Manager of the Year 2017: Sizing up the finalists

Award season is back again. If the World Series serves as the official end of the baseball season, then this week is our last good chance to reflect on the 2017 season and to honor those who produced, or in this case, directed at an elite level.

Youth will be served Monday night with the announcement of MLB’s top rookies from the American and National League. On Tuesday, our attention shifts to the dugout generals, as the Baseball Writers Associated of American reveals its choices for Manager of the Year.

This year’s group of finalists boast a pair of former winners in Terry Francona of the Cleveland Indians and Dave Roberts of the Los Angeles Dodgers. Both are actually looking to make it two in a row after taking home the award in 2016.

The AL is rounded out by A.J. Hinch of the Houston Astros, who led his team to its second ever 100-win season, and Paul Molitor, who oversaw an improbable and historic Twins return to the postseason. In the NL, it’s all about the wild, wild West. Rookie skipper Torey Lovullo of the Arizona Diamondbacks and veteran Bud Black of the Colorado Rockies join Roberts. Both engineered the end of nearly a decade-long postseason drought.

That’s just a quick rundown of the names to know. Now here’s a breakdown of the three finalists in each league to help set the stage for what should be an unpredictable unveiling. The winners will be announced Tuesday in an MLB Network special that begins at 6 p.m. ET. It’s worth remembering: The voting took place at the end of the regular season.

Cleveland Indians manager Terry Francona is two-time World Series winner and two-time AL Manager of the Year. (AP)

American League
Terry Francona — Cleveland Indians
In brief: Francona is a two-time World Series champion as manager of the Boston Red Sox (2004 and 2007) and a two-time Manager of the Year winner. Oddly, both awards have come during his Cleveland tenure. Francona won in his first season with the Indians in 2013 and then again in 2016. Now he’s back in the mix after leading the franchise to its first 100-win season since 1995. Francona could become the first back-to-back winner since Bobby Cox in 2004 and 2005.

Case for: The Indians came into the season with their highest expectations since dominating the American League in the late ’90s. They also came in off the disappointment of blowing a 3-1 lead in the World Series. There was no appearance of added pressure or a hangover. Francona kept his squad sharp, level-headed and ultimately successful.

Case against: The Indians did what they were supposed to do. With a more talented roster than the one that went to the World Series in 2016, the Indians dominated a division that lacked a true threat to their crown. It might not be fair, but there’s a good chance some voters held those expectations against him.

Houston Astros manager A.J. Hinch oversaw the franchise’s second 100-win season. (AP)

A.J. Hinch — Houston Astros
In brief: Though never considered to be in the hot seat, 2017 was an important season for Hinch. After lasting less than two seasons as Diamondbacks manager, and after his Astros surprisingly missed the postseason in 2016, Hinch needed a bounce-back season to cement his position. Boy, did he get it. The Astros finished with their second 100-win season in franchise history. And though it won’t factor into this vote, he would ultimately manage Houston to the World Series championship.

Case for: It will go overlooked, but the Astros battled through tough injuries this season. George Springer, Carlos Correa, Dallas Keuchel and Lance McCullers Jr., just to name a few, were lost for long stretches with injuries. The Astros never wavered, maintaining control of a deeper AL West all season long.

Case against: Like Francona, Hinch could be judged a little tougher because he was working with a roster that was masterfully crafted throughout the team’s rebuild. The Astros were supposed to be contenders in 2017. It’s not necessarily fair that could be held against him, but again, it’s part of the process.

Paul Molitor’s Minnesota Twins went from 103 losses to a wild-card team. (AP)

Paul Molitor — Minnesota Twins
In brief: In his third season as Twins manager, Paul Molitor oversaw a historic turnaround. After losing 103 games in 2016, the Twins became the first team to follow a 100-loss season with a postseason appearance. Overall, Molitor is 227-259 as Minnesota’s manager, but has posted winning records in two of three seasons.

Case for: Leading Minnesota to its first postseason appearance since 2010 is a pretty big deal. Doing it on the heels of such disappointment one year prior takes it to another level. The Twins probably weren’t one of baseball’s 10 best teams in 2017 from a talent standpoint, but they were definitely one of the best feel-good stories.

