A Deep Dive on NL MVP Futures

Mark Saxon
Updated: March 5, 2024 7:48 AM

How versatile is Shohei Ohtani? Put it this way: the two-way superstar proved capable of shaking up both leagues’ MVP races with a single swipe of the pen.

By moving about 35 miles up Interstate 5 from Anaheim to Los Angeles in December, and signing a record-breaking $700 million contract with the Dodgers, Ohtani opened up the American League MVP race while pushing into the thick of the NL race.

The winner of two of the last three AL MVP awards will have to do it more traditionally in his first season in the senior circuit.

Reconstructive elbow surgery last September means he won’t pitch in 2024 and likely won’t play much, if at all, in the outfield either, so he’ll have to win it exclusively with his formidable left-handed swing.

At most shops, Ohtani is the No. 3 choice at +750, behind Atlanta Braves superstar Ronald Acuña Jr., the reigning MVP, and Dodgers’ teammate Mookie Betts.

How good are the Dodgers, who spent well over $1 billion on players last off-season?

The No. 4 choice also wears Dodger blue, with first baseman Freddie Freeman coming in at +1200 at multiple sportsbooks.

Now, let’s take a closer look at the National League MVP futures markets with the usual caveat: first shop around for the tastiest odds.

NL MVP Favorites

What’s not to like about a reigning MVP who just posted an 8.3 fWAR season and is entering his age-26 season?

Acuña Jr. certainly deserves his favorite status and +450 or better seems like a more-than-fair price.

While Acuña didn’t grade out as a great fielder in 2023, he has an excellent arm and good speed.

If he posts similar numbers to Ohtani’s, voters figure to hand him the award over a designated hitter.

Without his unicorn status as a pitcher-hitter, Ohtani feels like he’s fighting an uphill battle here, not to mention shouldering the pressure of his record contract.

Betts also figures to benefit from his defensive value as the Dodgers plan on using him entirely at second base this season, a position he mastered in remarkably short order after playing excellent right field most of his career.

Some advanced defensive statistics preferred his play at second to his play in the outfield.

He is, however, five years older than Acuña and he’ll have to prove he can play as brilliantly as ever as he advances into his 30s.

That 0-for-11 post-season performance last October also doesn’t leave a great last impression.

Freeman is another three years older than Betts and the rule of thumb among scouts for years was that few players improve dramatically after age 32.

Freeman certainly is capable of adding another MVP trophy to the 2020 hardware he already has, but the value isn’t great here given his age.

Harper, 31, offers better value as he settles in at first base, which should help him avoid injury and, perhaps add some defensive value on the margin.

NL MVP Longshots

Fernando Tatis Jr. offers superb value here at +1000 as one of the few players with the tools and youth to give Acuña a run for his money.

He’s in a great spot to rebound from a sub-par 2023 season in which his OPS fell by roughly 200 points.

The peripherals are encouraging with Tatis, as he’s coming off a career-high 29-stolen base season and grades out as a far superior outfielder to Acuña.

The Braves’ front office deserves major credit for parting with Freeman in favor of Matt Olson, who is four years younger and led the league in slugging last season.

But these odds (+1400) seem a little short on a player whose best MVP finish before last season was a top-8 showing in 2021.

Corbin Carroll is tempting at +2000 or better given his top-5 finish last season in just his age-22 season. It may be a lot to ask of such a young player and some of the projection systems, such as ZiPS, are forecasting some growing pains, but +2000 on a talent of Carroll’s is too good to pass up.

Austin Riley, too, offers great value (+2500) as he enters the start of his prime at age 27.

The value seems solid here on Trea Turner (+2200), but far from tempting on a 30-year-old who relies on his speed for so much of his value.

The two aging St. Louis Cardinals infielders, Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado, seem to offer scant value coming off down seasons on an overrated team, but Ozzie Albies at +7500 offers outstanding value here as he enters just his age-27 season surrounded by several other MVP contenders in a stacked lineup.

Check out our deep dive on AL MVP futures.

About the author

Mark Saxon was a senior writer for The Athletic covering the St. Louis Cardinals. Mark began his baseball-writing career in 1998 in the growing shadow...

[Read full bio]
chevron up