Could there be another back-to-back in the making? If Evan Longoria and the Rays have something to say about it, there just might be.
Longoria appeared somewhat late on the scene in 2008 but still found enough time to spark the Rays to an unexpected AL championship with 27 home runs, 85 RBIs, terrific defense at third base and an All-Star Game appearance. For that he was named the league's Rookie of the Year.
But while Longoria's presence over the entire 162-game haul in 2009 will help give the Rays another shot at AL East glory, it's not realistic to just pencil him in for AL MVP, not with the high-octane competition he'll get from within his own division and around the rest of the AL.
Not only do the retooled Yankees have a slugger on the rise in new first baseman Mark Teixeira, but a Cleveland Indians offense with a healthy Travis Hafner and Victor Martinez could set up a huge year for all-everything leadoff man Grady Sizemore.
And let's not forget Pedroia, the defending MVP who figures to just keep on hitting.
Here are five solid AL MVP candidates for 2009 and a few more worth tossing into what will surely be a summer-long conversation:
1. Teixeira: With Alex Rodriguez hurting to start the year, the loaded Yankees lineup will depend on the switch-hitting "Tex" to drive in the bulk of the runs in the Bronx. He should be up to the task. Teixeira belted 33 homers and drove in 121 runs last year while splitting time between the Atlanta Braves and Los Angeles Angels, but his numbers after returning to the AL -- he started his career in Texas -- were really eye-popping. After landing in Anaheim, Teixeria hit .358 with a 1.081 on-base-plus-slugging percentage, and hit 13 homers and drove in 43 runs in 54 games while playing the defense that has made him a two-time Gold Glove winner.
2. Sizemore: You can call 2008 a down year for Sizemore because he "only" batted .268, he "only" scored 101 runs -- after 118 in 2007 and 134 in '06 -- and because his Indians had a rough season. Then again, without a healthy Hafner or Martinez, this offense just doesn't work right, and when they are healthy, Sizemore is on top of the lineup making everything go smoother. Good signs in '08 were his career-high totals of 33 homers, 90 RBIs and 38 stolen bases. If he can go 40-40 with homers and steals in '09, it will put him in elite company -- and possibly on top of the MVP heap.
3. Pedroia: The little guy wouldn't be denied in 2008, with a fantastic overall year that netted him the MVP honors he's been bragging about on that video-game commercial. Not only did he win the award despite such a huge year from teammate Kevin Youkilis, but he did it without hitting 20 homers (he hit 17) or driving in 100 runs (he had 83). His game was all about runs (118), hits (213) and doubles (54), and he led the AL in all three categories. He also batted .326, which ranked second in the league to Minnesota's Joe Mauer. And then there's that swagger and winning attitude, which might have tipped the scales in his favor when voting time came around.
4. Longoria: Two years after being selected with the third overall pick in the 2006 First-Year Player Draft, Longoria had shot through the Minor League system to land squarely on the hot corner in Tropicana Field. And while he only played in 122 games last year, it seemed like he'd been there forever. Power? Check. Defense? Check. Team leadership? Believe it or not, that might have been the biggest check of all. Mature well beyond his 23 years, Longoria is an unquestioned fixture in the lineup of one of baseball's most exciting teams, and he hasn't even figured it all out yet.
5. Justin Morneau, 1B, Minnesota Twins: The mild-mannered Canadian slugger's presence on a prospective top-five MVP list is as much of a sure thing as weird bounces on the Metrodome FieldTurf. Morneau won this award in 2006, hit 31 homers and drove in 111 runs in 2007, and finished second in the MVP voting last year with 23 homers and 129 RBIs. The young Twins will be looking to close out the final year of the Homer Dome in style, and they've got a lot of talent, which means Morneau will probably see a lot of good pitches.
Dark-horse dozen: Rodriguez; Youkilis; Miguel Cabrera, 1B, Detroit Tigers; Josh Hamilton, CF, Texas Rangers; Matt Holliday, LF, Oakland A's; Vladimir Guerrero, RF, Los Angeles Angels; Ichiro Suzuki, RF, Seattle Mariners; Nick Markakis, RF, Baltimore Orioles; CC Sabathia, RHP, New York Yankees; Jon Lester, LHP, Boston Red Sox; Roy Halladay, RHP, Toronto Blue Jays; Carlos Quentin, LF, Chicago White Sox
Doug Miller is reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.