MLB.com Columnist

Anthony Castrovince

Compelling candidates up for AL, NL MVP Awards

Winners set to be unveiled tonight on MLB Network

Compelling candidates up for AL, NL MVP Awards

They are venerable individual honors and, ergo, great sources of discussion and dispute. Nobody could argue against the value of winning one of the Most Valuable Player Awards, which will be handed out by the Baseball Writers' Association of America tonight at 6 p.m. ET on MLB Network.

But the word "value" itself is as persistent a point of conflict as exists in this sport, and that's what makes decisions on the BBWAA awards so interesting and enthralling.

Complete 2016 Awards coverage

In the National League, the field of finalists is fairly cut and dried. Kris Bryant of the Cubs, Daniel Murphy of the Nationals and Corey Seager of the Dodgers all played on teams that reached the postseason, and each of them provided ample contributions along the way.

But it's that American League field, with the Angels' Mike Trout and the Astros' Jose Altuve standing alongside Mookie Betts of the Red Sox, that puts the "value" discussion front and center once again.

The MLB Awards -- following league-specific recognition by BBWAA voters, whose ballots are based on regular-season play -- include candidates from both leagues (with postseason performance taken into consideration). MLB Awards are based on votes by retired players, broadcasters/reporters, team executives, Society of American Baseball Research members and fans, with each group accounting for 20 percent of the process. Esurance MLB Awards week concludes Friday on MLB Network and MLB.com at 8 p.m. ET. MLB Awards categories include Best Major Leaguer, Hitter, Pitcher, Rookie, Executive and Manager.

Were the MVP an award that simply went to the consensus "best player in baseball," there really wouldn't be much to see here. Even in an especially argumentative age, Trout is pretty widely acknowledged to be the most awesome of all-around talents. And this very well might have been his best season yet.

Trout led the Majors in runs (123), walks (116), on-base percentage (.441), OPS+ (174), weighted runs created plus (171) and both the Baseball Reference (10.6) and FanGraphs (9.4) versions of the Wins Above Replacement stat. Would you believe he is just the second player to lead the AL in WAR (Wins Above Replacement) five straight years? The other was a guy named Babe Ruth.

So Trout is special. But the 2016 Angels, um, were not. They won just 74 games. Trout alone scored an incredible 17 percent of their runs.

Trout named AL MVP finalist

What, then, did the AL voters -- who, it should be noted, haven't given the MVP Award to a player on a non-playoff team since Alex Rodriguez won it with the Rangers in 2003 -- value when it came to value? Personal prominence? Or personal prominence on a postseason entry?

If it's the latter, then step right up and bow to the crowd, Mr. Betts. You'll be the first Red Sox player to win the AL MVP Award since Dustin Pedroia in 2008 and, just as meaningfully, the first Mookie to win it.

Though the central storyline for the Red Sox this season was David Ortiz's retirement tour (and Ortiz himself figures to finish high in the voting), Betts was simply superb. He trailed only Trout in the WAR tally, he led the Majors in total bases (359), he finished in the AL's top four in runs (122), hits (214), batting average (.318) and extra-base hits (78), and he already rightly laid claim to an AL Gold Glove Award.

Betts a compelling MVP candidate

If it's Betts vs. Trout, mano a mano, Trout arguably has the edge. But Betts posted his numbers for a team that won the AL East, and in the 21 years that constitute the Wild Card Era, the AL voters have given the MVP Award to a player from a non-playoff entrant once, when Rodriguez won it in '03.

Altuve, of course, threw another wrinkle into what was already a difficult discussion by batting an AL-best .338 with a Major League-best 216 hits and a career-high .928 OPS. And for whatever it's worth, his Astros did win 10 more games than Trout's Angels.

Altuve nominated for AL MVP

But if the AL MVP Award is going to a guy who had a lot of free time on his hands in October, it's likely going to be Trout. And it will be fascinating to see if he wins his second AL MVP Award (his lone win came in 2014) or if he finishes as runner-up for the fourth time in five years.

The NL MVP Award discussion wasn't nearly as tortured this time around. And because Bryant led a 103-win Cubs team in homers, runs, hits and OPS, all while playing four defensive positions, there is pretty ample expectation that he'll be your 2016 NL MVP Award winner.

NL MVP Award finalists revealed

If that's the case, Bryant would be the first Cub to claim the prize since Sammy Sosa won it in 1998, despite losing that summer's epic homer race to Mark McGwire. Bryant arrived to the big leagues just 19 months ago with an unusual amount of hype attached to his delayed callup and his Spring Training home run bonanza. After posting a .939 OPS with 39 homers and 102 RBIs in his sophomore season, it's fair to say he's lived up to the billing.

Bryant named finalist for NL MVP

But Murphy lived up to the hype he created for himself with that amazing October 2015. The Nationals scooped him up in free agency and watched him prove that sudden power binge was very much sustainable, as Murphy hit 25 homers with a NL-best 47 doubles and .985 OPS for his new club.

Murphy gets NL MVP nomination

And Seager, who is vying to become just the third rookie to win both the Rookie of the Year Award and the MVP Award (Fred Lynn did it in 1975, and Ichiro Suzuki did it in 2001), had a Bryant-like breakout in his first full season. His .308/.365/.512 slash line, 26 homers and 40 doubles were robust totals for anybody, let alone a 22-year-old shortstop.

Corey Seager up for NL MVP

The best hope for Murphy and Seager is that Anthony Rizzo, Bryant's teammate, stole some votes from him, but it would be a shocker if Bryant isn't the winner.

As for the AL, well, here comes the hardware, with the arguments sure to follow.

Anthony Castrovince has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2004. Read his columns and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.