One of the defining NFL teams of the 2010s was the Seattle Seahawks, who led the franchise to their first Super Bowl victory in 2013 and was a Malcolm Butler interception at the goal line away in 2014 from winning back-to-back titles.
The generational ‘Legion of Boom’ defense and ‘Beast Quake runs’ from Marshawn Lynch made Russell Wilson’s life easier in a scheme where he would so brilliantly have the capability of making not the “I need to be Superman” level play but rather the smart play.

After the Legion of Boom subsequently broke up bit by bit and Seattle had to pay Russell Wilson a deal larger than his entry-level rookie contract, it was time to pay the man, meaning the identity of Seattle was now defined by Wilson on a larger scale. While the Seahawks made multiple postseason appearances following 2014 and Wilson now had the desire to “let Russ Cook,” a repetitive anecdote and almost a bit on the football broadcasts after he’d made a smart play was mentioning that he’d never received an MVP vote; there was even an ESPN article written about it in 2020.

Is this supposed to be complimentary to Wilson and shaming the voters? MVP means you unequivocally believe with your vote that a certain individual had the best season.

Yes, he played an integral role on a team that was in championship contention for several years, but the best player in the league is a different pantheon. There was no chance you would have taken Wilson’s 2015 over Cam Newton’s 15-1 season, Matt Ryan’s 2016, or Tom Brady and Patrick Mahomes before Wilson had a bit of a career plateau.

It was fine and dandy to be able to dish out that anecdote about Wilson, almost as if acknowledging that while he may not win one, he still passed the eye test as a leader and game-changer! The same can be applied to some of the awards in baseball award voting. While it’s 162 games with more longevity, and there’s more leeway with individual success rather than team success (although that is still a factor), more often than not, the awards can be narrowed down to a toss-up or runaway winner.

While we’re not counting them out from actually winning the awards, these are the Russell Wilson All-Stars of the season thus far: the game-changers that have a breath-of-life chance at winning an MVP but may fall just short of one of the likely titans that get the counting stats, the limelight, and the narrative.

Jose Ramirez, Cleveland Guardians Third Baseman

Jose Ramirez has become the poster child of this category of player for the last several years now as one of the most talented players on a small market team that regularly is solid enough to contend for division banners. In the golden age of third basemen, a 5’9 switch-hitting bowling ball on a team that has lacked offense goes critically overlooked as he’s almost reached the “referenced that he’s so underrated that he’s actually properly-rated” category when fans were up in arms with him being the 38th-best MLB The Show player. It’s just simply not true.

He’s reached the top 10 in MVP-voting the last four seasons, and this year, he’s gotten the chance to be more in the limelight following his breakout KO punch to Tim Anderson last year to baseball novices. Despite losing Hall of Fame manager Terry Francona and Cy Young pitcher Shane Bieber for the year and having the fifth-lowest payroll in baseball, Cleveland has the third-best record in baseball. That’s largely in part due to Joram leading the majors in RBIs and the team with a .276/.332/.553 slash line and absolutely taking off in May after a slow March. 

We’ll also now have the iconic quote: when he walked with the bases loaded in a win against the Angels, similarly to Barry Bonds, he simply said, “I’m better than Barry Bonds.” Sports talk radio would normally eviscerate that quote, but it’s lovable Jose Ramirez, who has a chain of himself, so we took it in jest.

Unless JoRam goes supernova and some of the AL MVP favorites fall off, it’s likely that he’ll remain in the Wilson All-Stars tier; hoping to get more votes, unfortunately, but he’ll need to belong in the conversation all year with this pace and Cleveland as a pleasant surprise team.

William Contreras, Milwaukee Brewers Catcher

After losing Craig Counsell to the Cubs, which made him the highest-paid manager in history, and trading away Corbin Burnes for pieces, the Brewers were expected to reset and possibly take a step back after winning the NL Central last season.

Who ranks top-5 in essentially every hitting metric, top 5 in stolen bases, leads the league in ERA, and has the third-best record in the NL with a commanding lead atop the aforementioned rival Cubs? That would be the new-look Milwaukee Brewers, and it starts and ends with William Contreras as the battery.

Contreras was merely a throw-in piece to the Brewers in the 2023 deal, having been a backup catcher in Atlanta, and now epitomizes the new age of athletic and versatile offensive catchers rather than the stocky defenders watering down the bottom of the lineup. Contreras’s offense has been so vital to the Brewers that as a CATCHER, they have him batting leadoff with his capability of also stealing bases with 4 on the year, and on his off days from catching, he simply has to be slotted in the DH spot. He leads all catchers with a .322 batting average and is the best hitter in the Brewers lineup aside from Willy Adames edging him in the home run category on what could be the most well-rounded offense in the majors after being known as the “other Contreras brother” for a long time.

It’s incredibly challenging for catchers to keep up an MVP pace with the wear-and-tear, and if Contreras keeps it up, the Brewers’ success will likely be more so credited to their organization being a machine, but Contreras still ranks 4th in NL MVP odds in his breakout season and resembles the evolution of the position he plays.

Alec Bohm, Philadelphia Phillies Third Baseman

Who leads the NL-best Philadelphia Phillies in batting average, hits, RBI, and total bases? That would not be Bryce Harper, the superstar who is third in odds for NL MVP; no, it would be Alec Bohm.

Bohm has come a long way since April 2022, when he became a Philadelphia icon for life. The market is notoriously challenging for players, with the locals telling you exactly how they feel at all times as they live and die by their teams, and after Bohm made an error and the Philly locals sarcastically cheered, he was caught saying, “I f**king hate this place” to a teammate. Rather than immediately trade him, Bohm apologized and acknowledged how much winning means to the city and has only improved since. His on-base percentage has improved every single season with Philly’s continuous success,s and this season, he has sprayed the ball all over the field, has struck out less, and is one of the smartest hitters on the plate.

Philly’s success will ultimately be credited to the franchise’s face, Bryce Harper, but Bohm, as the offensive stabilizer, has changed the Philly lineup and picked up the slack for the absence of some of the other bats. He loves this place now, and his transformation has been special.

Kyle Tucker, Houston Astros Left Fielder

If the Astros weren’t considered the villains, the media has relished enjoying their slow start this season with their worst-opening record since the pre-George Springer tanking era; Kyle Tucker, the old school antonym of flash, the gloveless batter, would be right in the thick of things as an MVP favorite as he approaches free agency and Houston enters a period of possible transition.

Tucker has never said anything that you remembered, made a highlight that flashed all over social media, or, quite frankly, has a name that sticks out to you as a superstar, but is one of the most consistent sluggers in all of baseball this season and is doing everything he can to preserve Houston’s chances on life support in a weak AL West this season. Tucker is top-5 in WAR, only has fewer home runs and walks than Aaron Judge, and exploded last month with 8 homers in 15 days to cement himself as the superstar Houston needs.

The Bronx Bombers in New York are going to be hard to catch if Houston doesn’t pick up the pace, and he may look like a player straight out of the 1960s, but Tucker is the man that the old-school baseball ballot voters are going to adore when it comes to MVP voting time.

PHOTO: Houston Chronicle

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