Case against: It’s possible we’re overvaluing the Twins turnaround based on how poorly 2016 went for them. Remember, they were an 83-win team in 2015 and expectations were high in 2016. They were a difficult team to read coming into the season, so it’s tough to say if they truly overachieved.

New Colorado Rockies skipper Bud Black adapted well to managing at Coors Field. (AP)

National League
Bud Black — Colorado Rockies
In brief: In his first season with the Rockies, Bud Black cemented his position among the league’s best managers by leading them back to the postseason for the first time since 2009. It was Black’s third winning season in 10 as a manager. The first nine years were spent with a sputtering Padres team. Now that he has talent to work with, Black is shining.

Case for: Managing 81 games a year at Coors Field is not for everyone. Just ask Jim Leyland. Black, perhaps better than anyone in franchise history, navigated his first season in Denver very well. It helped that he had the most talented rotation in franchise history to work with. Then again, some would say he’s responsible for getting the most from them.

Case against: As successful as the Rockies’ season was, they still finished third in their division. That’s a tough hump to get over in a competitive field. Though they held a postseason spot for the entire season, Colorado looked tired as it limped to the finish.

Rookie manager Torey Lovullo led the Diamondbacks back to the postseason. (AP)

Torey Lovullo — Arizona Diamondbacks
In brief: The rookie manager immediately injected new life into a Diamondbacks team that had seemingly stagnated under the previous regime. Arizona finished with the NL’s second best record (93-69) behind the Dodgers. The impressive season included a 13-game winning streak that featured home and away sweeps of those Dodgers. Not to mention the D-Backs reached the postseason for the first time since 2010.

Case for: Lovullo proved to be a perfect fit in his first season in Arizona. Under his watch, several key players took big steps forward. Most notably, pitchers Robbie Ray, Taijuan Walker and Zack Godley. The Diamondbacks 24-win improvement was second only to Moiltor’s Twins. With or without this award, it’s clear Arizona hired the right man for the job.

Case against: Lovullo lacked polish as an in-game manager, which is something that will improve with experience. What he lacked in that regard though was more than made up in other areas. The Diamondbacks already had an elite offense led by MVP candidate Paul Goldschmidt. That could be viewed as the true driving force behind Arizona’s success.

Los Angeles Dodgers manager Dave Roberts has started his career with two NL West championships. (AP)

Dave Roberts — Los Angeles Dodgers
In brief: The second-year skipper is keeping the Dodgers NL West dominance going. Roberts is two-for-two winning the division, extending the team’s streak to five straight division titles. After winning a league-best 104 games in 2017, Roberts record is remarkable 195-129. Like Francona, he’s looking to make history with back-to-back Manager of the Year wins.

Case for: For awhile the Dodgers were on pace to challenge the Mariners single-season win record of 116. They settled for 104. Considering the NL West boasted three playoff teams and three candidates in this category, no one could possibly question how good a job Roberts has done. He’s helped mold a talented team that at times seemed to be coasting into a relentless force.

Case against: Did anyone expect 104 wins? Probably not. But the Dodgers success was more expected than that of Arizona or Colorado. That’s the biggest thing that could work against Roberts. It may also be the only thing.

OUR PICKS
Chris Cwik
AL: Paul Molitor – If you take a team that lost 103 games the previous season to the playoffs, you deserve this award.

NL: Torey Lovullo – He oversaw a complete revamp of the franchise. Not just on the field, but in the clubhouse as well.

Mike Oz
AL: Paul Molitor — Considering he could have been on the hot seat entering this season, Molitor deserves credit for turning things around in Minnesota.

NL: Torey Lovullo — From 69-93 to 93-69? With a first-year manager? That’s enough for me.

Liz Roscher
AL: Paul Molitor – I’m a sucker for a worst-to-first story. 103 losses to a wild-card berth? It’s the stuff movies are made of. Molitor earned this.

NL: Torey Lovullo – The Diamondbacks are another bad-to-good story, and I am on board. Lovullo’s Diamondbacks played like different team. They were irresistible and fun, and that’s the best kind of baseball.

Mark Townsend
AL: A.J. HinchHinch gets the edge because the Astros remained steady all season despite injuries and extremely high expectations.

NL: Dave Roberts – Even with the Dodgers crazy depth, you can’t look past 104 wins.

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Mark Townsend is a writer for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at bigleaguestew@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!