Ranking 10 potential first-time MVP winners

May 24th, 2023

Once you win an MVP, you can call yourself that for life. (Players who won one that you might not realize: Justin Morneau, Terry Pendleton, Willie McGee and Willie Hernandez.) But you’d be surprised by some of the great active MLB players who still have never won one. It’s an impressive list, one that, last year, Paul Goldschmidt finally got himself off of.

The good news for some of them is that they can always go out and win one this year. Here’s a list of 10 accomplished players who haven’t won an MVP but theoretically could win one in 2023 … ranked by the likelihood of them doing so.

1) , Braves
Best finish: 5th place, 2019
If you watched Acuña wreck the league the way he did in 2019 as a 21-year-old, you sure would have assumed he’d have an MVP by now -- probably several. But a knee injury in 2021, one that would ultimately cost him (but not his team!) a World Series appearance, knocked him off-course, and while he was fine in 2022, he clearly wasn’t 100 percent. He sure is 100 percent right now: He is on pace for the fifth 40-40 season in baseball history … and the first 40-60 season. Acuña’s talent has long been considered transcendent. This is the first year since 2019 we’ve seen him healthy enough to show it. This is the best player in baseball right now: He’s in danger of lapping the NL field.

2) , Rangers
Best finish: 3rd place, 2019, '21
Did you realize that Semien has finished in third place twice? Two of the last five seasons no less? Semien is always going to be a little bit underappreciated, a quiet guy who plays every game but is still a little bit streaky. His 2021 season, his only year in Toronto, was incredible (he had 45 homers!), and last year, his first year in Texas, was seen as somewhat of a disappointment, even though he still put up 4.2 fWAR. He has been the best version of himself again this year, hitting .301, leading the AL in runs and putting up a career-high .377 OBP. With the injuries to Corey Seager and Jacob deGrom, Semien could end up being the face of this surprising Rangers team: If they end up winning the AL West, Semien will widely be seen as one of the primary reasons why. With no real frontrunner in the AL right now, he is someone to keep an eye on.

3) , Blue Jays
Best finish: 2nd place, 2021
It will forever be Vlad Jr.’s misfortune that he had what would be a career year for most people in 2021 -- he led the Majors in homers, runs and total bases -- but it was The Year of Ohtani, so he was destined for second place. The real question is whether it was Vlad Jr.’s career year. He took a slight, but real, step backwards in 2022, and his numbers this year are closer to 2022’s than 2021’s. Then again, he’s still only 24, and all it takes for him is a hot week to zoom up every leaderboard. But this is a question Vlad Jr. still has to answer: Was 2021 the future norm, or the outlier?

4) José Ramírez, Guardians
Best finish: 2nd place, 2020
You might look at that “2020” there and think, “well, his second-place finish in 2020 shouldn’t count,” and you may be right, but remember, Ramírez has finished in the top six of MVP voting five times, including fourth place last year. He’s constantly carrying the load for the Cleveland offense, but the upside to that is that he’ll always get credit for the team’s success as its most recognizable name and top producer. Both he and the team are down a little bit this year, the team more so: He has the lowest slugging percentage since his emergence in 2016, though his OBP is up, a sign that teams are letting other players beat them. If the Guardians climb back in the race and even win the AL Central, it’ll be Ramírez who will, rightly, be seen as a key reason why.

5) , Blue Jays
Best finish: 6th place, 2019
Chapman was always underappreciated on some of those A’s playoff teams he was on, and when he came to Toronto in 2022, he kind of got lost in the shuffle a bit. That has changed this year, with an extra-base power surge and a batting average about 60 points higher than his career norm entering the season. He has just (well, “just”) seven homers, but he leads the Majors in doubles and is playing his usual sterling defense. It feels strange to have him below Vlad Jr. on this list: He is, after all, having a better year.

6) , Padres
Best finish: 2nd place, 2021
Considering the year Acuña is having, this is as high as we’d consider putting any National League player. But Soto’s a good pick as the next up non-MVP winner to have a chance this year. The Padres’ slow start has hidden a little bit that Soto has been better in his second go-around in San Diego, leading the Majors in walks as usual but also slugging higher than his two-month cameo down the stretch last year. He still isn’t hitting the ball with the authority he was back in 2020 -- when he finished fifth in MVP voting despite putting up a 1.185 OPS -- but, again, he’s only 24 years old. If the Padres turn it around, he’ll be central to the whole thing, and MVP voters will surely notice. Maybe this week's return to Washington will be the spark he needs.

7) , Cardinals
Best finish: 3rd place, 2018, '22
Three weeks ago, it would have seemed ridiculous to imagine Arenado putting together any sort of MVP case this year. He was in the midst of the worst slump of his career, and his team was coming apart at the seams. But, as we all should have assumed, both the team and the player have pulled out of it. Arenado has been one of the hottest hitters in baseball over the last three weeks, and while his numbers still aren’t quite up to his career standards, if he keeps up what he has been doing, they will be, and soon. Despite their horrific start, the Cardinals have climbed back in the NL Central race, and if they get back atop the division, Arenado will be the face everyone sees when they think of this team.

8) , Mets
Best finish: 7th place, 2019
Alonso isn’t necessarily the “well-rounded” player who racks up WAR totals, but he sure can tally some counting stats: After co-leading the Majors in RBIs last year, he’s back atop the NL leaderboard in that category this year. He’s also leading the Majors in homers with 18. The Mets have picked things up a little after a rough stretch in early May, and much of that was due to some timely homers from Alonso. If the Mets surge to the postseason, Alonso will be rightly credited for keeping them afloat during the fallow period. Put that next to a potential home run and RBI leader, and you’ve got yourself a legitimate MVP candidate right there.

9) , Mets
Best finish: 5th place, 2015
It feels like Lindor has finished higher in MVP voting in the past than that, doesn’t it? Lindor is off to a bit of a slow-ish start, but he’s still at the dead center of everything the Mets are trying to do. It is also worth noting that he’s having a better season than almost all the high-profile shortstops signed in the offseason, including Trea Turner and Carlos Correa. Comparatively, that extension doesn’t look so bad anymore … particularly because it ends several years earlier than theirs do.

10) , Padres
Best finish: 2nd place, 2022
If we would have done this list heading into the season, Machado, perhaps along with Acuña, would have been atop it. He had a career year last year, finishing just behind Goldschmidt; he signed a big extension in the offseason; and he felt like the most certain, reliable superstar on a team full of superstars. But he got off to a slow start, one that was compounded by a fractured metacarpal on his left hand that currently has him on the IL. But he could be back from that as soon as Memorial Day, and if he can return to full health, he could lead the Padres back into a race that is in a little bit of danger of leaving them behind. Put it this way: If the Padres get into the playoffs, it’ll be in large part because of Machado.