What is it with Major League Baseball's Central Divisions? The American League and National League MVP winner has come from the Central in four of the past five years. Will that trend continue in 2014? Now that football season is over, it's time to think some baseball. After all, pitchers and catchers report this week already with the Diamondbacks and Dodgers getting a head start on the other teams with their early series in Australia.
Three-Peat For Miggy?
Hard as it is to believe, Detroit's Miguel Cabrera was not the favorite last spring at Bovada to win American League MVP despite coming off his historic 2012 Triple Crown campaign. He was the 7/1 second-favorite to the Angels' Mike Trout (6/1) on baseball odds. And for the second year in a row, Cabrera won the award with Trout finishing second.
Hard to argue with the results. Yes, Trout led the majors in wins-above replacement again and was impossibly even better in 2013 with a .323 average, 97 RBIs, 33 steals, 110 walks and 109 runs scored, but Cabrera probably wins a second straight Triple Crown if Baltimore's Chris Davis hadn't had a career year. Cabrera won another batting title at .348 and finished second in the majors to Davis with 44 homers (nine behind Davis) and 137 RBIs (one behind). Cabrera still had those incredible numbers despite playing through a serious groin/abdomen injury that limited him to a .278 average, one homer and 10 RBIs in September. He clearly wasn't the same player in the postseason, either, batting just .262 in the playoffs as the Tigers lost to Boston in the ALCS. Cabrera had surgery for the problem in late October.
The last AL player to win three straight MVPs? That would be no one. Cabrera won't have the protection of Prince Fielder behind him this season as he was traded to Texas for Ian Kinsler. That's potentially a big deal as pitchers won't feat Torii Hunter or Victor Martinez behind Cabrera like they did Fielder.
So with the Fielder departure and Cabrera coming off fairly major surgery, Trout should be opening favorite again. The only negative with Trout is that it appears he will hit second this year, not exactly a run-producing or steal-producing spot in the lineup. He will have what should be a rejuvenated Albert Pujols hitting behind him. Shutting Pujols down early last season could be the best thing to happen to him as the former three-time NL MVP should finally be 100 percent healthy. He will be right behind Trout and Cabrera on the MVP odds.
One perennial MVP candidate who is likely to see his numbers drop this year is Robinson Cano. He leaves hitter-friendly Yankee Stadium -- well, hitter-friendly in right field -- for the pitchers' park of Safeco Field and the Seattle lineup isn't exactly stacked around him. Fielder could be great value now that he's playing 81 games a year at hitter-friendly Ballpark in Arlington. Also, sports bettors shouldn't sleep on Toronto's Jose Bautista if he can stay healthy.
Wide-Open NL Field
Cincinnati's Joey Votto was the opening 15/2 favorite on MLB odds at Bovada last spring to win his second NL MVP Award, but he finished sixth with Pittsburgh's Andrew McCutchen taking it home. The 2012 NL MVP, Giants catcher Buster Posey, got a single eighth-place vote.
The Pirates were the feel-good story of 2013 in returning to the playoffs for the first time since the Sid Bream game. McCutchen didn't put up numbers that scream at you like Cabrera's did, hitting .317 with 21 homers, 84 RBIs and 27 steals, but if you take McCutchen off the Pirates they might be lucky to be a .500 club. Votto likely will be among the favorites again as he hit .305 with 24 homers and 73 RBIs last season in playing all 162 games. The Reds offense should be plenty potent again even after losing Shin-Soo Choo.
Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina was the sportsbooks' MVP favorite at the All-Star Break as he was leading the NL In hitting, but he got injured and fell off. It's hard for catchers to stay in the lineup. The two guys who figure to get most of the hype for sports bettors on NL MVP are the Dodgers' Yasiel Puig and Nationals' Bryce Harper. The former hit .319 with 19 homers in just 104 games and was a human highlight reel from the moment he was called up. Harper really was never 100 percent after colliding with the outfielder fence in Atlanta in late April. He had surgery on his knee in October. Harper hit .274 with 20 homers in 118 games.