The odds-on favorite is Joe Mauer, who led an undermanned Twins team directly to the playoffs and whose numbers -- as a catcher, despite missing a month due to injury -- are among the most startling in baseball.
But then there is Derek Jeter, whose successes are almost always viewed through the prism of what he has done in the past. They shouldn't be. At age 35, Jeter produced one of the finest seasons of his Hall of Fame career, leading the Yankees to the fifth World Series title of his career.
When Jeter fell short of the award three seasons ago, it seemed unlikely that he would compete for it again. But here he is, among the favorites, impossible to ignore. For many voters, Jeter embodies the spirit of the MVP Award.
Then again, Mauer is one of the few in the game seemingly capable of out-Jeter-ing Jeter. Jeter is one of the few seemingly capable of poking holes in Mauer's resume. And a few other candidates, including Miguel Cabrera of the Tigers and Mark Teixeira of the Yankees, might still change everything.
What's clear is that how voters see it will make a Valuable bit of difference.
Joe Mauer, C, Twins:
Key stats: .365 AVG, 28 HR, 96 RBI, 1.031 OPS
Why he'll win: Why not? His numbers over the span of five months are nothing short of incredible. Flirting with .400 for most of the first half of the season, Mauer missed the entire month of April due to injury and still managed to bash 28 home runs, hit 30 doubles and post a league-leading OPS (on-base plus slugging percentages) of 1.031 -- all while striking out merely 63 times on the season. He has the support of the statisticians and the support of voters who lean toward those on successful teams. Mauer all but single-handedly launched the Twins into the playoffs, going on a tear without injured former MVP Justin Morneau in the lineup. He also did it while playing Gold Glove defense at the most physically demanding position on the diamond. Any questions?
Why he won't: Although Mauer overcame the time he missed due to a back injury, there's no replacing the value of those lost at-bats. In the National League Cy Young Award balloting, two writers left Chris Carpenter off the ballot completely due to a similar amount of time missed due to injury. Carpenter finished second to Tim Lincecum, and Mauer must be wary of suffering a similar fate.
Derek Jeter, SS, Yankees
Key stats: .334 AVG, 18 HR, 107 runs, 30 SB
Why he'll win: He's Jeter. Winning is what he does, from the 103 regular-season games his Yankees won this season to the 11 other victories they recorded in the postseason. On the surface, Jeter's numbers can't match those of Mauer, who bested him in nearly every major offensive category despite missing a month due to injury. And Jeter's playoff performances don't count toward the voting. But some look at the MVP as a platform for a sort of lifetime achievement award, and Jeter, who has never won an MVP, could stand to benefit -- just recall the 2006 vote, when Jeter nearly bested Morneau despite inferior numbers almost across the board. Throw in the fact that Jeter played some of his best defense in years this season, and he has a chance. Not a great chance, but a chance.
Why he won't: The stats, quite simply. Almost every significant number points in Mauer's direction, and Jeter will need a heck of a lot of "intangibles" to overcome that disadvantage. If playoff numbers counted toward the vote, then Jeter would have a much better chance. But as it stands, he doesn't appear to have quite enough oomph to overtake Mauer.
Miguel Cabrera, 1B, Tigers
Key stats: .324 AVG, 34 HR, 103 RBI
Why he'll win: Perhaps the AL's most talented power hitter, Cabrera remained remarkably consistent all season long. Only once did Cabrera bat less than .300 over a full month of the season, and he hit somewhere between four and seven homers every month. When he didn't hit, as in October, the Tigers floundered. When he did, they soared, with Cabrera practically dragging them toward a postseason berth before falling short in a one-game tiebreaker against the Twins.
Why he won't: In terms of overall offensive excellence, Cabrera enjoyed arguably the best year of anyone in the AL. But his team missed the playoffs, which is a strike against his record, and Cabrera didn't lead the league in any major offensive category. Across the board, he was sensational. But he didn't quite stand out in any area, making him a more likely candidate for second or third place.
Mark Teixeira, 1B, Yankees:
Key stats: .292 AVG, 39 HR, 122 RBI
Why he'll win: Simply put, he was the most successful hitter on the best team in the league. Rebounding from a horrific first month with his new club, Teixeira went on to lead the league in RBIs and tied for the league lead in homers, hitting .306 from May through September and wreaking havoc on the short porch in right field at the new Yankee Stadium. Though Teixeira slumped a bit in the postseason, that can't be held against him in the voting. He played Gold Glove defense all season long. And if Jeter can contend for the award, so can Teixeira, who was arguably more valuable to the Yankees throughout the course of the year.
Why he won't: The presence of Jeter may draw votes away from Teixeira, much like Cardinals teammates Carpenter and Adam Wainwright split votes in the NL Cy Young Award balloting. Perhaps the favorite for the AL MVP Award throughout the midsummer months, Teixeira fell behind a streaking Mauer late in the season and -- despite a terrific second half -- never quite caught up. Had Teixeira posted even average numbers in April, it might have been a different story. But catching Mauer in this race will be no easy task.
Kendry Morales, 1B, Angels
Key stats: .306 AVG, 34 HR, 108 RBI, .569 SLG
Why he'll win: Replacing Teixeira at first base is no easy task, but this past season, Morales made that a smooth transition by having a breakout season at the plate and adding great defense. Morales had a solid first half, batting .284 with 15 homers and 49 RBIs. But he did his most damage after the All-Star break, when he hit .330 with 19 homers, 59 RBIs and a .614 slugging percentage while winning Player of the Month honors for August. On a team loaded with offensive firepower, the 26-year-old switch-hitter finished second in batting average, while pacing in homers, RBIs, total bases (322) and slugging to help make Los Angeles a division champion.
Why he won't win: Morales had a fine season, and his numbers are as consistent across the board as anybody's. But he may not have even been the best in the league at his position. It's hard to make an argument that Cabrera -- 18 points better in batting average, same number of home runs and five fewer RBIs -- wasn't better. And though Teixeira's batting average may have been 14 points lower, he had five more homers and 14 more RBIs while playing Gold Glove defense on the team with the best regular-season record in the Majors. Not to mention Mauer's batting average was better by 59 points, and his team made the playoffs, too. Again, a fine season by Morales, but likely not fine enough for this award.
Anthony DiComo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.