Ultimate MVP draft: Who will become the face of the 2021 baseball season?

Yahoo Sports Staff
·15-min read

Sometimes you just want a fantasy league that you can set and forget, right? Well, this year, the Yahoo Sports staff is trying to draft the best of the best in one fell swoop. We went five rounds — snake draft style — trying to choose the players who will take home MVP hardware at season’s end.

As reflected in their BetMGM odds, we looked for certainty in star performers, yes, but also tried to spot the names you don’t see coming. If you want to check back and see how we did in November, we’ll score the results of the balloting like this:

-10 points for a winner

-6 points for 2nd

-5 points for 3rd

-4 points for 4th

-3 points for 5th

-1 point for any lower finisher who gets votes

And remember, because we are drafting both leagues combined, someone could wind up with both winners in their lineup. Let’s get to it.

(Michael Wagstaffe / Yahoo Sports)
(Michael Wagstaffe / Yahoo Sports)

ROUND 1

Jack Baer: Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels outfielder

+200 for AL MVP

Short answer: It’s Mike Trout.

Long answer: It’s Mike Trout, who has never finished lower than second in MVP voting when playing at least 120 games in a season. It’s Mike Trout, whose game has consistently evolved over the years while his status among peers has stayed the same. It’s Mike Trout, the only guy you can pick in this spot without getting pies thrown at you online.

Hannah Keyser: Mookie Betts, Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder

+750 for NL MVP

Betts vs. Fernando Tatis for NL MVP will be a fun subplot to the Dodgers-Padres division race. And personally, give me the guy who has finished in the top 10 for MVP voting for the past five years and is only entering his age-28 season. He’s so unassailably awesome that even a short, slightly below-optimal 2020 campaign presented enough opportunity to make a mini-meme out of the Red Sox decision to deal him to the best team in baseball where he’ll get plenty of attention in high-stakes games. I don’t think I’m going too far out on a limb to predict that Betts highlights will once again fill your Twitter feed alongside incredulity that anyone would ever trade him. And that the sum of those web gems will be an MVP-worthy season.

Chris Cwik: Juan Soto, Washington Nationals outfielder

+750 for NL MVP

Is it blasphemy to call Soto the best pure hitter in baseball? Maybe it is considering Trout and Betts exist. Still, Soto showed last season he could put up a Miguel Cabrera-esque slash line. Cabrera works well as a comp here, because Soto’s defense isn’t going to shoot him up the WAR leaderboards. I’m just hoping he hits like hell and the voters can’t deny his excellence. It also helps that Soto plays on a team where he won’t have to compete with his teammates for MVP votes.

Liz Roscher: Fernando Tatis Jr., San Diego Padres shortstop

+900 for NL MVP

It’s kind of hard to figure out what to say about a guy like Tatis Jr., other than, “Holy crap he’s good, get ready for how good he’s going to be.” San Diego is all in on Tatis, and everyone else should be too. The fully rebuilt Padres are poised to take on the behemoth that is the Dodgers, and Tatis is a major part of that. He’s going to be a perennial MVP candidate, but more importantly, he’s going to be really fun to watch. So do yourself a favor and watch him every single chance you get.

Zach Crizer: Ronald Acuña Jr., Atlanta Braves outfielder

+800 for NL MVP

Barely 23, the Braves' entrant into baseball's suddenly crowded sweepstakes to be The Next Great One often lands here — the third mention behind Soto and Tatis Jr. — by virtue of being the first one to arrive. But the flip side of that is Acuña's more well-rounded and more proven than his barely legal contemporaries. He could go 40/40 and run away with the award without even improving much.

ROUND 2

Crizer: José Ramírez, Cleveland third baseman

+1200 for AL MVP

After two third-place finishes and a runner-up performance last season, the engine of Cleveland's offense seems destined to keep putting himself in contention. We're now four years out from the mind-bending power surge that put the 5-foot-9 contact maven at the forefront of a fly-ball frenzy. To this day, few players have made more hay off of it than Ramírez, now an established superstar.

Roscher: Alex Bregman, Houston Astros third baseman

+1000 for AL MVP

Has Bregman’s star fallen a bit due to his heavy involvement in the Astros' cheating scandal? Absolutely. Did he have a mediocre 2020? For sure. But none of that means he’s not still good. In 2019 he put up MVP level numbers, and came in second for the award. Bad numbers in a 60-game season might scare some people. The fact that he cheated might also scare some people. But a 60-game season shouldn’t define his future. As for the cheating … well, maybe I’ll just stop there.

Cwik: Christian Yelich, Milwaukee Brewers outfielder

+1200 for NL MVP

Can Yelich bounce back? The 2020 stats don’t look good. Yelich hit just .205/.356/.430 last season with a ghastly 30.8 percent strikeout rate. While that’s worrisome, it was just 58 games, and everything in my stats-obsessed brain says to write it off in favor of Yelich’s past numbers. There’s also plenty of evidence Yelich can rebound. He still hit the ball hard but saw his BABIP plummet. He also saw his swinging strike rate go down, suggesting the strikeout rate will fall. Yelich was coming off a knee injury going into last year, and has talked about how a lack of in-game video — which is back in 2021 — impacted his play. All that came on top of playing during a pandemic. I’m willing to bet he gets back to normal in 2021. He’s too talented to keep struggling like he did in 2020.

