Five Dark Horse 2024 NL MVP Candidates

If you're looking to make some money, or you just want to seem smart to your friends, here are five long-shot contenders for the NL MVP.

OAKLAND, CALIFORNIA - SEPTEMBER 15: Xander Bogaerts #2 of the San Diego Padres looks on between innings against the Oakland Athletics at RingCentral Coliseum on September 15, 2023 in Oakland, California. (Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images)

At this time a year ago, Atlanta Braves first baseman Matt Olson looked like someone who was being undervalued as an NL MVP candidate. Olson was coming off of a solid, but not spectacular first season with the Braves, and if he was mentioned at all as a possible candidate, it was only in passing.

Olson would go on to set a new franchise record with 54 home runs, leading baseball in both round-trippers and RBIs (139). Additionally, he led the NL in slugging percentage at .604, helping the Braves to win an MLB-best 104 regular season games.

In some years, Olson would have won the NL MVP. In an especially crowded race, he had to settle for fourth place, behind his own teammate Ronald Acuña Jr. (the winner) and future Hall of Famers Mookie Betts and Freddie Freeman. Nonetheless, relative to where he ultimately finished, Olson was clearly an undervalued candidate entering the season.

Naturally, Acuña, Betts and Freeman, along with Shohei Ohtani, Bryce Harper and Fernando Tatis Jr., are among the odds-on favorites to win the NL MVP in 2024. And there’s a good chance that one of those six will ultimately win the award. But if you’re looking to make some money — or just seem smart to your friends — here are five long-shot bets, courtesy of BetMGM, worth considering for NL MVP.

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Austin Riley: Third Baseman, Atlanta Braves

Odds: +2500, 2.6% implied probability

Age in 2024 Season: 27

2023 Stats: .281/.345/.516, 37 home runs, 97 RBIs, .861 OPS, 5.2 fWAR

From 2021 to ’23, Riley finished inside the top seven in NL MVP voting each year. He is tied with 2022 NL MVP Paul Goldschmidt for sixth in fWAR (15.6) among position players in the Senior Circuit over that time.

Riley is a two-time All-Star and Silver Slugger Award winner, who the Braves signed to a 10-year, $212 million contract in August of 2022. It’s not as though he’s an unheralded player.

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But on a team with Acuña, Olsen and Ozzie Albies — among other stars — it still feels like Riley doesn’t get quite enough credit for just how excellent of a player he is.

Two of the primary defensive metrics — defensive runs saved and outs above average — have long been divided on Riley, who had nine DRS in 2023 but zero OAA. Still, he has unquestionably improved from when he entered the league. At first, he didn’t seem to be a sure bet to stick at third base over the long run. That is no longer a concern.

As an example, consider his role in the Michael Harris II play to end Game 2 of the NLDS. He helped double up Harper at first base in a brilliant bit of fielding that doesn’t get talked about enough.

Luis Arraez: Second Baseman, Miami Marlins

Odds: +6600, 1.0% implied probability

Age in 2024 Season: 27

2023 Stats: .354/.393/.469, 10 home runs, 69 RBIs, .861 OPS, 3.4 fWAR

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Arraez hit .383 in the first half of the 2023 season, recording the first cycle in Miami Marlins history and multiple five-hit games. As he played in his second All-Star Game, the second baseman looked to be Acuña’s top challenger for NL MVP.

Ultimately, Arraez came back down to Earth after the Midsummer Classic, hitting a mortal .314. He did still win the NL batting title — a year after winning the AL title as a member of the Minnesota Twins — but between a relative lack of power production and -10 outs above average at second base, he had to settle for eighth place in NL MVP voting.

Still, if 2023 is a year in which there isn’t a clear-cut MVP favorite — or if there are multiple worthy players, as there ended up being last year — Arraez could find his way into the top three.

If anyone in the sport is capable of hitting .400 for a full season, it’s him. And if he maintains a batting average above .370 for a full season, old-school voters who think the modern game is too focused on home runs will bend over backwards to champion his case.

