In the Bullets today, Brett wrote about Kris Bryant’s excitement and enthusiasm for the 2018 season, including this gem of a quote from the Cubs MVP: “Hopefully, we all translate what we’re doing here in Spring Training into the season. If we do that, I think we’re going to be even better than when we won the World Series.”
Positing that this team could be better than the 2016 squad that won 103 games and the World Series is not an unfair stance to take – this team really is that good – but it sure is one loaded with confidence. And yet, those comments weren’t even Bryant’s boldest.
Speaking at Cubs.com, the Cubs’ third baseman pushed his optimism further: “A lot of the guys on our team can be the best player on some of the other teams. It’s nice to have that collection of guys. That’d be something if we had eight MVP candidates. I don’t think it’s out of the question. If guys here play up to their full potential, it’s very possible. Every fan of our team and every player here should be very excited.”
Uh, ya, well, if I wasn’t before I sure as hell am now.
According to the 2016 NL MVP, the 2018 Chicago Cubs could have as many as eight candidates for baseball’s top award by the end of the season. Obviously, he was probably playing a little fast-and-loose with that prediction, but let’s pretend he wasn’t. Can we squint and find eight guys who could do it?
I’ll go in order of likelihood, and I’ll give Bryant the benefit of the doubt at the margins. (Note: although pitchers could enter the MVP conversation, it’s so rare and the season required is so insane that I’m going to stick to position players.)
1. Kris Bryant
There’s no doubt in anybody’s mind that Kris Bryant is an MVP candidate this year, as he has been every year he’s spent in the big leagues. I won’t waste too much time on this section, because we all know it’s true. Indeed, according to Vegas, Bryant’s actually got some of the best odds in baseball. Next.
2. Anthony Rizzo
Anthony Rizzo is another mostly no-brainer. He’s one of the best first basemen in baseball, plays on a championship-caliber team, and is arguably one of the most well-respected, well-liked players in the game. On top of that, he’s entering just his age-28 season and has been a top-ten MVP finalist three times and in the top 15 for the past four years. As a former Gold Glover and Silver slugger, he’s also one of the top candidates for the award in the NL.
3. Willson Contreras
Willson Contreras might not be one of the front-runners for the NL MVP award in baseball’s various circles, but I’d argue he’s the top dark horse candidate. His offensive potential is sky-high, but also well-balanced, and he’s got the sort of lovable flashiness to draw extra attention to himself. Of course, being a catcher comes with pros and cons in an MVP candidacy: on the one hand, Contreras may not play quite as much as a position player elsewhere on the field; on the other hand, everyone knows just how important the catcher spot is.
4. Kyle Schwarber
If Kyle Schwarber hits like he did in the second half of last season, he could wind up as an All-Star and start to turn some heads. But if the offseason transformation plays as big of a role as we think it can – and from what he’s done this spring, it looks like it may be – then he’ll enter the race for best player in the NL. His road will be a little more uphill than most, given that left field isn’t exactly a premium position, and he’ll need to produce at an absurd level offensively, but with his name recognition and the potential to draw a ton of eyes because of the “comeback,” I think it would be silly to dismiss him.
5/6. Addison Russell and Javy Baez
To start, both of these players have obvious upside and neither has tickled their ceiling yet. But aside from that, they both have one thing going for them: elite defense and premium positions. I know it sounds repetitive to Contreras’ bid, but when you can pair elite defense at catcher, SS/2B, or center field with 20-30 homers and offensive prowess, you can join the big-boy conversation.
I wouldn’t say that either player is particularly likely to get into this conversation, but the offensive upside mixed with current defensive stardom makes it possible.
The Long Shots:
7. Jason Heyward
Here’s the thing … Jason Heyward will not win the MVP award in 2018. It’s just so unlikely and I really don’t think he’ll hit enough to make it happen. HOWEVER, his elite defense and base running is a huge plus, and we cannot forget that he was a perennial MVP candidate before coming to the Cubs. With five Gold Glove awards to his name and three down-ballot MVP votes on his resume, you could say he’s at least a plausible candidate. Guys with pedigrees like Heyward at 28 years old are hard to ignore. But again … he’s a long shot for a reason.
8. Ian Happ
I actually think Happ could be ranked higher than this, but his lack of name recognition and potential to split time early in the season might do him in. But if he does spend most of his time in center field while showing the sort of power he did in his debut season last year, you can just watch him fly up the boards. And given that he’s a switch-hitter, with speed, who can play multiple positions, he might just have that extra edge if he hits well enough.
9/10. Albert Almora and Ben Zobrist
Almora’s future looks bright, and his defense in center is good enough to garner Gold Glove attention, but I don’t think he’ll get enough playing time or ever hit for enough power to be a serious MVP candidate – well, at least not this year.
As for Zobrist, he’s gotten down-ballot MVP votes in the past and even led the league in WAR back in 2009 (his 8.6 fWAR beat out a vintage Albert Pujols’ (8.4 WAR)), but I think his best days are behind him. He could be in store for a bounce back season, but it won’t be MVP caliber.
So, in the end … yeah, I couldy agree with Kris Bryant. There are eight (no more, no less) guys who could conceivably be MVP candidates in 2018. I am positive they won’t all end up there, but it’s not difficult to see each individually entering the conversation.