MLB.com Columnist

Richard Justice

Time to hand out the First-Half Awards

Donaldson, Bryant, Kershaw, Sale dominated pre-All-Star break

Time to hand out the First-Half Awards

The first half of this baseball season has reminded us of the greatness of Clayton Kershaw and Mike Trout, of Josh Donaldson and Jose Altuve. These are four of the players who are defining this generation of baseball.

At a time when there's young talent pouring into the game, these guys remain the gold standard. Every player can measure himself against them in terms of production, work ethic and professionalism.

Years from now, we'll still be talking about the things they did, the games they won and how they went about the whole thing.

This first half has confirmed that Kris Bryant and Manny Machado are special players. And there are the kids we've seen emerge in 2016: Trevor Story and Nomar Mazara and others.

We've been reminded again and again that there probably has never been a better time to be a baseball fan.

The All-Star break being one of the traditional checkpoints of a season, this is a good time to pause and reflect on the best of the best of 2016. Here's a breakdown of who I would pick to win the Baseball Writers' Association of America awards, as well as the Esurance MLB Awards -- which make no distinction for league -- if the season ended today.

2015 Esurance MLB Awards

Here goes:

American League MVP Award
Josh Donaldson, 3B, Blue Jays
(.304, 23 HR, 63 RBIs)
With a tip of the cap to the incredible Altuve, this one is razor-thin between Donaldson and Trout. Donaldson has five more home runs and five more RBIs. Trout has two more hits and one more double. Trout's on-base percentage is seven points higher, but Donaldson's OPS is 26 points higher. Defense? Both are superior defensive players and very good baserunners. According to FanGraphs, Trout leads the Majors with 5.5 Wins Above Replacement, and Donaldson is second at 5.4. Donaldson gets the slightest of nods here for the teensy bit of added power. It couldn't be closer.

Donaldson's three-run blast

National League MVP Award
Kris Bryant, 3B, Cubs
(.286, 25 HR, 65 RBIs)

Bryant is the best, most consistent player on one of the best teams in baseball, and isn't that what the MVP Award is about? Per FanGraphs, he leads all NL position players with 5.0 WAR. Bryant is also leading the NL with 25 home runs and is third with 65 RBIs. His teammate, Anthony Rizzo, is also a strong contender, and Nationals second baseman Daniel Murphy could steal the award with a strong second half. And there's Kershaw in contention again.

Bryant's 25th homer

Best Major Leaguer
Donaldson
Donaldson is not just an explosive offensive player. He's also one of the great defensive players of his time. Which is pretty good stuff for a guy originally drafted out of Auburn to be a catcher.

Justice on first half Cy Young

AL Cy Young Award
Chris Sale, LHP, White Sox
(14-3, 3.38 ERA)
Another close one. Aaron Sanchez, Steven Wright and at least three Indians could all end up with this one. At this point, though, no one has been better than Sale, who leads the AL in victories and innings and is fourth in WHIP and third in strikeouts. The White Sox are 14-4 in his 18 starts, 31-38 with anyone else on the mound.

Sale's nine-strikeout game

NL Cy Young Award
Clayton Kershaw, LHP, Dodgers
(11-2, 1.79 ERA)
There's no debate about Kershaw being the best pitcher in baseball. If he can return from the disabled list quickly, he'll also win his fourth NL Cy Young Award and possibly his second NL MVP Award. Kershaw is one of the best ever and is still only 28 years old. He has three pitches good enough to win games, and when even two of them are working, forget it. In 16 starts, Kershaw has allowed more than two runs twice. The Dodgers are 14-2 in his starts, 36-38 with anyone else.

Kershaw strikes out Polanco

Best Starting Pitcher
Kershaw
Does Kershaw deserve to be mentioned in the same breath with Sandy Koufax or Don Drysdale? Yes, he does. Kershaw is also a role model in every way that word can be used, whether it's work ethic, charitable giving or being a good teammate. Darn good ping-pong player, too.

Justice on first half ROY

AL Rookie of the Year Award
Nomar Mazara, OF, Rangers
(.282, 11 HR, 36 RBIs)
Mazara was ticketed for Triple-A since he was just 20 on the first day of Spring Training and had played only 20 games above Double-A. Even when Josh Hamilton got hurt, the Rangers signed Ian Desmond to play the outfield. When Shin-Soo Choo got hurt in April, Mazara made his Major League debut and began spraying line drives all over the field. His Minor League days appear to be forever in his rearview mirror. Detroit right-hander Michael Fulmer could end up challenging Mazara for this if he keeps up his recent run of great pitching.

Mazara's long running grab

NL Rookie of the Year Award
Corey Seager, SS, Dodgers
(.297, 17 HR, 42 RBIs)
There are solid cases to be for Rockies shortstop Story and two starting pitchers, Kenta Maeda of the Dodgers and Steven Matz of the Mets. However, none of them has been better than Seager, who might just play his way into the NL MVP Award conversation. His 60 runs are third among all NL players, and his 105 hits are the fifth most.

Seager's RBI single to center

Best Rookie
Seager
Seager arrived as one of baseball's most hyped prospects. He has fulfilled all that hype and is on his way to being one of the 10 best players in the game, if he's not there already.

AL Manager of the Year Award
Buck Showalter, Orioles
Showalter has kept his team atop the AL East for 82 days despite a starting rotation that has the third-highest ERA in the Majors (5.15). He has, as usual, managed the bullpen masterfully and not allowed the pitching problems to influence the effort or attitude.

NL Manager of the Year Award
Joe Maddon, Cubs
Yes, Maddon probably has the most talent. He has also had the most expectations. Maddon has worked his usual magic setting exactly the right tone and keeping the expectations and assorted other distractions in the hallway outside the clubhouse.

Best Manager
Maddon
Bruce Bochy has crafted a Hall of Fame resume. Showalter is methodically doing the same thing. A.J. Hinch is a rising star. At the moment, though, none of is them is better than the Cubs' skipper.

Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.