Let's start in the American League. Using the core offensive categories of on-base and slugging percentage and seeking out players who are up to at least a .400 OBP and a .600 slugging, you have two who make the cut, both at first base and both in the AL Central. Justin Morneau in Minnesota and Detroit's Miguel Cabrera. We can add two others who are close enough to those thresholds not to split hairs and that's another first sacker, Kevin Youkilis in Boston, along with Texas outfielder Josh Hamilton. Conversation begins with these four.
But it doesn't end with them, because two more deserve mention on the basis of relative value. Joe Mauer might not dazzle you in the OPS categories, but he's still at .381/.438 and does it at the most physically demanding position on the diamond. And yet another first basemen, Paul Konerko (.395/.573) is doing it as the only real offensive threat on a team that's suddenly found its footing during interleague play.
It's a tough call, as befits the race for the highest individual honor in the league, and I'm going out on a limb and voting for Konerko. If we'd have done this drill two weeks ago, I wouldn't have even considered it, given how badly the White Sox were playing. Back then, he was a light in the darkness, but that's about it. Now he's the man who singlehandedly kept his team afloat in its worse days and carries the offense as they move back into contention. I believe Konerko best balances the need for an individual excellence and value to a lineup.
I'd put Cabrera in second because Detroit's Comerica Park is so difficult to hit in. Morneau's a close third. Teammate Mauer is fourth, due to a recent slide, but it won't take much for me to move him back up the list. And Youkilis, a combination of power, patience and defense gets the fifth spot.
The absence of pitchers on the American League ballot is no reflection of any bias. That's demonstrated in the National League, where the runaway winner simply has to be Colorado's Ubaldo Jiminez. He's 13-1 with a 1.60 ERA--and that ERA is even after he came off his worst start of the year earlier this week against Boston. That's sheer dominance and no one means more to his team than Jiminez.
Running second and third are San Diego first baseman Adrian Gonzalez and Florida starter Josh Johnson. Both would be strong candidates in any other year and if Jiminez slips, can still make a move at the top. Gonzalez is the NL's version of Konerko, as he's carried an otherwise bad offense right into the heart of the race. Johnson's 8-2, 1.80 ERA isn't far behind the Colorado ace. And we'll fill out the ballot with a couple more first basemen, Cincy's Joey Votto and the ever-reliable Albert Pujols in St. Louis, in that order. The two players are roughly equivalent in offense and how much their lineups depend on them, but Votto's defensive zone rating ranks higher, giving him the edge.