Xander Bogaerts: Second Baseman, San Diego Padres

Odds: +5000, 1.3% implied probability

Age in 2024 Season: 31

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2023 Stats: .285/.350/.440, 19 home runs, 58 RBIs, .790 OPS, 4.4 fWAR

During a decade with the Boston Red Sox, Bogaerts was a four-time All-Star and five-time Silver Slugger Award winner, finishing fifth in AL MVP voting in 2019.

It may seem strange to have him on this list given that new Padres manager Mike Schildt has decided to move him off shortstop in favor of Ha-Seong Kim. But a big part of winning an MVP is developing a narrative, and if things break the right way for Bogaerts, he could have one behind him.

Bogaerts was an elite offensive player at shortstop, and while the Padres probably didn’t envision him moving to second base in the second year of an 11-year, $280 million deal, his profile at the plate will stand out even more at his new position.

Additionally, while the bar for replacement level is higher at second base than shortstop, Bogaerts typically graded out poorly at his former position, with -54 defensive runs saved and -31 outs above average for his career. Should he be able to take his typical offensive production and become a strong defender at second base, his FanGraphs page is going to look really impressive this coming season.

The Padres saw Juan Soto and Josh Hader depart this offseason, and it’s probably a matter of when, not if, reigning NL Cy Young Award winner Blake Snell signs elsewhere. For San Diego to make the playoffs in 2024, Tatis or Manny Machado might have to be the NL MVP. But the narrative of Bogaerts leading the Padres to the postseason after unselfishly moving to another position would be a strong one.

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Zack Wheeler: RHP, Philadelphia Phillies

Odds: +20000, 0.3% implied probability

Age in 2024 Season: 34

2023 Stats: 13-6, 3.61 ERA, 3.15 FIP, 9.94 K/9, 1.078 WHIP, 5.6 fWAR

It’s certainly rare that a pitcher wins MVP, but it happens. And while it makes sense for Phillies teammates like Harper and Trea Turner to have better NL MVP odds than Wheeler, it’s a little harder to explain why J.T. Realmuto, Kyle Schwarber and Castellanos have better odds than the star pitcher.

What’s more likely: Wheeler wins Cy Young and has such a special season that he’s a legitimate MVP candidate, or Castellanos — who has never finished higher than 12th in MVP voting — is a serious candidate for the award? That’s not meant as a diss to Castellanos, who is a two-time All-Star, but it’s just reality.

Since joining the Phillies in 2020, Wheeler leads all pitchers in fWAR with 19.3. He won his first Gold Glove Award in 2023. He and the Phillies may reach a long-term extension before the season begins, but 2024 is currently slated to be a contract year. The veteran righty has every motivation to put together his best season yet, perhaps one that at least gets him some down-ballot MVP support.

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Christopher Morel: Designated Hitter, Chicago Cubs

Odds: +15000, 0.4% implied probability

Age in 2024 Season: 25

2023 Stats: .247/.313/.508, 26 home runs, 70 RBIs, .821 OPS, 1.4 fWAR

Admittedly, no player who is primarily a DH has ever won an MVP — Ohtani doesn’t count because he is also a pitcher. Hall of Famer David Ortiz finished sixth or higher in AL MVP voting on six occasions but peaked as the runner-up in 2005.

It may be that unless a DH hits 60 home runs (or also pitches) there’s too much bias against them keeping them from winning MVP.

With all that said, it’s impossible not to be bullish on Morel as an offensive player, given that he homered 26 times in just 388 at-bats a season ago. Does a scenario exist in which he gets 500-plus at-bats in 2024 and leads the NL in home runs? Olson and Pete Alonso will have something to say about it, but sure, it’s possible.

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If the Chicago Cubs win the NL Central, monster power production from Morel — particularly if he ends up seeing significant time at either corner infield position — would at least put him in the discussion.

The argument here isn’t that Morel will win the MVP, but that his current odds are too long.