No clear-cut MVP winner in AL

Gonzalez: No clear-cut MVP winner in AL

Go ahead, try to pinpoint a clear-cut favorite for the American League's Most Valuable Player Award.

It isn't easy.

You can fill your brain with all sorts of stats, analysis and breakdowns, look into every possible interpretation of that tricky eight-letter word that stirs so much debate this time of year -- valuable -- and dissect every angle. But trust me: The deeper you delve, the more obvious it becomes.

The AL MVP title is still very much up for grabs.

It can be filtered, though.

Paul Konerko, Adrian Beltre and Evan Longoria have had great but unspectacular 2010 campaigns. Joe Mauer has produced at the rate one would expect, but not to the level of his 2009 MVP season. And though Jose Bautista's home-run tear has been every bit as phenomenal as it has been unexpected, his surrounding variables simply don't cut it.

All of them deserve top-10 votes, but with 10 days of regular-season baseball remaining, it's essentially a three-horse race for the MVP in the AL. And I still can't decide. Maybe you can.

Here's what we've got.

Robinson Cano, Yankees
It's hard to give the MVP to a player who isn't even considered the best, second-best or even third-best position player on his own team, but Cano has been the AL's most consistent player on arguably the best club in the Majors.

He's hitting .321, has the league's second-highest hit total and ranks among the AL's top 10 in home runs, RBIs and OPS. And it'd be a major upset if he didn't win a Gold Glove at second base.

AL MVP candidates
The American League Most Valuable Player is coming down to a three-man race.
Player Team BA HR RBI OPS
Miguel Cabrera DET .325 35 120 1.030
Robinson Cano NYY .320 28 104 .921
Josh Hamilton TEX .361 31 97 1.049
Though superstar teammates Alex Rodriguez (.272 batting average and 25 homers), Mark Teixeira (.254) and Derek Jeter (.267 with a .335 on-base percentage) have had their share of struggles throughout the season, Cano never wavered and always came through.

He's been, without a doubt, the best offensive player for Major League Baseball's best offensive team.

"He's growing up right in front of our eyes," A-Rod said recently. "He's slowly but surely become one of the elite players in our league. Everyone talks about hitting, but what he's doing power-wise in big situations and defensively, there's no question he's the best second baseman in baseball."

But here's the problem: Even with an average, unspectacular Cano, the Bronx Bombers would find a way to make the playoffs.

Unfair as it may be, Cano is a victim of his spot in the batting order. He sees far better pitches than any of his MVP competitors while nestled in the No. 5 spot of the mighty Yankees lineup, sitting comfortably behind Teixeira and A-Rod. And when the playoffs begin on Oct. 6, you can bet Cano won't be priority No. 1 for opposing pitchers.

But he can still be No. 1 in the MVP race.

Josh Hamilton, Rangers
And so can Hamilton.

By the time August was finished, Hamilton looked primed for the award. Then, after a seemingly innocent collision with the Target Field wall on Sept. 4, a monkey wrench was hurled into the debate.

There's no debating Hamilton's value to the Rangers, though.

Hamilton leads the Majors with a sickening .361 batting average, 1.049 OPS and .378 average with runners in scoring position; he's played sensational defense in the outfield; and despite his September hiatus, he's tied for fourth in the league in homers (31) and ranks 11th in RBIs (97).

Sure, he hasn't played in nearly three weeks because of two small fractures in his right ribcage and doesn't expect to return until there are three regular-season games remaining, if then. But his true value came in June, July and August, when Texas separated itself from a rather uncompetitive AL West.

Hamilton was there for the Rangers in July, when Vladimir Guerrero hit just .210, and he was there when Ian Kinsler missed the entire month of August. In fact, over those three months -- after which Texas finished with what was an insurmountable 8 1/2-game lead -- Hamilton hit an ungodly .410 with 22 homers and 70 RBIs.

Numbers favor him. But history doesn't.

No position player who won the MVP in a non-strike year ever played fewer than 10 games from Sept. 1 until the end of the regular season, and only one -- Pirates shortstop Dick Groat in 1960 -- played fewer than 15, according to Elias Sports Bureau.

So far Hamilton's September output is all of two games.

Miguel Cabrera, Tigers
If numbers were the only determining factor, Miguel Cabrera would be the hands-down winner.

With 31 intentional walks, Cabrera has more than double the total of any other player in baseball, further emphasizing his lack of protection in the lineup, but he still paces the AL in RBIs (120), is third in doubles (45), ranks third in homers (35) and sports a .326 batting average.

Where would the Tigers be without Miggy?

"Well, that's a question that kind of answers itself," manager Jim Leyland said. "Obviously, he's an MVP."

Not so fast, Skip.

Sure, the Tigers are nowhere without Cabrera, but they'll be watching the playoffs from home with him. They've been no closer than seven games in the AL Central since the start of August and haven't been within single digits of a division lead in four weeks.

Voters have handed out MVPs despite similar circumstances in recent years, though.

In 2008, Albert Pujols was named MVP even though his Cardinals finished 11 1/2 games out in the National League Central. Two years prior, Ryan Howard won it despite the Phillies finishing 12 back in the NL East. And in 2003, A-Rod was MVP, even though his Rangers finished a whopping 25 games behind in the AL West.

But all three of them finished their respective seasons emphatically strong.

Cabrera is going out with a whimper, batting just .213 with two home runs in his first 70 plate appearances of September. In the end, that may dissuade voters from giving gaudy numbers more weight than win-loss records.

Or will it?

"I don't know, man," Cabrera said. "I'm in a tough position right now because we didn't make the playoffs, so it's going to be hard."

You're right about that, Miggy. It is hard. In fact, with fewer than two weeks to go before the playoffs, I'm still unsure on the AL MVP.

What say you?

Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Gonzo and 'The Show'. Follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez. MLB.com reporter Jason Beck contributed to this report. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.