AL MVP field packed with heavy hitters

AL MVP field packed with heavy hitters

The easy part of deciding this year's American League Most Valuable Player? There are candidates to appeal to most any voter's priority in casting a ballot.

The tough part is deciding which one deserves it most.

Josh Hamilton played a major role in getting the Rangers into the postseason. The Yankees' Robinson Cano arguably had the best full season, without significant time missed, while also playing for a postseason-bound team. Miguel Cabrera was, by some counts, the most dangerous hitter in baseball, accounting for more than a quarter of his team's offense, though he couldn't slug the Tigers to better than a .500 season.

Jose Bautista had the most historic season by a hitter this year, claiming the home run title and setting a Toronto franchise record with 54 longballs. Team captain Paul Konerko slugged the White Sox out of the depths of the AL Central and into contention.

Other than a pitcher dominant enough to warrant serious consideration, this year's group of MVP candidates covers just about all the possible factors. Which season was the most valuable is a philosophical question that goes beyond the names and into the statistics. That doesn't make it any easier to decide.

And with so many valid candidates likely to draw a good share of support, the deciding factor might not come down to who gets the most first-place votes, but who gets more votes for, say, second place. The Baseball Writers' Association of America members tasked with deciding the MVP vote for their top 10, and all of those spots carry point values.

Had Hamilton not missed almost all of September with a cracked rib, or had votes not been due before the playoffs began, it might not be as much of a debate. His batting title and league-leading OPS, not to mention Texas' dominance of the AL West, had him at the forefront of the conversation for a good part of the summer. The late-season injuries that befell him raise the philosophical question of just how much of a season a player must play in to be an MVP. Then again, last year's MVP, Twins catcher Joe Mauer, might have answered that when he missed the season's first month and won it regardless.

Likewise, Cabrera could be at the top of the discussion had the lack of offense around him not doomed the Tigers in the AL Central race once Magglio Ordonez -- the .300 hitter directly in front of Cabrera in the lineup -- was lost to a season-ending ankle fracture. Cabrera's near-record total of 32 intentional walks was more than the AL's next two highest totals combined. The fact that Cabrera and the Tigers weren't in playoff contention in September works against him, but as Detroiters would argue, consider where the Tigers would've finished without him.

About the only easy prediction out of this group is that the voting is sure to spark some more discussion, and it probably won't stop once the results are released Tuesday at 2 p.m. ET. Rarely is there a year without second-guessing, and given the number of legitimate candidates, AL MVP seems like a most conspicuous target.

Here's a look at the top candidates:

Jose Bautista, RF, Blue Jays (.260, 54 HR, 124 RBIs)

The case for: Arguably baseball's best offensive story this year, Bautista shocked baseball by taking the home-run crown and nearly doubling his career homer total to go with a league-best 351 total bases, 92 extra-base hits and 100 walks.
The case against: No position player has ever won a league MVP with a batting average as low as .260.

* * *

Miguel Cabrera, 1B, Tigers (.328, 38 HR, 126 RBIs)

The case for: Considered by many to be the AL's most feared hitter, he led the Majors in RBIs. He scored or drove in more than 26 percent of the Tigers' total runs, basically carrying Detroit's offense despite the opposition pitching around him and often intentionally walking him.
The case against: Only one player since 1991 has won an MVP while playing for a team that finished at .500 or worse. Alex Rodriguez did it with the 91-loss Rangers in 2003.

* * *

Robinson Cano, 2B, Yankees (.319, 29 HR, 109 RBIs)

The case for: One of the game's best all-around players in 2010, Cano was the unquestioned offensive leader of the Majors' most potent offense. Cano helped the Yankees overcome injuries and down years from some of their perennial stars while also playing stellar defense at second base.
The case against: Injuries, inconsistencies or otherwise, the Yankees' talent might work against Cano's case, as might the homer-friendly right field at Yankee Stadium and Cano's .299 second-half average. His overall offensive numbers also fall short of Hamilton and Cabrera's.

* * *

Josh Hamilton, CF, Rangers (.359, 32 HR, 100 RBIs)

The case for: Led the Majors in nearly every percentage-based offensive stat -- batting average, slugging percentage, OPS -- and was the best offensive player on a Rangers team that wasn't offensively stacked.
The case against: He missed just about all of September with a cracked rib, costing him a chance at some other statistical feats, and the Rangers didn't exactly crumble without him, coasting to the AL West title.

* * *

Paul Konerko, 1B, White Sox (.312, 39 HR, 111 RBIs)

The case for: Konerko almost single-handedly slugged the White Sox out of early-season doldrums and back to the forefront of the AL Central race, as he accounted for better than 20 percent of Chicago's total offense.
The case against: Konerko didn't lead the league in any major categories, and he ultimately couldn't lead the White Sox into the playoffs.

Which worthy hitter would get your vote? Just as important, who would you vote second and third? There may not be one right answer.

Jason Beck is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @beckjason. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.