6 superstars making a case for their 1st MVP

Some truly great players never won an MVP. My colleague Anthony Castrovince has chronicled many of them: Derek Jeter, Tony Gwynn, Eddie Murray, Ozzie Smith. You can make it to the Hall of Fame without winning a league MVP: Those players did. But winning an MVP is obviously special. It’s something you have forever, and, generally speaking, the top-tier stars end up getting one, at some point in their careers. It’s something no one can ever take away.

It’s a little early to start doing any sort of MVP prognostication for 2022, but it’s worth looking at some of the game’s top superstars with long track records, players who are off to solid (or better) starts to this season, who have never won one — or should have already. Maybe this is the year for these guys. Or maybe it’ll just be Mike Trout again.

The order is based on my best guess of their likelihood of actually winning the award this year, though we’ve also listed their MVP odds (per DraftKings), which don’t directly align with that.

Nolan Arenado, 3B, Cardinals
Best finish: Third place, 2018
DraftKings MVP odds: +1600 aka 16-1

Arenado’s defensive abilities were obviously always going to transfer over from Coors Field to Busch Stadium: He’s the premier defender at the position now just like he has been for a decade. Don’t look now, though, but he’s also putting up the best offensive numbers of his career to start the season.

There’s a looseness to his play this year, and he has spoken about how excited he is to play with Albert Pujols, one of his childhood heroes. If Arenado can keep up his career-best numbers for a Cardinals team that has a real chance to win its division, he could finally get that MVP that has eluded him. (He has finished in the top eight of voting five times.) He also might do it just in time to exercise that opt-out in his contract.

Francisco Lindor, SS, Mets
Best finish: Fifth place, 2017
DraftKings MVP odds: +1000 aka 10-1

Is there any team in baseball with better vibes right now than the Mets? All the things the Mets usually do to drive their fans bonkers — lack of run support for great starting pitching, blowing leads late, giving thumbs-down to the stands — are going the exact opposite way that they usually do right now. There’s still plenty of time for all that to turn around, of course. But if those vibes keep up all year, there will be no better avatar for the joy of a winning Mets team than Lindor, whose smile has returned this year … and is contagious. The hitting doesn’t hurt either: His current .854 OPS would be the second highest of his career. If you want to reward the Mets come voting time, Lindor is the guy.

Manny Machado, 3B, Padres
Best finish: Third place, 2020
DraftKings MVP odds: +2500 aka 25-1

Machado isn’t even 30 years old yet. Isn’t that wild? It feels like he has been with us forever, like we’ve been discussing him and debating him and arguing about him our entire lives. (It has actually only been 11 years.) For all the turnover and injuries and turmoil in San Diego, it’s Machado who has been their rock, and he’s off to another fantastic start, leading the National League in hits (26) while slugging .577. Machado has been more consistently terrific rather than having that one transcendent season, but he could benefit from the somewhat lower expectations for the Padres this year. If he can lead them to the playoffs and continue the year he’s having, he could ascend to the level of superstar that, on the whole, has eluded him so far.

Aaron Judge, RF, Yankees
Best finish: Second place, 2017
DraftKings MVP odds: +2000 aka 20-1

Yes, you may vaguely remember the circumstances of that second-place finish to Jose Altuve in 2017. (Certainly Brian Cashman and the Yankees do.) Judge finished fourth in 2021 but otherwise has never stayed healthy enough, long enough, to be considered for the MVP, but this year, he has played in nearly every game and, thus, is putting up MVP-caliber numbers. (His current 166 OPS+ would represent his highest since 2017.)

For all the talk of Judge’s discussions (or lack thereof) with the Yankees about a long-term contract, he is already 30 years old — he turned 30 on Tuesday — and he has the sort of body type that, clearly, is prone to breaking down. But we saw last year what a full year of Judge looks like. Could this be the year it all comes together? His agent sure would find that timing impeccable.

José Ramírez, 3B, Guardians
Best finish
: Second place, 2020
DraftKings MVP odds: +1300 aka 13-1

For the record, this observer believes Ramírez should have won AL MVP back in 2020 when José Abreu won in the pandemic-shortened season. Other than that strange blip in 2019 — his horrific start that he eventually turned around — Ramírez has been remarkably consistent: He has four top-six finishes in the last six years. What could be different about this year? The AL Central is completely up for grabs, for starters, and the Guardians’ only real hope is Ramírez having a monster year. He’s well on his way, of course: He leads the Majors in RBIs with 25 and is hitting .353. Plus, now, with his extension, he’s locked in as the face of this franchise for years to come.

Juan Soto, RF, Nationals
Best finish:
 Second place, 2021
DraftKings MVP odds: +400 aka 4-1

OK, so fine, he’s only 23 years old, by far the youngest person on this list. Still: It remains sort of surprising he hasn’t won one yet, doesn’t it? He’s the best hitter in baseball — those Ted Williams comparisons are still holding up — and he’s getting on base at the same ridiculous rates he always does. The problem remains that he plays for the Nationals, a team that probably won’t contend for a playoff spot, which will hurt his MVP chances in the end. Here’s a sad Soto 2022 stat: He has three homers … and three RBIs. He’s going to win an MVP someday, and probably multiple ones. But it would be nice if his teammates helped him out a bit.