Wide open for debate

It's more confusing than the Iowa caucuses. It's harder to predict than the NHL Northeast. Has baseball ever had an election wilder than the 2003 American League Most Valuable Player race? Maybe not in a generation. Maybe never.

It's an election that could threaten the all-time record for most players receiving a first-place MVP vote. That one was set in 1977, when 11 different American Leaguers topped somebody's ballot, in a race that was won by Rod Carew.

It's also an election in which the winner might not even be the man who gets the most first-place votes. The only other time that's happened in the last 37 years was 1999, when Pudge Rodriguez got seven first-place votes to Pedro Martinez's eight, but still won -- because two voters left Pedro off their ballot completely.

Oh, there are terrific MVP arguments to be made -- for everyone from Carlos Delgado to David Ortiz. The trouble is, for every argument for, there's a powerful argument against -- on every candidate out there.

  • Alex Rodriguez? Led the league in homers, slugging and runs scored. But also played on a last-place team in Texas. And of the 145 MVP awards in history, 141 have gone to players on winning teams.

  • Delgado? Led his league in RBI by a wider margin than any RBI champ since Hank Aaron in 1957. But also drove in 49 fewer runs after the All-Star break than before it -- for a Blue Jays team that finished 15 games behind the Yankees.

  • Shannon Stewart? The Twins went from 7½ games out of first to a playoff team after he arrived in July. But no MVP has ever changed teams in midseason.

  • Ortiz? Bill Mueller? Nomar Garciaparra? Manny Ramirez? It was hard to make a case that any Red Sox hitter was most valuable, on a team in which eight different players hit 30 doubles and seven hit at least 19 homers.

  • Jorge Posada? Derek Jeter? Jason Giambi? Alfonso Soriano? If there's any such thing as a most valuable Yankee, how come they've played 21 postseason series since the last time a Yankee won an MVP award?

  • Frank Thomas? Didn't lead his own team in RBI.

  • Bret Boone? Went 3-for-30 while the Mariners stumbled in September.

  • Garret Anderson? The Angels spent the last 57 games of the year under .500.

    Carlos Beltran? Keith Foulke? Vernon Wells? Magglio Ordonez? There are cases to be made for all of them. But in the end, this election is likely to come down to how each voter defines that magic word, "valuable," and to which player can position himself near the top of the most ballots.

    But which player will that be? That's a question not even FortuneTellers.com could answer -- until the 2003 MVP results are finally announced on Monday afternoon.

    Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com. Click here to send Jayson a question for possible use on ESPNEWS.