The cold, hard truth -- even in this ever-optimistic time of year -- is that not every team in MLB is a World Series contender. But every team does have a Baseball Writers’ Association of America award contender.
Cy Young and Rookie of the Year can always come from anywhere. And as voters have become more open-minded and analytically inclined in recent years, it’s more commonplace for MVPs to come from anywhere, too. Last year marked the first time since 1987 that neither MVP (the Angels’ Shohei Ohtani and the Phillies’ Bryce Harper) came from a playoff team.
So it’s fun to guess every team’s most likely award winner. On some teams, it’s pretty clear-cut. On others, it’s pretty complicated.
Here are our picks for all 30. (Oh, and, to be clear, we’re only talking about the player awards here, not Manager of the Year.)
Blue Jays: Vladimir Guerrero Jr., 1B, MVP
We had Guerrero in this spot last year. It was much more of a gamble then. Now, after he broke out with a .311/.401/.601 slash and it took arguably the greatest individual season in the history of the sport from Ohtani to overtake him in the AL MVP balloting, Guerrero is a safe selection.
Orioles: Adley Rutschman, C, Rookie of the Year
Though Rutschman’s bid to crack the Opening Day roster was derailed by a triceps injury that has him shut down for a few weeks, a 2022 callup at an early enough point to vie for the rookie honor is still well within the realm of possibility for MLB Pipeline’s No. 2 prospect in baseball.
With promising young arms Grayson Rodriguez and D.L. Hall also knocking on the door to the big leagues, the O’s could wind up with multiple candidates for this award.
Rays: Wander Franco, SS, MVP
The Rays have had four division winners and seven postseason teams in all since 2008, but they’ve never had a player finish higher than sixth in the MVP voting (Evan Longoria in 2010 and 2013) in that span.
That could change with Franco, who showed clear superstar potential last season. That said, the Rays could also provide back-to-back Rookies of the Year if Shane Baz comes back from arthroscopic elbow surgery to make a big impact on the rotation or outfield prospect Josh Lowe shines.
Red Sox: Rafael Devers, 3B, MVP
We could just as easily list Xander Bogaerts here, and who knows what awaits Trevor Story in his first year in Boston? But Devers had top-12 MVP finishes in each of the last two full seasons (2019 and 2021), and he’s only 25 years old. We probably have not seen his best yet.
Yankees: Gerrit Cole, RHP, Cy Young
Aaron Judge, who finished second in the MVP voting in 2017 and fourth last year, is perennially a decent MVP pick if health permits.
But it’s hard to shake the feeling that a Cole Cy Young is inevitable. Last year was his fifth top-five finish and the second time he was the runner-up. He did fade a bit in the second half, but ZiPS, Steamer and PECOTA all, understandably, project him to be the most valuable starter in the AL this season.
Guardians: José Ramírez, 3B, MVP
Shane Bieber is a clear candidate to return to the Cy Young conversation, but he’s also coming off a shoulder injury. So we’ll go the safer route with Ramírez, who has finished in the top six in the MVP voting in four of the last five years and is entering his age-29 season.
Royals: Bobby Witt Jr., 3B/SS, Rookie of the Year
The AL Rookie of the Year field looks especially stacked this season, and Witt is the odds-on favorite. The No. 1 prospect in MLB is expected to be in the Opening Day lineup, and his bat speed, power, speed and arm make him an instant attraction.
Tigers: Spencer Torkelson, 1B, Rookie of the Year
Center fielder Riley Greene could have just as easily been spotted here before fracturing his foot. But after getting a hug and glove of approval from Miguel Cabrera on Saturday, the power-hitting Torkelson has taken over as the Tigers’ full-time first baseman and will have all season to make his Rookie of the Year case. He’s the No. 4 prospect in the game, per MLB Pipeline.
Twins: Carlos Correa, SS, MVP
If the Twins do take the road back to contention this season, Correa is highly likely to be the navigator. He’ll also be highly motivated to make a splash in the first year of his three-year contract and potentially re-enter the free-agent market next winter for a bigger deal.
White Sox: Lucas Giolito, RHP, Cy Young
Though Lance Lynn (third place) and Liam Hendriks (eighth) finished higher than Giolito (11th) in last year’s Cy Young voting, the 27-year-old Giolito is right in his prime years to annually vie for this honor. He’s received votes in each of the last three seasons, during which he’s posted a 3.47 ERA and 128 ERA+.
