Handing out year-end awards to the 2019 Toronto Blue Jays


Toronto Blue Jays starting pitcher Marcus Stroman (6) reacts after Lourdes Gurriel Jr., not shown, made a diving catch on a foul ball from Cleveland Indians first baseman Carlos Santana on Wednesday July 24, 2019. (Nathan Denette/CP)

Needless to say, this isn’t one of those seasons where the crowd showers down declarations of “MVP! MVP! MVP!” upon a member of the Toronto Blue Jays.

Still, at the end of even a lost season such as this, you’ll still occupy your mind by thinking of who might be the most noteworthy or award-worthy players of the year. It’s a bit more of a challenge this season, with a significant chunk of the roster passing in and out as though it was through a revolving door.

But everybody likes year-end trophies, so let’s ponder some candidates for the MVP, Pitcher of the Year, Rookie of the Year and Most Improved Player.

Most Valuable Player

“Value” is maybe the trickiest word in baseball. It is alternately employed by those who focus on the narrative-based understanding of the game, as well as those who delve into the data and analytics. When someone says “value,” you’re never quite sure what you’re in for.

This year, when wins were hard to come by and there was little to play for other than moral victories and dreams of tomorrow, how do you assess the value of a player to the team?

On the one hand, there’s a very legitimate argument that either Marcus Stroman or Eric Sogard could be considered as the top contenders for the award based solely on what they contributed during their time with the ballclub. Sogard still sits atop the leaders among position players in Fangraphs’ WAR with 2.2, while Stroman posted 3.0 wins before he was shuttled out of town.

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Thinking back on their performances, they were truly the most reliable and exceptional Blue Jays through their time on the team, and had they continued in Toronto at the same relative level of performance, there would be little argument against them.

There may be an argument that since they are no longer with the ballclub, it’s maybe unsporting or even a little depressing to give either of them the honours. On the other side, it’s worth remembering that their value brought back players to Toronto, so depending on how you want to dice up the meaning of the term, you could consider the future value of the prospects who came back, or even factor in Anthony Kay’s 0.4 WAR as a positive for Stroman’s case.

If you were going to stick to those still on the roster, you could look to Lourdes Gurriel Jr. (1.9 WAR, 127 wRC+), but his absence from the lineup for long periods was at times a negative, and one can’t help but look at some of the injuries that sidelined him as the result of clumsy play on his part.

Neither Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (0.7 WAR, dragged way down by his defence, and 110 wRC+) nor Bo Bichette (1.7 WAR, 142 wRC+) has produced enough this season, in spite of some tantalizing stretches of excellence.

That leaves us with Cavan Biggio as maybe the best candidate who remains on the roster. Biggio has 2.2 WAR and 114 wRC+, and his last two weeks have finally moved his batting average clear of the Mendoza zone. He also leads the team in stolen bases, if that’s your thing.

Had Biggio started his hot streak a few weeks earlier, it might have felt easier to give him the nod. As it stands, with a week left in the season, shine up the trophy and send it to Flushing, N.Y., for Mr. Stroman. It would be a last laugh one imagines he would enjoy.

MVP:Marcus Stroman

Pitcher of the Year

This is perhaps easier, as aside from Ken Giles, there has been precious little over which to get enthused this season amongst the voluminous numbers of arms that have been deployed. At the top of the WAR leaderboard beneath Stroman, you’ll find Trent Thornton (1.8, and a generally shaky season to go along with it), Giles (1.6) and Wilmer Font (1.2), who has a thankless job as the frequent opener, but has done it well.

Ben Nicholson-Smith is Sportsnet’s baseball editor. Arden Zwelling is a senior writer. Together, they bring you the most in-depth Blue Jays podcast in the league, covering off all the latest news with opinion and analysis, as well as interviews with other insiders and team members.

But if we’re giving Stroman the MVP, it’s hard to deny him this award.

Pitcher of the Year: Marcus Stroman

Rookie of the Year

Here’s an award for which there is no shortage of candidates. Guerrero might actually find himself on some actual Rookie of the Year ballots, though Yordan Alvarez and perhaps even Eloy Jimenez would have outpaced him for the American League honours.

Bichette’s time on the team has perhaps been a little too brief to make the case for him, though few players have been as exciting to watch. Biggio has been a steady contributor, and has raised the expectations for himself going forward. Danny Jansen has also been an important contributor, especially as he worked with the endless parade of hurlers that came through town.

But if we can be somewhat sentimental and irrational about this, no one came to the Blue Jays with higher expectations than Guerrero this year, and while he didn’t nearly live up to them, he still showed enough to let you know that there’s still a high ceiling above him. It feels like we’re disrespecting Biggio, much as umpires have for most of the year, so forgive us.

Rookie of the Year: Vladimir Guerrero Jr.

Most Improved Player

There are a lot of players who played under expectations this year, so finding the pleasant surprises presents a unique challenge. There’s a very good argument that Reese McGuire stepped up and asserted himself into a role that few might have imagined at the outset of the year. There’s at least a good argument that he could run with the starter’s role behind the plate if the need arises.

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Then again, the same argument could be made for his platoon mate, as Jansen has looked better with each passing month, both behind the dish and in the batter’s box.

But for a guy who might not have been considered much more than a role player coming into the season, Biggio has shown an ability to understand and address his game’s flaws, and now seems like a key piece in the years to come.

Most Improved Player: Cavan Biggio

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