Will a World Series-champion manager win this individual hardware for the first time since Bruce Bochy in 2014? Could it go to a manager whose team was not one of the 10 that reached the postseason? Will stunning turnaround seasons like those in Minnesota and Arizona sway your thinking about their dugout leaders?
Voting is underway at MLB.com for Best Manager in the Esurance MLB Awards, where postseason consideration is included. This is one overall award, and your nominees are Dusty Baker (Nationals), Bud Black (Rockies), Craig Counsell (Brewers), Terry Francona (Indians), Joe Girardi (Yankees), A.J. Hinch (Astros), Torey Lovullo (D-backs), Joe Maddon (Cubs), Paul Molitor (Twins) and Dave Roberts (Dodgers).
Although the Best Manager winner is certainly up for grabs, the presumptive favorites would appear to be Molitor and Lovullo -- who each took home the Baseball Writers' Association of America Manager of the Year honors on Tuesday night -- or Hinch, whose Astros won the first World Series championship in franchise history. While postseason performance definitely helps, winning it all does not guarantee a skipper MLB Awards hardware. As mentioned above, no dugout leader has earned a World Series ring and Best Manager trophy since 2014. And even with the Cubs' magic of 2016, the Best Manager accolades went to Francona, who guided his club all the way to a World Series Game 7.
Major League Baseball Awards season will culminate on Friday, when winners are announced live on MLB Network and MLB.com starting at 8 p.m. ET. Here is a closer look at the nominees:
Baker: Although he was not asked to return in 2018 by the Nationals, Baker led the team to 97 wins and another National League East championship in runaway fashion. Washington had high expectations, but for the second year in a row its postseason lasted five games, ended by the Cubs.
Black: It was a third-place finish in the NL West, but that third place was good enough for 87 wins and a Wild Card berth -- Colorado's first postseason appearance since 2009. Black had a powerhouse offense, but of special note here is what the skipper did with his young arms. Rockies starters went 63-56, a win total that was second-highest in franchise history and ranked fifth in the NL. And they were supported by a bullpen, led by Greg Holland's 41 saves, that went 24-19 and struck out 549 -- second-most in club history.
Counsell: Milwaukee was in a rebuilding process with a young roster and not expected by many to contend. But in his second full season as manager, the Brewers were a surprising 86-76 and finished just one game behind the NL's second Wild Card berth -- eliminated on the penultimate day of the regular season. While his Brewers did not make the playoffs, it is worth noting that he was named NL Manager of the Year by Sporting News, based on polling of all other active NL managers.
Francona: After the Indians reached Game 7 of the World Series and he won this award last year, Francona had high hopes for the Indians' first championship since 1948. He guided the club to 102 wins, the second-highest total in franchise history. That included an American League-record 22-game winning streak, longest in a century in the Majors. Alas, Cleveland was shocked by the Yankees in the AL Division Series.
Girardi: Speaking of that elimination of Cleveland, there was surely a moment in that ALDS in which the average Yankee fan might have hesitated to vote for their skipper here. Yes, the no-challenge hullabaloo. But the Yankees proceeded to extend the eventual World Series champion to seven games, and overall it was a banner year with the most wins (91) since 2012 and the emergence of a young core. Alas, Girardi is being replaced by a manager yet to be determined. Does he get a big sendoff here?
Hinch: The Astros won their first World Series, and Hinch was given high marks for the way he finessed a bullpen thought to be outmatched by the Dodgers. There's a good reason why he has been touted as an example to follow in so many current managerial searches around the game. Hinch has been brilliant in incorporating analytics into his approach. The club won 101 games, second-most in Astros history to 102 in 1998, and he managed 18 more games after that on the way to a parade.
Lovullo: The D-backs had a stunning turnaround in 2017, going from 69-93 to 93-69. "[Lovullo is] a no-brainer for me," Arizona left-hander Robbie Ray said. "Coming in, changing the culture, turning everything around, getting everybody on board and doing it in your first year." The D-backs won the NL Wild Card Game against Colorado, then were eliminated by the Dodgers in the NLDS. Lovullo took home the BBWAA award for NL Manager of the Year on Tuesday, and certainly has a chance to win this award too.
Maddon: That Maddon did not win this award last year -- with the Cubs' blockbuster title drought ended and their massive fan base -- is a reminder that a World Series championship alone does not automatically mean you win here. He spent much of this season trying to coax his team back to its 2016 form, and finally the Cubs pulled away for another NL Central title. They even knocked out Washington in the NLDS. Chicago was no match for Los Angeles in the NL Championship Series, and it will be interesting to see how much support the trend-setting skipper receives this time around.
Molitor: The Hall of Famer's case is built on the Twins' surprise run to the AL Wild Card Game, as they became the first team to go from losing 100 games to making the postseason the next year. As a result, Molitor was rewarded with a three-year deal -- and the BBWAA's AL Manager of the Year Award -- after the season
Roberts: The Dodgers won 104 games, second-most in this storied franchise's history, and they were so dominant for most of the season that it fueled speculation about whether this might be the best team in MLB history. They did endure a shocking double-digit losing streak in the second half, and they saw Houston celebrate on their field in Game 7. But it was a first World Series appearance by the Dodgers since 1988, and a big year of accomplishment.
The Esurance MLB Awards annually honor MLB's greatest achievements as part of an industry-wide balloting process that includes five groups, each of which accounts for 20 percent of the overall vote: Media, front-office personnel, retired MLB players, fans at MLB.com and Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) members.
The MLB Awards are an all-inclusive program, encompassing the top players and performances from both the American and National Leagues from Opening Day through the end of the postseason.
Voting began on Sept. 18 at mlb.com/awards, serving as the grand entrance of a program that has gradually added nominees right through BBWAA Awards week. Other categories so far include: Personality of the Year; Best Defensive Player; Best Play, Offense; Best Play, Defense; Best Performance; Best Fan Catch; Best Player-Fan Interaction; Best Rookie; Best Executive; Best Call: TV/Radio; Best Major Leaguer, Postseason; and Best Postseason Moment.
Voting for the final two categories will begin at 7 p.m. ET on Wednesday for Best Pitcher and then on Thursday for Best Major Leaguer.
Mark Newman is enterprise editor for MLB.com and a baseball writer since 1990. Follow him on Twitter @Marathoner and read and join other baseball fans on his MLB.com/blogs hub. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.