MLB.com Columnist

Mike Bauman

Bryant rising to top in crowded NL MVP Award race

Despite presence of MVP-level teammate Rizzo, third baseman stands out

Bryant rising to top in crowded NL MVP Award race

Voters for the 2016 National League Most Valuable Player Award are faced with a dilemma. It's not an ethical dilemma. It's not even an empirical dilemma. It's more of a definitional dilemma.

We start from the basic premise that two of the prime candidates for the award are Cubs -- Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo. Their credentials are clearly in order.

Daniel Murphy of the Nationals is deservedly in the conversation along with rookie Corey Seager of the Dodgers. Nolan Arenado of the Rockies is having a terrific season, but recent history with this award suggests that players from sub-.500 teams do not generally have this award bestowed upon them. You can feel free to insert your own favorite candidate for purposes of this discussion.

As a voter in this election, I'm listening closely to the two basic schools of thought on this matter. One is that with two MVP Award candidates on the same team, someone else must be the most valuable player. I have heard Murphy advocates use exactly this argument.

It is, on one hand, sensible, and on the other hand, arbitrary. It also underscores the basic notion of "most valuable player" being potentially different than "the best player." That could be the same individual, although that split occurred in the American League MVP Award voting in 2012 and '13 when Mike Trout of the Angels may have been the best player in the league, but the voters saw Miguel Cabrera of the Tigers as the most valuable. But in those two years, Cabrera's Tigers finished first in their division and Trout's Angels finished third.

This is an essential part of the pro-Murphy argument this year. It is the notion that one of the Cubs cannot win the MVP Award because Rizzo and Bryant, by simultaneously being so good for the same team, have damaged their individual chances to win the award.

Following this logic, Murphy who has had a big year for the Nats, while last year's NL MVP Award winner, Bryce Harper, has had a sub-standard campaign, becomes a more logical candidate because he is the Nationals' answer to the Lone Ranger. There is no way the Nats would have the second-best record in the league without Murphy's huge campaign.

On the other hand, why should either Bryant or Rizzo be penalized because he has a teammate playing at an MVP level? I don't find a compelling answer for that one.

The Cubs have the best record in baseball, 92-51 after Monday's 4-1 victory over St. Louis and on pace for a 104-win season. This kind of thing could be beyond the reach of just one MVP Award candidate. Maybe a record this good requires at least two players to be performing at an MVP Award level, not to mention the occasional pitcher in the running for a Cy Young Award.

I don't believe that an MVP Award candidate should be penalized because one of his teammates is having a splendid season. In recent weeks, the race has been moving in Bryant's direction as his numbers become more and more impressive.

But even if the offensive production ended in a three-way tie, the defensive metrics would favor the two Cubs over Murphy. And then there is the factor that sets Bryant apart from the other two candidates.

Bryant has made starts at third base, left field, right field and first base. He also has made appearances in center field and at shortstop. And Bryant has been fully capable wherever the Cubs have asked him to play.

You combine that remarkable versatility with his offensive production, and Bryant looks very much like an MVP Award winner. And Rizzo having a splendid season doesn't alter that.

The NL MVP Award race could change, depending on the work that is done in the final three weeks of the season. But the MVP Award remains an honor that is based on the value of one player to his team. At this late juncture in the season, it is difficult to put any NL player above Bryant in that category.

Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.