MLB.com Columnist

Richard Justice

Altuve, Trout among top AL MVP Award candidates

Donaldson, Ortiz, Betts also worthy of consideration in deep field

Altuve, Trout among top AL MVP Award candidates

Mike Trout is the logical choice. David Ortiz is the sentimental favorite. Josh Donaldson won last season and is again putting up monster numbers. There's also Jose Altuve, Mookie Betts and Miguel Cabrera, all solid candidates. In other words, there's no clear-cut choice to win the American League Most Valuable Player Award at this point.

Maybe there'll be some separation as we near the finish line, or maybe this season's balloting will be historically close. MVP balloting is an uncertain science because each voter sees the candidates through their own prism.

Nevertheless, let's line 'em up and rank 'em for a midsummer exercise for the real balloting done after the final game of the regular season.

1. Altuve, 2B, Astros
Altuve is cruising toward his second AL batting title in three seasons, and he has career highs in home runs and walks. Only Ortiz has a higher OPS. Only Trout has a higher WAR.

There simply is no weakness in Altuve's game, and in a lineup that has some holes, he has at times seemed to be the only guy keeping the Astros in shouting distance of a second straight postseason berth.

Must C: Altuve's two homers

2. Trout, CF, Angels
Trout is the best player in the game. He's so breathtakingly good every day of the season that it has become easy to take his greatness for granted. We occasionally need to remind ourselves we're seeing one of the best players ever.

In the past four seasons, Trout has finished second three times and first once in AL MVP Award voting. This season, he leads the AL in WAR, OBP and walks, and he is on pace for 31 home runs and 108 RBIs.

Trout's team isn't in contention, though, and some voters penalize players for that. That would be unfair to him, since he plays the same way whether his team is 20 games back or playing Game 7 of the World Series.

Trout's RBI triple

3. Donaldson, 3B, Blue Jays
How do you follow up an AL MVP Award-winning season? Donaldson has pretty much repeated his 2015 numbers, with 25 doubles, 27 home runs, 73 walks and a .984 OPS this season. He's also one of the great defensive third basemen of our time.

If the Blue Jays fight off the Orioles and Red Sox to win the AL East again, Donaldson almost certainly would become the odds-on favorite to add a second AL MVP Award.

Donaldson's acquisition by the Blue Jays before the 2015 season was one of those franchise-changing events. Baseball has been reawakened in one of the great baseball cities in North America, and Donaldson has been in the middle of all of it.

Donaldson's two-homer game

4. Ortiz, DH, Red Sox
Ortiz just has to be the AL MVP Award winner, doesn't he? Other than another World Series ring, there couldn't be a more appropriate parting gift as he rides off into the sunset.

This isn't about nostalgia either. Ortiz's 20th season has been one of his best. He leads the Majors in OPS (1.014), extra-base hits (62) and doubles (36). Ortiz's name is all over the AL leaderboard, with 25 home runs, 55 walks and 87 RBIs.

Anyone who casts a vote for Big Papi would be absolutely justified in doing so. His lack of a defensive position probably makes him a long shot despite his offensive numbers being so good.

One of the few things Ortiz has never won is an AL MVP Award. He came close in 2005-06 with second- and third-place finishes. His real legacy will be in helping the Red Sox win three championships and becoming the face of one of baseball's iconic franchises.

Maybe an AL MVP Award would be nothing more than icing on the cake. But combine this being his final season and his performance, there would be no quibbling with those voting for Ortiz. Besides that, his acceptance speech would be must-see TV.

5. Betts, RF, Red Sox
Betts doesn't lead the AL in a single significant offensive category. Instead, the case for him is that his name is scattered across the leaderboard: fourth in runs (86), second in hits (146), third in doubles (31), fifth in batting average (.311) and seventh in OPS (.897). Only Trout, Altuve and Donaldson have a higher WAR.

Only two years ago, the Red Sox were still debating how good a player Betts would be or where he'd play. Last season, he burst onto the scene with an .820 OPS. Now he's part of a new generation of Red Sox that could lead the franchise for several years to come. Betts plays the game with energy and enthusiasm.

As with Donaldson and the Blue Jays, if the Red Sox win their division, Betts has a chance to win. Ortiz probably will get more votes, but Betts is as deserving as anyone.

Must C: Betts hits three dingers

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.