But of course, this stacked roster has multiple players who could mount an MVP case (Luis Robert has their highest projected WAR, via FanGraphs), and a Dylan Cease breakout could put him in the Cy mix, too.
Angels: Shohei Ohtani, DH/RHP, MVP
This list was all fun and games until we got here. But now we’ve got to choose between Ohtani and Mike Trout in the “most likely to win the MVP” discussion. Nuts.
Some of you might think this is easy, because a great pitcher who rakes is as “valuable” as it gets and because Trout missed so much time with injury last season (and has entered his dreaded 30s). But don’t forget that Trout was off to perhaps the best start of his career last year before he got hurt. He is still one of the greatest players ever. And the fact that Ohtani’s 2021 had never been done by anybody underscores how difficult it will be for him to repeat it, from both a health and performance standpoint. Also, will voters normalize his unique skillset, even though it is patently abnormal?
In the end, we turned this one over to that bastion of common sense and decency: Twitter. The people picked Ohtani. (We have no clue if they are right.)
Astros: Kyle Tucker, OF, MVP
Though there are certainly big stars with great track records on this team, Tucker was the best hitter in this lineup last year in a breakout 24-year-old season. He’s just getting started, and Correa’s departure puts him in a more prominent spot in the lineup.
A’s: Daulton Jefferies, RHP, Rookie of the Year
Frankie Montas finished sixth in the Cy Young voting last season, but there's a chance the A's, who've been very active on the trade market, could deal him by year's end.
At least we can feel fairly certain Jefferies, who has had success as a swingman in his brief time in the big leagues, is staying put. And at 26 years old, the A’s No. 14 prospect should have a lot of innings available to him.
Mariners: Julio Rodríguez, OF, Rookie of the Year
The offseason additions are really nice, and no one is ruling out a Robbie Ray repeat in the Cy Young race. But it’s the in-house upside that is still the most attractive element of an M’s team that looks ready to contend.
As the No. 3 prospect in the game with, as of this writing, a real chance to crack the Opening Day roster, the talented Rodríguez figures to be in the thick of that dynamic AL rookie race.
Rangers: Corey Seager, SS, MVP
Texas committed half a billion dollars to its new-look middle infield, and either Seager or Marcus Semien, who finished third in the MVP voting in two of the last three seasons, is capable of an MVP-caliber year.
We’ll go with the 28-year-old Seager because he’s the younger of the two and because his numbers last year after returning from a broken bone in his hand were extraordinary (.335/.417/.592 slash).
Braves: Ronald Acuña Jr., OF, MVP
Perhaps a mildly controversial selection, because, as of now, we don’t know when Acuña will be cleared to rejoin the Braves. If new acquisition Matt Olson takes a liking to Truist Park, as projected, he could certainly have a shot at the MVP.
But Acuña was having an MVP-caliber 2021 prior to his knee injury, and the delayed start to the Major League schedule limits the amount of time he’s likely to miss. As of now, it looks like he’ll have enough at-bats to mount his case.
Marlins: Edward Cabrera, RHP, Rookie of the Year
The Fish have a high-upside rotation fronted by Sandy Alcantara, who could absolutely be in the Cy Young conversation if he builds on last year’s 3.19 ERA and 131 ERA+ in a Major League-high 33 starts.
But the NL Cy Young field might be a higher hill to climb than what currently looks like a wide-open NL Rookie of the Year field. Cabrera has a deep repertoire and should have an earnest opportunity to claim a consistent starting spot.
Mets: Max Scherzer, RHP, Cy Young
We were going to list the younger Jacob deGrom here, until recent shoulder tightness demonstrated that, unfortunately, he’s still not out of the woods yet, health-wise.
Scherzer is 37 with high mileage (and a recent hamstring “hiccup”), so we can never be absolutely, totally, completely sure he’s going to be able to maintain an elite level. But he’s been a Cy finalist in three of the last four seasons after winning the award in back-to-back years in 2016-17. And with deGrom now shut down from throwing, Max gets the nod here.
Nationals: Juan Soto, OF, MVP
Last year, Soto had a pedestrian (by his standards) April and May in which he had a .780 OPS with only eight extra-base hits. The remainder of the year, he slashed an incredible .329/.489/.589 to finish second in the MVP voting.
If Soto can do that for a full season (and with improved protection from Nelson Cruz, he can), there might not be any reason to bother having a vote. Just give it to Soto at season’s end.