Chicago White Sox's Luis Robert looks for the baseball as he runs to third base on his way to score on a throwing error by Cleveland Indians catcher Austin Hedges during the second inning of a spring training baseball game Saturday, March 20, 2021, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
Chicago White Sox center fielder Luis Robert possesses a tantalizing blend of power and speed as he enters his second season in the majors. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Keyser: Luis Robert, Chicago White Sox outfielder

+2500 for AL MVP

There was a time last year when Robert seemed like a lock for Rookie of the Year. He lost that battle to Kyle Lewis when he slumped in September, but looked exciting again in the brief White Sox postseason appearance and picked up a Gold Glove. I’m confident he’s going to be a star someday and hopeful that a year older will mean a year wiser at the plate. Better discipline and a higher rate of contact will mean more opportunity to do what we know Robert can do to a baseball.

Baer: Nolan Arenado, St. Louis Cardinals third baseman

+1200 for NL MVP

Yes, I know he’s not hitting in Coors Field anymore. Yes, I know he had a down year last season. You know why I’m still confident he’ll be an MVP candidate, like he was every year between 2015 and 2019? Because DJ LeMahieu did the exact same thing and was still one of the most productive hitters in baseball in his post-Rockies career. Rockies players are constantly deemed overrated because of Coors, but the park has a known effect on their road numbers. I’m willing to bet Arenado can still be a two-way superstar on a different team.

ROUND 3

Baer: Corey Seager, Los Angeles Dodgers shortstop

+1200 for NL MVP

I don’t have to explain this pick to anyone who watched the 2020 postseason, but here goes. Let me present Seager’s career numbers outside of a 2018 season lost to elbow surgery and a 2019 season in which he was still recovering: .305/.372/.514 with 28.5 home runs per 162 games. When his elbow is fully intact, he’s an elite shortstop on an elite team. And now he has the name recognition of a World Series MVP.

Keyser: Francisco Lindor, New York Mets shortstop

+1500 for NL MVP

Hard to believe Lindor has never finished higher than fifth in MVP voting. His power has slipped each of the past two years, but I'll give him a pass for struggling in 2020. Not that Lindor was underrated while in Cleveland, but coming to New York will surely boost his profile, too.

Cwik: Cody Bellinger, Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder

+800 for NL MVP

If fully healthy, Bellinger may have gone in the first round, so I’m happy to get him here. Problem is, Bellinger is coming off shoulder surgery and wasn’t all that good in 2020. As with Yelich, I’m once again betting on talent. Bellinger had a monster 2019 — in which he won the MVP — and carried over those plate discipline gains in 2020. I’m thinking last year’s .239 average was a result of bad luck, which is confirmed by his .245 BABIP. The power was still there for Bellinger, who hit 12 home runs in 2020. So as long as his average rebounds, he should once again be among the best hitters in the game.

Atlanta Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman (5) bats during a spring training baseball game against the Tampa Bay Rays Sunday, March 21, 2021, in Port Charlotte, Fla. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)
Remember him? The Braves star is the reigning NL MVP. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

Roscher: Freddie Freeman, Atlanta Braves first baseman

+1000 for NL MVP

In retrospect, it’s kind of incredible that Freeman has just one MVP award. He’s hit under .300 just once since 2016. He’s got power and speed, and he’s a great defensive first baseman. He’s the complete package, and he just goes about his business being one of the best players in the game. Maybe that’s why he’s so unheralded. He just does his job and goes home to his wife and kids. But now that he’s broken the seal on his first MVP award, now that people have finally noticed him, maybe he can start to get the recognition he deserves.

Crizer: George Springer, Toronto Blue Jays outfielder

+2500 for AL MVP

The new veteran centerpiece of the Blue Jays lineup is ... well, perhaps going to miss opening day with an oblique injury. But! The 31-year-old is a relentlessly strong power hitter who has whittled his strikeout rate down below 20 percent in three of the past four seasons. Add his thump to a rising Toronto team and he could collect regular season recognition to sit alongside his full October mantle.

ROUND 4

Crizer: Shohei Ohtani, Los Angeles Angels two-way player

+3000 for AL MVP

Look, the two-way dream hasn't come to fruition yet. There are signs it could get its best shot this year, though. Ohtani spent the winter honing his fitness level. He has regained his peak velocity on the mound, and new manager Joe Maddon has already let him bat and pitch in the same game. This is not super likely, but if both his hitting and his pitching do finally fire on all cylinders, it will be A) riveting and B) award-worthy.

