We've lost our center (fielder), our stabilizing force. When Angels superstar Michael Trout tore a thumb ligament -- an injury likely to keep him out for two months -- he also tore the American League Most Valuable Player Award race asunder. Trout was probably going to win it again. At worst,
We've lost our center (fielder), our stabilizing force. When Angels superstar Michael Trout tore a thumb ligament -- an injury likely to keep him out for two months -- he also tore the American League Most Valuable Player Award race asunder. Trout was probably going to win it again. At worst, he would have finished second, but … no, no, let's be real. He was going to win it.
And so, we're left sorting through the leaderboards, and we still see Trout's name temporarily up there among the qualifiers, taunting us, teasing us and reminding us what once was. It says here that Trout, who was taken 25th overall in the MLB Draft on this day eight years ago, will still log enough time to have a not-terrible AL MVP Award argument (Yankees catcher Gary Sanchez needed just 53 games to make a legitimate AL Rookie of the Year Award case last year), but he's not going to win it.
Right now, this is what the AL MVP Award landscape looks like among the guys with two functioning thumbs.
1. Aaron Judge, Yankees
It's not especially difficult to make a statistical case for Judge right now. Entering Thursday, among AL players not named Trout, his 3.3 Wins Above Replacement mark is the best by at least 0.4, and his OPS (1.096) and wRC+ (190) marks are also the best. Judge has been a plus defender, hit a Major League-leading 18 homers and also leads all of baseball in BPI -- no, not the college basketball team strength formula, but Bad Puns Inspired. So, case closed (see?).
All of this comes with the necessary caveat that Judge is a rookie on a team that has leaped into contention arguably ahead of schedule. Who knows what the rest of the season holds for him and the Yankees. But right now, Judge has got the storyline, he's got the stats and he's the player best positioned to take advantage of our, unfortunately, Trout-less terrain.
2. Carlos Correa, Astros
If you view the MVP Award as so many past voters have -- a "best player on best team" sort of thing -- this is your guy. Yes, I know there are other worthy Astros, and we'll get to that situation in a second. But reading the trend line that was Correa's .370/.445/.655 slash line from May 3 through Wednesday, after a somewhat sluggish start, and the power production he provides at a premium defensive position and how that elevates his WAR mark, Correa likely rates as a safer selection here than even the great Jose Altuve, or more dark-horse candidates like George Springer and Dallas Keuchel.
But Correa's issue -- and the reason he doesn't top this list -- is the worry that the greatness of this Astros club works against him in this area. Houston is probably going to run away with the AL West by a monumental margin, and currently has several guys with interesting early AL MVP Award cases. We've seen past instances of this impacting the tallies. The 1995 Indians, who won the AL Central by 30 games, produced one of the great MVP Award snubs of all-time in Albert Belle. Belle's teammate Jose Mesa got a first-place vote on the might of his 46 saves. Had that vote gone to Belle, he would have beaten out Mo Vaughn.
Maybe it's much ado about nothing, because just last year the Cubs won the NL Central by 17 1/2 games and Anthony Rizzo didn't steal any first-place votes from the clearly deserving Kristopher Bryant. But it's hard to know right now.
3. Miguel Sano, Twins
Entering Thursday, Sano was with Trout and Judge as the only AL players with a four-digit OPS (1.029). Though Sano has been a far more reliable defender at third base this season than he was earlier in his big league career, his overall WAR mark isn't amplified any by the defensive side. That might wind up hurting his candidacy among voters who put more weight on the total package. But for now, the Twins are somewhat shockingly in contention. And Sano is a huge reason for that. So he definitely belongs in this conversation.
4. Dallas Keuchel, Astros
Keuchel was already mentioned above in the context of the Correa conversation, but he's worth a separate spot on this list as the current representative of the premier pitcher perspective. As you know, it's a pretty high bar for pitchers to legitimately vie for an MVP Award, and right now, there's zero indication that the position-player field will be weak enough to amplify the argument.
But if you have to consider a pitcher, Keuchel's the guy at the moment, with his 1.67 ERA and 0.87 WHIP in a 9-0 showing over 11 starts. But his continued neck issues, which have necessitated a second DL trip, hurt the cause. And while we wait to see if Minnesota's Ervin Santana and Jason Vargas come down to Earth, you could also make an argument for Boston's Chris Sale on account of his pure dominance (119 strikeouts in 84 innings).
5. Corey Dickerson, Rays
It's hard for a pitcher to win an MVP Award, but it's even harder for a designated hitter. In fact, nobody has ever won the AL MVP Award in a year in which DH was their primary position.
So consider this a courtesy nod to Dickerson (hopefully this will soothe some of the Rays fans who were understandably disappointed to learn Dickerson was not voted by any of his polled peers to be one of the game's most underrated players) for his monster start (.336/.376/.600 slash line with 13 homers and a league-leading 19 doubles entering Thursday).
6. The rest of the field
There's no shortage of guys who could build off a solid start with a spectacular second half that thrusts them into the AL MVP Award picture. The likeliest candidates here are from clubs who still have time and reason to believe they'll make the major noise expected of them.
Indians shortstop Francisco Lindor's vast power improvement (his isolated power mark has jumped 110 points) takes a player who already gave the Indians so much value on both sides of the ball a more earnest AL MVP Award bid, if it holds true. And after finishing second to Trout in the voting last year, Red Sox outfielder Mookie Betts is a safe Betts (this makes the Judge puns look like highly intellectual stuff) to ascend into consideration.
Anthony Castrovince has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2004. Read his columns and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince.