It’s easy to look backwards. We already know what happened, so we can all say we saw it coming all along. The hard part is figuring out what goes down in the future. We can identify a star now. Can we identify next year’s?
As we head into a new year, let’s find out. This week, we attempt to predict who each team’s best player for 2021 will be. In a year, we’ll all be looking back at what just happened and saying, “That player was that team’s MVP in 2021.” Here’s some stabs at who those players might be.
AMERICAN LEAGUE EAST
It’s time, right? He hasn’t exploded the way we all thought he might right out of the gate, but the talent is obviously there. Here’s betting this is the year it all comes together.
In 2019, Means was effective, but he didn’t throw hard. In ’20, Means threw hard, but he wasn’t effective. The two may merge in 2021.
He had a terrific 2020 season before running out of gas at the end. But there’s much life left in that bat, and he may be the platonic ideal of a Rays player.
He’s still only 24, and a year of normalcy could be the glide path to superstardom so long predicted.
We’ve seen what he has done when he is fully healthy. He is absolutely due for a season for him to be fully healthy.
AMERICAN LEAGUE CENTRAL
He’s almost won the AL MVP Award, finishing second in voting in 2020, and third in ’17 and ’18, and we know they’re not trading him.
He was an absolute monster down the stretch last year. A full season could bring him back to All-Star level … or even higher.
Why not, right? He won’t throw a full season, but his upside is higher than anyone on this team. This team needs a spark. Maybe Mize is the one who brings it.
Donaldson tends to alternate healthy seasons with injury-plagued ones. It’s the healthy-season turn.
White Sox: José Abreu, 1B
When in doubt, go with the reigning AL MVP. But he sure will have plenty of competition in that lineup.
AMERICAN LEAGUE WEST
When is he going to have his hands-down best season? Maybe this is the year.
He was considered a perpetual AL MVP candidate until last season. This is the exact right time to get back to where he was before.
A full season of health could make him a top-tier AL MVP contender.
Mariners: Kyle Lewis, OF
It will certainly be more fun if the reigning AL Rookie of the Year Award winner keeps up his skyward trajectory.
Remember, only two years ago, he appeared to be a superstar in waiting. The Rangers don’t have much else to hold on to if he isn’t.
NATIONAL LEAGUE EAST
There’s a very real possibility that the Braves will have two consecutive NL MVP Award winners.
He could have his big breakthrough with a new, up-and-coming team a year behind the original timeline.
For all the hope and energy with this franchise, they still will go as far as deGrom can take them.
Nationals: Juan Soto, OF
He and Acuña are going to be battling it out for NL MVP for a whole decade to come.
Phillies: Bryce Harper, OF
He was the Phillies’ best player last year and has more than earned his contract so far. But it’d sure be nice to have another 2015, wouldn’t it?
NATIONAL LEAGUE CENTRAL
He didn’t play like the top-tier star he is in 2020, and he was probably still the Brewers’ best position player, by a lot.
Many of the Cardinals’ plans were made assuming Flaherty was going to be an NL Cy Young Award contender. He now needs to be one.
More than any player in baseball, Báez seems to draw energy from a crowd. Here’s hoping he gets to do more of that in 2021.
Pirates: Bryan Reynolds, OF
The Pirates thought they had found a lineup piece for the next half-decade before taking a step back in 2020. But ’20 was hard for everyone. It was only a few months ago that people thought Reynolds was going to win a batting title, and soon.
He was supposed to be their centerpiece star in 2020. He may need to be even more with perhaps less help in ’21.
NATIONAL LEAGUE WEST
I refuse to believe that Bumgarner is the guy he was in 2020, and you should refuse to as well.
So many to choose from here, but when in doubt, always pick Mookie.
There’s little reason to think he can’t do it again, and he may have even more help surrounding him in this lineup in 2021.
Manny Machado might have been better than him in 2020, but Tatis may be better than everyone this year.
No matter what decision he and the team make after this year, a superstar season from him is best for everyone involved.