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MLB

2013 MLB Award Watch: Top Five American League MVP Candidates

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MLB 2013: Five Top American League MVP Candidates

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Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The 2012 American League MVP race was narrowed down to two players fairly quickly, with a Triple Crown contender (Miguel Cabrera) and a record-setting rookie (Mike Trout) moving to the forefront.

Of course Cabrera did wind up becoming the first Triple Crown winner since 1967, leading the league in home runs (44), RBI (139) and batting average (.330). He, rightfully so in my mind, took home the American League MVP Award despite Trout also putting up MVP-worthy statistics.

Cabrera will be hard-pressed to produce at the level he did last season, but he is still only going to be 30 years old (on April 18) and should have plenty of big seasons left. Trout will also find it difficult to repeat his 2012 production, but the sky appears to be the limit for one of baseball’s top young stars.

When forming this list, as I did with my preseason lists of Cy Young candidates, I focused on players that have yet to win an MVP award during their career. All five are familiar names to baseball fans, but may be overshadowed by the notoriety of teammates or significant offseason moves their team made.

Team success is not necessarily a prerequisite for winning an MVP award, which has been the subject of controversy at times. But it’s safe to say the fact Cabrera put up his numbers for a division-winning, and eventual American League-winning, Detroit Tigers team did not hurt him.

Here are my top five candidates for American League MVP in 2013. Who makes your list?

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5. Adam Jones, CF, Baltimore Orioles

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Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Jones was a key cog in the Orioles’ revival in 2012, hitting .287 with career-highs in home runs (32) and stolen bases (16) while winning his second career Gold Glove. If not for a 107 at-bat homerless streak from late July through most of August, 35-40 home runs and 100 RBI may have been a realistic possibility. Jones has stated a desire to play all 162 games again this season, as he did last season, and his performance will be a barometer for Baltimore’s performance as a team in 2013.

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4. Evan Longoria, 3B, Tampa Bay Rays

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Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Longoria had an excellent start last season (.329 batting average in April), but a left hamstring injury then sidelined him until August. He struggled a bit after returning to action, but a strong finish (11 home runs over the final 34 games) capped off by a three-home run game in the season finale lends hope for 2013. The hamstring issue required offseason surgery, but all indications are Longoria will be ready to go on Opening Day. Production along the lines of 2009 (33 home runs, 113 RBI) and 2011 (31 home runs, 99 RBI), or perhaps even better than that, is possible for Longoria if he can stay on the field this season.

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3. Jose Bautista, RF, Toronto Blue jays

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Derick Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

“Joey Bats” was limited to 92 games by a right wrist issue that eventually required surgery in 2012, but his run in May and June (23 home runs) lends hope for a return of the power he showed the previous two seasons if can stay healthy. An improved Toronto lineup, most notably shortstop Jose Reyes, should give him more RBI opportunities even if he does not hit 50 home runs again. If the Blue Jays become a contender in the American League East, Bautista’s national profile should increase once again and keep him in the MVP conversation all season.

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2. Prince Fielder, 1B, Detroit Tigers

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Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Miguel Cabrera grabbed a lot of headlines in 2012, and rightfully so, but Fielder quietly put together a solid stat line (.313, 30 home runs, 108 RBI, .412 on-base percentage) in his first season in Detroit. He was intentionally walked 18 times and hit by a pitch 17 times, both American League-highs, so if Victor Martinez (knee) is able to return to health there should be better pitches to hit this season. Fielder has been one of baseball most consistent power hitters, hitting at least 30 home runs in six straight seasons with over 100 RBI five times in that span, and there’s reason to expect improved production in 2013.

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1. Robinson Cano, 2B, New York Yankees

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Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Cano’s dismal playoff performance overshadowed the fact he had another excellent regular season in 2012. He set career-highs in home runs (33) and runs scored (105) while also hitting over .300 for the fourth straight season. With all the injuries that have hit the Yankees’ lineup, Cano may have to put up MVP-caliber numbers to simply keep the team’s offense afloat. Health is not an issue for him, as he has played at least 159 games in six consecutive seasons, and the added motivation of being in a contract year bodes well for Cano in 2013.