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Esurance runner-up pool on par with finalists

MLB.com

When considering the overwhelming number of deserving potential entries in the running for this year's Esurance MLB Awards, a panel of experts was presented with agonizing choices.

Trimming long lists of contenders for each category down to a group of finalists is never easy, after all, so while we wait to see who gets the ultimate honor in each category, here's a space in which we can honor the best of the rest.

When considering the overwhelming number of deserving potential entries in the running for this year's Esurance MLB Awards, a panel of experts was presented with agonizing choices.

Trimming long lists of contenders for each category down to a group of finalists is never easy, after all, so while we wait to see who gets the ultimate honor in each category, here's a space in which we can honor the best of the rest.

Top runners-up in the categories of Best Play, Defense; Best Play, Offense; Best Player-Fan Interaction; Best Fan Catch; Best Performance; Best Defensive Player and Personality of the Year were oh-so-close to making the lists of finalists.

Vote for the 2017 Esurance MLB Awards

And where better to start than with Best Play, Defense, in which every fantastic fielding highlight that was presented seemed to garner significant consideration, making this particular deliberation an almost impossible one? All told, six runners-up came awfully close to being finalists for this award.

There was Red Sox center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr.'s catch on a 94-percent hit probability against the Yankees on July 16. There was Astros outfielder Jake Marisnick's catch of a ball in left field and strike throw to the plate to cut down Jacoby Ellsbury and seal a victory for his team on May 11 in Yankee Stadium.

Video: NYY@BOS: Statcast™ measures Bradley Jr.'s amazing grab

We can't forget Twins center fielder Byron Buxton, whom we suspect will be a frequent visitor to this award space in the years to come, and his leaping catch into the center-field wall to rob Carlos Santana in Cleveland on May 14. Nor should we leave out mention of Dodgers second baseman Chase Utley keeping Rich Hill's perfect game alive at the time by making a diving catch in the eighth inning at Pittsburgh on Aug. 23.

And then there are two perennial Gold Glovers making ridiculous plays: Baltimore's Manny Machado's back-handed grab and bullet throw from foul territory to nail Jedd Gyorko of the Cardinals on June 17, and Rays center-field magician Kevin Kiermaier making the first of his two amazing catches on Sept. 15 vs. Boston, the second of which actually did make the final cut in this overstuffed category.

In the Best Player-Fan Interaction category, Miguel Cabrera just missed making the final contenders by a hair … or maybe a few hundred of them. Cabrera, the ever-wily veteran, showed off his impressive standing in the game and knowledge of his surroundings in Seattle on June 21 by using his glove to inspect a Mariners fan's beard after chasing a ball in foul territory.

Best Fan Catch was a brutal category to pick from. Let's face it: there are some super-talented and dedicated spectators out there. The runner-up for the finalists in this group was an Astros fan on a mission on June 2 at Texas.

The fan sees the ball off George Springer's bat before his competitors, he bolts out onto the lawn behind the center-field wall and gains a clear advantage over the other pursuers, he makes the one-handed grab on the run, and he finishes it off with a celebratory fist pump -- just like in The Show.

For Best Performance, it was so difficult to come up with a clear runner-up that there are two.

Video: LAD@PIT: Harrison belts a walk-off homer in the 10th

The first is Hill's almost-perfecto, which became an almost-no-hitter, which unfortunately for Hill became a one-hit loss in the 10th inning when Josh Harrison took him deep to walk off that now-famous Aug. 23 game at PNC Park that people will talk about for years.

The second? Machado's great month in a single game, which came Aug. 18 against the Angels. Machado hit three homers and drove in seven runs in the game, with the last long ball being a walk-off grand slam. Machado became the third player in MLB history to cap a three-dinger day with a game-ending salami.

Video: Must C Classic: Manny rips trio of HRs, walk-off slam

Best Play, Offense, is directly tied into what might forever be known as the Rich Hill Game, and for good reason. For as impressive as Hill was that night, pitching nine no-hit innings and being a Logan Forsythe error away from being perfect for those nine frames, Harrison deserves love, too.

The Pirates infielder defined clutch and dramatic and, yes, historic, when his blast became the first walk-off homer to break up a no-hitter.

"It's insane how baseball works," Pirates starter Trevor Williams said that night in the afterglow. "Baseball's weird. It's designed to break your heart. I'm so glad we hit the walk-off homer."

Two other categories proved particularly challenging to separate. Best Defensive Player was a toss-up of runners-up, including Machado, Reds outfielder Billy Hamilton, catchers Yasmani Grandal of the Dodgers and Yadier Molina of the Cardinals, Blue Jays center fielder Kevin Pillar and Nationals third baseman Anthony Rendon.

And Personality of the Year's almosts included Reds first baseman and noted fan troll Joey Votto, Mets right-hander and social-media star Noah Syndergaard, Giants outfielder and "Game of Thrones" enthusiast Hunter Pence and Blue Jays starter and fan favorite Marcus Stroman.

The 2017 Esurance MLB Awards will be unveiled on the Esurance MLB Awards show on MLB Network and MLB.com on Friday. The Esurance MLB Awards annually honor Major League Baseball'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.

Hall of Famers, team general managers, broadcast-booth legends and you will be among those helping to pick this year's Best Major Leaguer in addition to the winners in the following categories: Best Pitcher, Rookie, Defensive Player, Manager, Executive, Personality, Postseason Moment and postseason performer.

One winner in each category will also be recognized for the year's Best Offensive Play, Defensive Play, Single-Game Performance, Fan Catch, Broadcast Call and Player-Fan Interaction.

In addition to the aforementioned categories, a panel of MLB experts will identify and recognize the season's Best Moments and Trending Topics.

The MLB Esurance Awards are worth watching, too. Some of the winners who accepted their trophies in person or live on the MLB Awards winners' program last year included Francisco Lindor, David Ortiz, Mike Trout, Anthony Rizzo and Corey Seager, so there's star power everywhere you turn.

Doug Miller is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @DougMillerMLB.