Surprising no one, the Angels’ Shohei Ohtani and the Phillies’ Bryce Harper won MVP Awards last night. Harper could already say he was an MVP winner, and now Ohtani can say the same. (Fun fact: Ohtani is the first unanimous MVP from a losing team.) We’ll never forget Ohtani’s incredible, almost surreal season. Now he has the hardware to carry around with him forever.
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 still have never won one. Here’s a look at five great players who have never won the award, but have put together the sort of careers that make you think one is coming … and maybe coming soon.
Juan Soto, OF, Nationals
For what it’s worth, Ted Williams didn’t win his first MVP until he was 27 -- though he did miss three seasons after being drafted into military service. Soto just turned 23 and might be the best pure hitter in the sport, though his last two seasons, alas, have been for teams who were out of the playoff chase so early that no one noticed how amazing he was down the stretch. Soto has statistics that are so eye-popping they don’t always look real, particularly when it comes to on-base percentage, and thus you can almost miss how much better he has been than just about everybody else at the plate -- and for how long he has been doing it. With a record-setting Home Run Derby performance under his belt, and the Nationals desperately trying to figure out how to lock him down, Soto is going to be unmissable soon. Soto finished a fairly close second to Harper this year, and the question isn’t if he’s going to win the award, but how many.
Ronald Acuña Jr., OF, Braves
We’ll never know if the Braves would have won the World Series had Acuña not gotten hurt, but no one will deny the team is still significantly better with him on the field. He could have won the MVP a couple of times already, and a full season of health should be able to show off just what he’s capable of as he gets older. Heck, he might have won one in 2021 had he not gotten hurt. Acuña still gets a championship ring for '21, even if he wasn’t on the World Series roster. But now, when he’s healthy, he can get back to being quite possibly the most exciting baseball player in the world.
Fernando Tatis Jr., SS, Padres
Tatis was the favorite for much of this season, and had he not missed as much time as he did, he probably would have ended up winning, as opposed to finishing third. So he’s got to stay healthy. But if he does, the Padres continue to have the most electric talent in baseball, a paradigm-shifting joy machine who can carry you for weeks at a time. Tatis is still so young that he’s still maturing; he keeps adding new things he can do. What’s remarkable about the National League is that it has three guys in Soto, Acuña and Tatis who are young, incredible and seemingly poised to win multiple MVP Awards.
Manny Machado, 3B, Padres
The contract says he’s an MVP, the production pretty regularly says he’s an MVP, but still: Not yet for Machado. He’s actually only finished in the top three once, in the truncated 2020 season, and for all the problems the Padres had in '21, Machado certainly wasn’t one of them. One of the primary reasons the Padres gave him that huge contract in the first place was because he was still young and entering his prime. Well, that prime is right now: Machado is still, somehow, absurdly, not even 30 years old yet. (He turns 30 on July 6, 2022.) San Diego seems primed for a turnaround, and if the Padres have a big year, Machado, who has become an undeniable team leader, could be the one who reaps the MVP benefits.
Paul Goldschmidt, 1B, Cardinals
I went down to the wire for this spot between him, his teammate Nolan Arenado and the Guardians’ José Ramírez, all guys who feel like they should have won one by now (and have been awfully close). But Goldschmidt got the call thanks to another excellent season in 2021, yet another where he put up an OPS+ over 140. (He has had only two seasons below that figure since 2012.) Goldschmidt was as essential as anyone to not just the Cardinals’ late-season charge, but for their exemplary defense; he was one of those five Cardinals to win a Gold Glove. (It was his fourth.) The MVP is the only award Goldschmidt doesn’t have at this point. Among active players who have not won an MVP, Goldschmidt has the second most MVP shares behind Robinson Canó, who is probably not going to win an MVP.