With the Twins receiving key contributions up and down their roster this season, trying to pin down the team MVP seems like a tough task. But we're going to give it a shot anyway.
First take: Michael Rand
Truthfully, you need two hands to count the viable candidates. Combine that with how many different ways you can define or measure "valuable," and this is tricky, indeed.
The eye test and the intangible quality of what he has meant to the clubhouse suggests Nelson Cruz should be a front-runner. He also fares well in advanced statistical measures, including win probability added.
But so, too, does Max Kepler — who was one of the Twins' best hitters and valuable defensive players before a late-season injury slowed him down.
If you like wins above replacement (WAR), Jorge Polanco is your MVP. His 5.7 WAR (per Baseball Reference) is easily tops on the team.
Taylor Rogers kept this thing together when he was the only reliever the Twins trusted. Tyler Duffey is among the top reasons the bullpen should be a postseason strength.
Mitch Garver's power. Luis Arraez's emergence.
I'm inclined to say Cruz, still, but he has competition.
Columnist Jim Souhan: Cruz is the Twins' MVP.
The award isn't called "kinda one of their valuable players." It's Most Valuable.
That's why everyone in the Twins' organization would pick Cruz. He gave them one reliable, professional hitter around whom to build a lineup. He may have saved Miguel Sano's career, bringing him from a crisis in June to the point where Sano was one of the better hitters in baseball the second half of the season.
Cruz not only raised expectations among his teammates, making them believe they could win, he demonstrated how to do so. He taught them to be serious when working and joyful during games, which is the opposite of the approach most young players take. He even persuaded the front office to go for it this year. Derek Falvey and Thad Levine weren't sure this team was good enough to win right away, until Cruz told them he wanted to sign with the Twins because they were ready to win, and merely needed clubhouse leadership.
Rogers is the second-most valuable, because without him the Twins' bullpen would have cost them the division, if not a playoff spot. But without Cruz this team might have won 85 games and gotten rid of Sano.
Rand: But WAR says otherwise!
Yeah, I'm with you. It's hard to overstate what Cruz has meant (and oh, by the way, he outhomered his age again and topped 40 for the fourth time in the past six seasons). He made their entire lineup make sense.
Maybe a bigger question is this: As a designated hitter, will he get any serious consideration for league MVP?
Souhan: I don't think so. And I think that's OK. Being invaluable to a team isn't necessarily the same thing as being a good league candidate.
The league MVP award should be more about tangibles than intangibles. And Cruz's tangibles don't match those of the top candidates.
Rand: That trophy probably belongs to Willians Astudillo, anyway.
Souhan: Well, duh.