant continues to be pitched to.
Prediction: It has been a tremendous follow up season for the 2015 Rookie of the Year, and his impact in guiding the runaway top team in the league could deservingly hand him the honors.
Yoenis Cespedes, Mets
Pros: A second straight 30 home run season was invaluable in holding things together for a Mets lineup that was constantly in flux due to mass injuries.
Cons: He missed half of August due to a back injury and has not played at his first half level since returning, hitting only .223 in September.
Prediction: Cespedes will get mention towards to bottom part of the top 10, at best.
Freddie Freeman, Braves
Pros: He has been the lone bright spot in a lost from the beginning season in Atlanta. His 30-game hitting streak was the longest on the season, and he hit for a 1.089 OPS since the All-Star break with a .332 average.
Cons: Being affiliated with the Braves negates any chance of much more than participation votes.
Prediction: Freeman’s effort deserved more attention this year, and perhaps it could come in the form a nice MVP finish.
Paul Goldschmidt, D’Backs
Pros: Yet another all-world performance from Goldy, this time including an eye-popping for a first baseman 27 stolen bases to go along with an a .412 on-base percentage.
Cons: The Diamondbacks were surprisingly bad, so his effort was lost in the mix.
Prediction: He will receive his annual recognition as one of the NL’s premier contributors, but it won’t add up to a high finish.
Daniel Murphy, Nationals
Pros: He has hit over .400 in two different months this season, while topping .370 and .346 in two others. His 47 doubles are tops in the NL and has driven in 100 RBI while missing the last two weeks of September.
Cons: There is little that can be counted against the surprisingly strong wire-to-wire effort by Murphy, who has even improved his defensive liabilities.
Prediction: Murphy has been a godsend for the Nationals, who could not solely rely on Bryce Harper’s production this season. He was in line to compete with the Cubs’ dynamic duo for the top honors, but the missed time and chance to recapture his batting title position hurts his chances.
Anthony Rizzo, Cubs
Pros: Rizzo is the most important player on the Cubs, getting better as the season has gone along. He has topped 30 homers for the third straight year, 40 doubles for the second time and has topped 5.0 Wins Above Replacement for the third straight year.
Cons: His raw numbers don’t match those of Bryant’s, which could hurt his chances.
Prediction: Rizzo will get his fair share of votes, but ultimately will fall short of where Bryant, and possibly even Murphy, do in the vote.
Corey Seager, Dodgers
Pros: He hit .340 from June through August, pulling the Dodgers out of second place struggles and into firm control of the NL West. The 22-year-old has hit .330 after the All-Star Break after hitting 17 home runs before it.
Cons: While his impact has been unquestionable, he has been steady as opposed to overwhelming in the same style as Bryant, Rizzo or even Arenado.
Prediction: Seager will runaway with the Rookie of the Year honors, and also make an impressive debut on MVP ballots as well. The best is yet to come.
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