Phillies: Bryce Harper, OF, MVP
Of course, this guy had a pretty extraordinary second half last year, too (.338/.476/.713 slash after the break) to win his second MVP and first since 2015. At 29, Bryce is at the peak of his powers and is also in a much-improved lineup after the signings of Nick Castellanos and Kyle Schwarber.
The Phils last had back-to-back MVPs in 2006-07 in the form of Ryan Howard and Jimmy Rollins, but Harper could take care of that himself.
Brewers: Corbin Burnes, RHP, Cy Young
He has competition within his own staff from Brandon Woodruff and Freddy Peralta had monster years in the 2021 rotation. But why complicate things? The reigning Cy Young winner is absolutely capable of doing it again.
Cardinals: Nolan Arenado, 3B, MVP
The Cardinals have two really interesting Rookie of the Year candidates in infielder Nolan Gorman and left-hander Matthew Liberatore. But because there’s no way of knowing how many at-bats and innings they’ll get in the bigs, here’s hoping Arenado can get back to the level that saw him finish in the top eight of the MVP voting every season from 2015-19. This will be his age-31 season.
Cubs: Seiya Suzuki, OF, Rookie of the Year
Suzuki is a five-tool player with an everyday spot in right field. So at age 27, he has a genuine chance to follow in the footsteps of Hideo Nomo, Kazuhiro Sasaki, Ichiro Suzuki and Shohei Ohtani and win this award after coming over from Japan. The Steamer projections have him as a 3.9-WAR player -- the highest such projection of any rookie.
Pirates: Oneil Cruz, SS, Rookie of the Year
He’s not breaking camp with the big league club, but the 6-foot-7 Cruz should be back in the big leagues for us to gawk at before long. Though he only has 38 career plate appearances above the Double-A level, his massive power and arm strength are assets that will serve him well. Cruz is the Pirates’ top prospect and ranked 26th in MLB.
Reds: Hunter Greene, RHP, Rookie of the Year
While anybody with a soul wants to see a 38-year-old Joey Votto make a run at the MVP, the more realistic scenario is the Reds fielding back-to-back Rookie of the Year winners after Jonathan India grabbed this honor last year
Greene, who effortlessly hits triple digits on the radar gun, is rated as the No. 1 prospect in the organization and No. 22 overall, and he has a spot in the Reds’ Opening Day rotation.
D-backs: Alek Thomas, OF, Rookie of the Year
Though he’ll open the season in Triple-A, Thomas is a good bet to make his big league debut this year. He’s Arizona’s No. 1 prospect and has a well-rounded profile with speed, good defense and improving power.
Dodgers: Walker Buehler, RHP, Cy Young
It would surprise precisely zero people if Mookie Betts, Freddie Freeman or Trea Turner to make a run at the MVP, and you could bang your head against the wall trying to pick one of them. Sometimes teammates having great seasons on great teams affect each other’s vote totals.
The choice between Buehler and Julio Urías is similarly tortuous, as Buehler finished fourth and Urías seventh in the voting last year (Clayton Kershaw is 34 and coming back from injury and therefore not a safe choice). With a 2.82 ERA over the last four seasons (third best in MLB), Buehler just feels due.
Giants: Joey Bart, C, Rookie of the Year
Can’t rule out the possibility of ace Logan Webb making the leap into the Cy Young conversation, and Brandon Crawford finished fourth in the MVP voting last year. But in taking on the everyday job as the Giants’ catcher in the wake of Buster Posey’s retirement, Bart, who played 33 games in the 2020 season when Posey opted out, will have his shot at this.
(Note: We originally listed reliever Camilo Doval here, having forgotten that he exceeded his rookie eligibility last September. Apologies for the error.)
Padres: Manny Machado, 3B, MVP
Joe Musgrove, who is a member of our 2022 All-Underrated Team, is a dark-horse Cy Young pick. Or perhaps Yu Darvish or Blake Snell bounce back and vie for it. MacKenzie Gore has Rookie of the Year potential.
But should the Padres field a playoff team with Fernando Tatis Jr. on the shelf a good chunk of the year, one would imagine someone in the position player group will have stepped up with an MVP-caliber year. The safest bet there would be Machado, who is coming off his highest WAR season since 2016. He’s still only 29.
Rockies: Kris Bryant, OF, MVP
Even if Germán Márquez or Kyle Freeland has the year of his life, it’s inherently difficult for a pitcher at Coors Field to have the numbers to win the Cy Young. And the Rockies don’t have any obvious Rookie of the Year candidates. So … Bryant returning to his 2016 NL MVP form is probably the best we can realistically hope for here. His offensive numbers could spike with the move.