And that’s the thing: Once you win an MVP, you can call yourself that for life. But you’d be surprised by some of the great active MLB players who have never won one.
Here’s a look at seven great players who have put together the sort of career that make you think one is coming … and maybe coming soon.
Ronald Acuña Jr., OF, Braves
Best finish: Fifth, 2019
When Acuña finished fifth in his second season, it felt like he was going to be the sort of player who won multiple MVPs over the next decade, the sort of franchise linchpin everyone dreams of building around. But that season remains the only time he has played in more than 119 games. Acuña's torn right ACL in July 2021 interrupted what sure looked like an MVP season in the making, and he never quite looked 100 percent in '22. If he’s fully healthy in '23, he could wreck this league like we all thought he was going to. It sure feels like Acuña is going to do it at some point: He’ll only be 25 on Opening Day, after all.
Nolan Arenado, 3B, Cardinals
Best finish: Third, 2022
This was actually Arenado’s second third-place finish, after 2018. According to OPS+, 2022 was his best season as a hitter, and his success at the plate is putting to rest any of those dopey doubters who thought he was some sort of Coors Field creation. Oh, and he just won his 10th straight Gold Glove. St. Louis is in many ways the perfect place for him to potentially win that elusive MVP: No one will downgrade his offensive numbers anymore, he is a leader of a winning team and he’ll have many opportunities to erase the only smudge on his career, his lack of postseason success. Arenado didn’t make it Thursday, but his time may come.
Carlos Correa, SS, free agent
Best finish: Fifth, 2021
Correa had the best year of his career right when his contract with Houston ran out, but he was also smart enough, when there appeared to be no team willing to give him the long-term contract he wanted, to make sure he had an opt-out clause in his deal with the Twins so he could take another bite of the apple this offseason. That sure looks like it’s going to pay off. Correa was terrific with Minnesota this year. He has stealthily put together the beginnings of a Hall of Fame career, and his next stop will be where he makes his best, most sustained case. Correa is about to be a team’s long-term centerpiece, really for the first time.
Trea Turner, SS, free agent
Best finish: Fifth, 2021
Turner has been quietly excellent for eight seasons now -- winning a World Series even, quietly -- but you get a sense that’s about to change now that he’s going to sign a huge contract. So many parts of his game are so good -- he’s fast, he’s a generally solid defender, he’s smart, he’s a lifetime .300 hitter, he slides so smoothly -- that you can almost forget about how much power he has: He hit 28 homers in 2021 and 21 last year. You can absolutely see Turner's power manifesting itself as he gets into his 30s, which could boost his MVP case considerably.
Manny Machado, 3B, Padres
Best finish: Second, 2022
Machado is one of those players who seems like he has won an MVP Award before, but this is as close as he’s ever been. He appears poised to get one pretty soon, though. In many ways, 2022 was the season that finally put to rest all those “he’s immature” comments you heard at the end of his Orioles career and during his brief Dodgers run. This Padres team, without superstar shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr., nearly made the World Series. And it was Machado, in his best season, who carried them the entire way. We’ve watched Machado enter the league as a teenager and progress all the way to a veteran leader. He might be the most beloved Padre moving forward. Here’s betting it will get him an MVP at some point.
José Ramírez, 3B, Guardians
Best finish: Second, 2022
Ramírez has an inherent advantage of being the best (and most clearly showcased) player on a team that is perpetually competitive, even sometimes in spite of itself. He might have had a better chance at the award this year if he hadn’t faltered down the stretch. He’s younger than you probably think he is, too: He only turned 30 in September. It still feels like he has one of those consolidation years when he just goes nuts and hits 40 homers, his Manny Ramirez season. Though Manny never stole bases like this Ramírez.
Juan Soto, RF, Padres
Best finish: Second, 2021
Is it OK to say out loud yet that 2022 might have been Soto’s worst year? I mean, Juan Soto hit .242. Juan Soto! Of course, he did that while still leading the Majors in walks, hitting 27 homers and, oh yes, being at the center of every trade rumor seemingly since Spring Training began. He now knows he’s going to be in San Diego for two years, which should allow him to relax and simply play baseball. Another advantage: With Machado and Tatis around, no one will expect Soto to carry the whole team. Which might well end up being exactly what he does.
Honorable mentions: Francisco Lindor, SS, Mets; Yordan Alvarez, LF, Astros; Rafael Devers, 3B, Red Sox