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The Next Award Winner: MVP

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Who could be the next to take home the top award in the league?

2019 BBWAA Awards Dinner

We’ve spent a lot of the past couple of months in this strange, baseball-less world looking back on Red Sox history, and we will continue to do just that. We don’t often have the time for that kind of stuff, so that is a rare upside from this. For this week, though, I’m going to look a little bit forward. We’re going to be trying to find the next Red Sox players to win each major award. For the Rookie of the Year, Cy Young and MVP we’ll be running down multiple candidates for that one award. Yesterday, we went position by position to look at the next Gold Glove and Silver Slugger winners for the organization. Today, we’ll finish things up by looking at the next MVP.

The Red Sox actually have a pretty solid history of MVPs both recently and going back throughout baseball history with 12 winners in the history of the franchise. The most recent, of course, was just a couple of years ago when Mookie Betts won in 2018. Before that, Dustin Pedroia won in 2008 and Mo Vaughn won in 1995. This is obviously the biggest award in baseball, but weirdly enough I felt that this was the easiest group to put together, at least at the top where it really just came down to two names, the order for which will vary person to person.

5. Chris Sale

This was probably my toughest decision, as it came down between Sale and Triston Casas. Ultimately it ended up being more about not picking Casas than picking Sale. Pitchers are rare MVP winners, but first basemen have been basically nonexistent in voting for MVP in recent history, even if they still have the most overall MVPs in league history. As our knowledge of the game grows and positional adjustments skew this award more towards up the middle players, someone like Casas has to be one of the two or three best hitters in the game. I like Casas, but I’m not comfortable with that projection.

To be fair, I’m not super comfortable predicting Sale is going to be good enough for not only a Cy Young but also an MVP, either, but it’s all on a spectrum. I’m more comfortable saying that about Sale than Casas. It’s really not all that complicated. We know the upside for Sale, and if he can come back from surgery and put it all together for 30 starts, there are only a few starters in all of baseball who can do what he does. Of course, at this point that has been easier said than done for the southpaw.

4. Jeter Downs

The fact of the matter is that the favorite for the MVP is always going to be an up-the-middle player. That doesn’t mean it will always or even mostly be those players — Betts was obviously a right fielder — but in making future projections they have better odds. Downs is the best up-the-middle prospect in the organization, and it’s not particularly close. I’m not quite as sold on his bat as others seem to be, but as I like to say when you’re alone on an island that’s not a time to double down but rather look at why everyone disagrees.

Downs has the tools to be an all-around stud at second base. He can hit for average. He has a strong approach that leads to walks. He’s made significant strides in the power department. He is athletic and can provide value on the bases. He plays good defense and should be above-average at second base. I think that latter part could be underrated in today’s game, as having a strong defensive second baseman could theoretically lead to the need for fewer shifts. Either way, an all-around talent who is close to the majors and plays up the middle seems like he has to be included on this list, no?

3. Andrew Benintendi

I think the thing I am worst at in terms of evaluating baseball-related items is knowing when to give up on players. Note that “give up” is a relative term. I’m not saying even the post pessimistic person would say Benintendi needs to be cut, but rather in this context I mean “give up” in the case of giving up on star potential. I did that with someone else who comes in at the top of this list and still feel silly about it.

I’m not ready to give up on Benintendi in any context. I will grant that an MVP is a little bit unlikely even if he takes the big step forward that I expect just because he’s not really a power hitter and he plays left field. However, my vision of peak Benintendi, which I still believe we will see, is a 20-homer, 40-double kind of player. It’s not too difficult to stretch that kind of projection by five to ten homers, and then given his ability to get on base that’s a real top-tier player. I understand those who are disappointed in his career so far and don’t begrudge anyone for settling in on him being a good-not-great player, but personally I’m sticking on the Benny train for a little while longer at least.

2. Rafael Devers

As I said at the top, the top two choices were extremely clear in this exercise and I wouldn’t argue too hard if you wanted to have Devers in the top spot. Honestly, it doesn’t require much explanation. He is coming off a season in which he hit .311/.361/.555, and he doesn’t turn 24 until after this coming season. He also improved his defense to a stunning degree over at third base. He’s an absolute stud who is just entering his prime in this game, which should last a long time. The margin between him and my top pick is super slim, and for me it just comes down to positional adjustment and track record. Not that I don’t believe in Devers moving forward because I extremely do, but the fact of the matter is he’s only done it once in the majors. The other guy has done it more than once.

1. Xander Bogaerts

That other guy is Devers’s partner on the left side of the infield and just overall buddy in Bogaerts. He is also the guy I referenced above in giving up on too early. A couple of years ago I was ready to settle for Bogaerts as a high-average, low-power shortstop who was good but would never reach superstar status. Then he went out in 2018 and put up a 133 wRC+, which by the way is better than Devers’s mark last year. Oh, and then Bogaerts came out in 2019 and was even better, finishing with a 141 wRC+.

Nothing in Bogaerts’s offensive profile indicates he will slow down any time soon, as his bat speed is still there, he makes bananas contact, he has an incredible approach and is one of the best two-strike hitters in the game, keeping his floor nice and high. The defense is certainly a question, but we’re talking about an elite hitter who plays shortstop, and one who is still only 27. That sounds like a good MVP candidate to me.