Roscher: Aaron Judge, New York Yankees outfielder

+1000 for AL MVP

Why not, right? He can do it. We know he can do it, because we know what he can do when he stays healthy. Unfortunately, that’s the problem. He’s had a heckuva time staying healthy. His 2017 Rookie of the Year season is the only year he’s played more than 112 games. He played in fewer than half of the 60 games in 2020. Staying on the field is an issue. But if he can, there’s no reason he can’t be a legit MVP candidate.

Cwik: Bryce Harper, Philadelphia Phillies outfielder

+1700 for NL MVP

Do we just think Bryce Harper is boring now? While it feels like it’s been an eternity since he entered the league, Harper is just 28 and still in his prime. He made some key gains last season, hitting the ball harder than ever and cutting his strikeout rate to a career-low 17.6 percent. If he keeps both of those gains, Harper will hit above .268 in 2021. The low average is apparently keeping Harper from more MVP votes, because he still walks a ton and can hit for immense power.

Keyser: Bo Bichette, Toronto Blue Jays shortstop

+4000 for AL MVP

I'm skeptical the Blue Jays are really ready to rival the Yankees and Rays, but Toronto could get there if Bichette can polish up his approach. Tough to win an MVP with a .328 on-base percentage these days, but Bichette does everything else so well, it's easy to see a path for him jumping to the top of ballots.

Baer: Trea Turner, Washington Nationals shortstop

+5000 for NL MVP

Let’s do a quick comparison of shortstops for 2020.

Player A: .277/.366/.571, 17 HR, 11 SB, 2.8 bWAR

Player B: .335/.394/.588, 12 HR, 12 SB, 2.4 bWAR

Seems like a similar level of production, no? Well, Player A is Tatis, fourth overall pick of the draft. Player B is Turner. I’m not expecting Turner to hit .335 again, but a shortstop hitting .300 and stealing an eye-popping number of bases sounds like a guy who can get plenty of MVP votes to me.

ROUND 5

TAMPA, FLORIDA - MARCH 07: DJ LeMahieu #26 of the New York Yankees in action against the Philadelphia Phillies in a spring training game at George M. Steinbrenner Field  on March 07, 2021 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images)
DJ LeMahieu, who re-signed this offseason, has found a new level since joining the Yankees. (Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images)

Baer: DJ LeMahieu, New York Yankees second baseman

+2500 for AL MVP

Forget trying to predict potential breakouts, let’s just take the only guy not named Mike Trout to finish in the top 5 in MVP voting in each of the last two seasons. LeMahieu has been the best pure hitter in baseball since entering Yankee Stadium (an MLB-best .336 batting average between 2019 and 2020), and I’m fine letting that ride even if it means betting on a guy playing his age-33 season. If he declines, oh well. If it’s more of the same, giddy up.

Keyser: Manny Machado, San Diego Padres third baseman

+2000 for NL MVP

If the Padres overtake the Dodgers in the NL West, it will surely be because Tatis or Machado (or both) post MVP-quality numbers. Tatis went in the first round of this draft based on his breakout season, and yet his teammate who edged him out in the actual MVP race last year fell all the way here? Machado’s .304/.370/.580 slash line earned him a third-place finish in 2020 — the closest he's come to the honor. Now 28, his defense hasn't started to slip yet, but this might be his last best chance to win an MVP based in part on his flashy glove.

Cwik: Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Toronto Blue Jays first baseman

+3000 for AL MVP

I debated between Tim Anderson and Matt Chapman here, but opted to go with Guerrero Jr. because I want to will an MVP season into existence for Vladito. Sure, he hasn’t come close to his minor-league numbers yet, but he’s still just 22, and has more than held his own in the majors thus far. There are so many reasons to feel good about Guerrero moving forward. He hits the ball incredibly hard and has a strong grasp of the strike zone. Guys with this much power don’t strike out 15.6 percent of the time. I would love it if Guerrero put the ball in the air more, and I’m guessing the Blue Jays feel the same. I’ll buy that Guerrero makes that adjustment this season and delivers the type of performance that cements him as the face of the up-and-coming Blue Jays. Did I mention he’s just 22?

Roscher: Tim Anderson, Chicago White Sox shortstop

+4000 for AL MVP

Yes, he has a new coach who is more likely to stifle him then let him be the bat-flipping, trash-talking baseball cyclone he’s obviously meant to be. But in spite of that, this is the year that Anderson could solidify his status as one of baseball’s true talents. Instead of having to overcome his team’s performance, the White Sox have assembled a team that could actually support him. There’s a chance he could be leading his team to the playoffs in the AL Central, instead of being the only bright spot on a team destined to be playing golf in October instead of postseason baseball.

Crizer: Jacob deGrom, New York Mets pitcher

The prohibitive favorite for the NL Cy Young award, deGrom is the current consensus holder of the unofficial, totally unscientific Best Pitcher in Baseball Belt. Which means winning the Cy Young isn't even an interesting way to celebrate him anymore. Should he continue at his current level of dominance (or better, since he's still adding velocity somehow) and lead the Mets to greatness, it seems plausible he could grab a double hardware season as Clayton Kershaw did in 2014 or Justin Verlander did in 2011.

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