By my count, exactly one man is guaranteed to win one of baseball's major awards ... and he might actually win two of them. Probably will win two of them. But the rest of them are wide open, determined by the players' performances and, in at least some cases, the performances of their teams. Because to varying degrees, the people who vote for the awards do consider wins and losses when filling out their ballots.
Here are the big ones we can think of, with the viable candidates for each ...
Most Valuable Player - American League
Mike Trout vs. Miguel Cabrera
If the Tigers win the American League Central and the Angels finish out of the money, and leaving everything else aside, Cabrera might pick up a few first-place votes. Simply because some voters really don't like MVP candidates who don't play for postseason teams ... something about the definition of value. But for Cabrera to actually win the award, that would have to happen and Cabrera would probably have to win a Triple Crown ... which seems highly unlikely, considering he's five home runs behind league leader Josh Hamilton and there are three other guys ahead of him.
A couple of months ago, McCutchen was everyone's runaway choice for MVP. But he's struggled since then, as have his Pirates. Meanwhile, both Posey and Braun have been fantastic while their teams surged. Braun's going to take a hit in the voting because the Brewers won't qualify for the postseason, and because of last winter's scandal. McCutchen's only shot is probably to play a huge role in the Pirates miraculous turnaround down the stretch. Don't bet the house on it.
The perfect Cy Young candidate? Twenty wins with a low ERA while pitching for a postseason qualifier. Well, we probably won't have that guy this season. Price has 18 wins and Weaver 17, and they've got the lowest and second-lowest ERA's in the league. But both pitch for teams that probably won't qualify for the postseason. Verlander's been brilliant, of course ... but he's got only 15 wins, and his team might not make it, either. All of these fellows are fine candidates, but the winner's probably the one who pitches his club into the postseason with two or three sterling games down the home stretch. So far, Price -- after beating the Yankees Friday night -- is 1 for 1.
Gonzalez's Nationals and Cueto's Reds are guaranteed postseason berths already, for which they'll probably receive a bit of extra credit from the voters. Dickey's Mets aren't going anywhere, thanks to a disastrous second half, but he might get a bit of extra credit from the voters simply because he's a big old cuddly grizzly bear who throws power knuckleballs. Gonzalez has 19 wins, Dickey 18 wins, and Cueto 17 wins. And this one might simply come down to whomever finishes with the most W's.
Rookie of the Year - American League
Mike Trout vs. All Other Rookies Put Together
Mike Trout's Wins Above Replacement: 8.8
All Other A.L. Rookies' WAR: 6.3
Well, seems like it anyway. If Trout isn't the greatest rookie ever, it's only because he spent the first few weeks of the season batting .403 in the Pacific Coast League. Hello, Vernon Wells.
Rookie of the Year - National League
Wade Miley vs. Bryce Harper
This got a lot more interesting in the second half, when Bryce Harper's hitting fell off some and Wade Miley just kept on winning games. Miley leads all rookie pitchers in wins (15) and ERA (3.07). Meanwhile, Harper's .262 batting average ranks sixth among major-league rookies, and he's probably not going to drive in 60 runs this season. No doubt, he's having a fine season. But Miley's been finer, and we haven't even mentioned Cincinnati's Todd Frazier.
Manager of the Year - American League
Buck Showalter vs. Robin Ventura vs. Bob Melvin
Almost every season, there are three or four managers in each league who fill the bill, running a team that a) wasn't expected to compete for anything but third place, but b) winds up either going to the playoffs or coming real close. All these managers run clubs expected to finish around .500 (give or take) this season, but instead are seriously challenging for postseason berths. Showalter seems to have the edge, even though a) his team has been outscored, b) Ventura's literally never managed a baseball team before, and c) Melvin's team has played significantly better than Showalter's or Ventura's. If one of these guys doesn't get into the postseason, he's probably out of the running for Manager of the Year. But whoever's in will probably get real support.
Manager of the Year - National League
Davey Johnson vs. Bruce Bochy
Johnson's probably got this one in the bag, because the Giants were supposed to be better than the Nationals, whereas the Nationals have actually been better than the Giants. But Bochy's going to get some credit for guiding a first-place team that's lost its closer and its star center fielder, with its ace pitcher struggling for most of the season.
Comeback Player of the Year - National League
I'm going to break with convention here, because I can't choose just two or three candidates. Just think where Adam LaRoche, Stephen Strasburg, Buster Posey, A.J. Burnett and Adam Wainwright were last season. How does one choose among them? Oh, and there's also Kris Medlen, who's come back from Tommy John Surgery to become one of the best pitchers in the National League.
Morales didn't play last year; Dunn was historically terrible last year. Now both have OPS+'s around 120, which is pretty good. But will Dunn and his .208 batting average really be considered award-worthy? What about Morales, who's not going to drive in 80 runs this season? There's also Jacob Peavy, but maybe the right answer is Joe Nathan, who missed 2010 with an injury and struggled in 2011, but has pitched brilliantly this season as the Rangers' closer.
What, you've never heard of the Ryan Vogelsong Award? Oh, it's a real thing. It's a very real thing. It's for the guys who have maybe been around for a while, never really doing much in the majors, then burst upon the scene to rank among the game's best. Basically, Vogelsong wasn't a Comeback Player of the Year last year because he wasn't deemed to have come back from anything, except being really terrible. Fine. So we'll invent an award for the Ryan Vogelsongs and Jose Bautistas of the world.
But how to choose between Encarnación and Rodney? Both have been decent before: Encarnación in 2010 and '11, Rodney a bit earlier. This season Encarnación's been one of the American League's best hitters, while Rodney has been almost untouchable since taking over as the Rays' closer in the spring.
Ryan Vogelsong Award - National League
Chase Headley vs. ??
One problem with the Ryan Vogelsong Award is that there really isn't a great candidate in each league, every season. Headley was hardly anonymous entering this season. But his career highs included 12 home runs and 64 RBI, while this season he's already got 27 homers and 102 RBI ... that last figure, by the way, good enough to lead the National League. Which is a fantastic accomplishment, and all the more so when you consider Headley's home ballpark.