In five glorious weeks with the New York Mets, Yoenis Cespedes has helped turned a fringe playoff contender into a serious contender and unlikely offensive juggernaut. Since making his team debut on August 1, he's hitting .307/.354/.660 with 13 homers through 35 games, 24 of which the Mets have won while scoring 6.2 runs per game.
No player has meant more to his squad over that stretch than Cespedes, whose 6.6 fWAR this season ranks fourth among all position players behind Bryce Harper, Josh Donaldson, and Mike Trout. If not for spending four months playing in the American League, the sizzling outfielder would factor prominently in the National League MVP discussion.
Fox Sports' JP Morosi, however, doesn't think that pesky detail should hurt his chances. He argued in favor of Cespedes's deserving consideration despite playing most of the season with the Detroit Tigers:
I happen to think Cespedes shouldn't be penalized for opening 2015 in the AL. If, by the end of the season, he's judged to be the most valuable among those players who finished the year in the NL, then he should win the award — especially because he performed so brilliantly for the Mets during the defining stretch of their season.
When filling out MVP ballots in the past, I've considered the context of individual teams and leagues. I tend to think of the MVP as the player whose outstanding performance had the greatest impact on the division races. One could argue that — despite spending only two regular-season months with the Mets — Cespedes is the player most responsible for flipping the NL East race between early August and now.
Before going deeper, let's not jinx anything and get too confident. For this argument to hold any merit, the Mets need to win the NL East.
Leading baseball with a .460 wOBA and 8.3 fWAR, Bryce Harper is clearly the superior choice. If not for his hitting .333/.465/.640 with 34 long balls, the Washington Nationals would already be below .500 and out of the playoff picture. Yet the narrative of the favored Washington Nationals imploding may (unfairly) prove brutal enough for some voters to abandon his candidacy.
If voters are willing to twist the "valuable" part and ignore someone who provided the most value on a non-playoff team, can't they also ignore the National League label? The AL may use a designated hitter, but they don't play baseball in an alternate universe. Cespedes's numbers amassed there still count in some voters' minds. Perhaps there's no need to keep pretending the AL and NL exist on different galaxies. Then again, there's the award name and all.
Writers limiting their search to postseason participants must bend over backwards to find a suitable winner this year. Andrew McCutchen then becomes the top position player who has played in the league all year, but his 5.5 WAR not only trails Harper by a wide margin, but also lags behind Joey Votto (6.6) and Paul Goldschmidt (6.1). Clayton Kershaw or Zack Greinke will have a hard time garnering enough MVP votes while competing for Cy Young honors.
Morosi cited other examples of midseason acquisitions earning MVP consideration, the most recent being Manny Ramirez finishing fourth in the NL ballot seven years ago. Although a similar situation, the polarizing outfielder didn't win despite exceeding Cespedes's output, batting an absurd .396/.489/.743 in 53 games with the Los Angeles Dodgers.
The Dodgers rallied behind Ramirez to win a weak NL West at 84-78. It wasn't enough to overcome Albert Pujols, whose St. Louis Cardinals missed the postseason despite a superior 86-76 mark. When the undeniable best player isn't playing October baseball, the voters occasionally relent.
If he stays hot and leads the Mets to the playoffs, Cespedes should get some love on the ballot. Even then, don't expect him to finish above Harper and the Dodgers' aces.