The 2016 Toronto Blue Jays season is now over. Despite a successful and entertaining run, Eric Owens became the official fall guy for a 2016 Blue Jays team that lost in the American League Championship Series for the second year in a row. As we are now forced to endure a four month stretch without Blue Jays baseball, we have plenty of time to reflect back on the season that was.
Instead of firing up the hot stove a bit too prematurely, I’ve created some alternative end of season awards to hand out to some of the many deserving Jays.
Kevin Pillar Sneeze Award For Most Bizarre Injury: Joaquin Benoit
The Blue Jays have a celebrated history of bizarre injuries. Whether it was the sprinkler that TKO’d Michael Saunders or Maicer Izturis falling down the stairs, plenty of Blue Jays have made some unpredictable disabled list trips.
This season, Russell Martin provided some fierce competition– hurting himself both in the sauna and on a celebratory high five. But Benoit rushing the field to join a brawl takes this year’s prize.
Benoit’s injury will act as a continual warning that nothing good comes from a baseball brawl and reminder that next time Joaquin needs to rush the field in a fit of rage, he should use the ramp instead of trying to hop the fence.
Don Cherry ‘Good Old Canadian Boy’ Award: Russell Martin
Despite a strong field of challengers (Mikey Saunders, Dalty Pompey), Russell Martin once again takes home the honour. No one embodies a good, old, Canadian more than Russell: he guts through injuries; plays the position that most resembles hockey; has a beard. We just need to make sure we don’t let Don Cherry know he’s French Canadian.
Fingers crossed Joey Votto wins this next year. If only….
“We Lost to Who?” Award: An Assortment of Number Five Starters from Around the League
With a defeat at the hands of Ryan Merritt still fresh in our minds, we present this award to the most unlikely pitchers to stymie the fearsome Torono offence and beat the team.
With the Jays’ offence performing in fits and starts there were many worthy candidates this season: Luis Perdomo (5.71 ERA, Padres), Pat Dean (6.28 ERA, Twins), Daniel Wright (6.13 ERA, Angels), and of course Ryan Merritt (3.70 ERA, Columbus Clippers).
It’s Never His Fault Award: Josh Thole
It just isn’t. He doesn’t play enough. With R.A. Dickey leaving via free agency, Josh Thole is likely leaving behind him. What better way to honour the departing catcher than with the award he earned and deserves?
Forget Me Not Award – Best Performance by a Free Agent: Jose Bautista
Jose, not only will we miss you as a player, we will miss your braggadocious temperament. Whether it was trolling Steve Simmons on twitter, skipping around the bases after a homer or telling umpires how to do their jobs properly, Jose Bautista was a performer, playing the game with passion and flair. A passion led to some of the team’s most meme-able moments and sound bites far more entertaining than your standard post-game clichés.
Like a true performer, Jose saved some of his best material for last, making claims throughout the 2016 ALCS that were so unsubstantiated they are usually reserved for American Presidential nominees. Anyone in Cleveland will be happy to remind us that Ryan Merrit’s boots are firmly planted on the ground as he makes his way to the World Series.
And to any media who feigned offence at Jose’s colourful comments and style of play: good luck trying to squeeze this much gold out of Kevin Pillar next season.
Rollie Fingers Award for Facial Hair: Aaron Sanchez
Since Eric Thames’ departure for Korea, the Rollie Fingers Award has lacked the same caliber of nominees*. Nonetheless, the award continues to be handed out.
Despite coming to work in an environment of fully bearded colleagues, Aaron Sanchez opted for the goatee look in 2016. The American League ERA champ should receive full points for originality and just as importantly, determination. 2016 proved that Sanchez doesn’t give up – whether it’s on his dream of becoming a starting pitcher (when others wanted him in the bullpen), or on his commitment to his facial hair (even when it comes in patchy at first).
*Note: Josh Johnson only grew his hair out after leaving the Blue Jays
Bryan LaHair Monster First Half Award: Michael Saunders
After spending the majority of his 2015 recovering from a vicious sprinkler attack, Saunders hit the ground running in 2016. The Victoria-native posted otherworldly first half numbers that landed him in the All-Star Game and consequently, in the middle of a pseudo national anthem controversy – one that introduced an entire generation of people under 70 to the Canadian Tenors.
While Saunders came back to earth in the second half, we will always have spring 2016. Jays fans will look back fondly on screaming line drives to all fields and the ginger baserunning that immediately followed.
Doogie Howser Child Prodigy Award: Roberto Osuna
Osuna has been so effective and consistent at the back of the Blue Jays’ bullpen that we almost take him for granted. Oh and he is still just 21 years old.
The Jays leaned heavily on Osuna down the stretch and in the postseason, frequently asking him to pitch more than one inning at a time. The increased workload is likely why Osuna turned to Michael Phelps’ trusted cupping therapy; hopefully the new baseball market inefficiency in keeping pitchers healthy.
Expect more of the same from Osuna next season. He is still years away from his prime and thanks to an early arrival in the Major Leagues, two years closer to a big pay day in free agency.
Alex Anthopoulos Executive of the Year Award: Mark Shapiro
Making several reasonable, yet criticized decisions, Mark Shapiro enjoyed a very successful first year as President of the Toronto Blue Jays.
Things did not get off the best of start for Shapiro in Toronto as he was condemned by a section of the fan base that looked suspiciously on his decision to recruit and hire front office staff from Cleveland.
It’s hard to fault him for hiring people from his old stomping grounds; partly because it ignores the people he’s hired that DIDN’T work for him in Cleveland, and partly because I wouldn’t want to sit alone in the Rogers Centre cafeteria either.
Regardless of the rocky start, the Blue Jays made a deep postseason run in part due to the acquisitions that Shapiro and company made to strengthen the roster (Gil Kim, Angus Mugford, Joe Biagini). We recommend he accept his award before he increases the prices on single-game tickets for 2017.
Marty York Memorial Hottest Take of the Year Award: Troy Tulowitzki to First Base
Over the course of his first full year in Toronto, Troy Tulowitzki has been the topic of many ‘colourful’ opinions: he is finished offensively (we’re looking at you Dave Cameron), he hates Toronto and wants to be traded, and the oddest of them all: whispers that he should be playing first base.
Watching Tulo play defense for three innings should put to bed any notion of moving him off shortstop just yet. For that matter, so should watching the guy who played shortstop before him. Or the guy hit who would have played shortstop instead of him.
Like with any good team (or awards show), there are more deserving candidates than there are awards to be handed out. The Blue Jays’ would not have gone as far as they did without contributions from everyone on the roster, coaching staff, and front office.
Whether it was head trainer George Poulis somehow being able to keep Michael Saunders, Tulo and Russ Martin on the field for 130-plus games, or team chef Nigel Batson, who willingly allowed a professional athlete to eat pasta with mayonnaise on it, the Blue Jays received contributions from the entire organization en route to their second straight ALCS appearance.
2016 was a successful and entertaining season, and one that will be remembered for so much more than Justin Smoak’s weird culinary choices (it was totally him) or Joaquin Benoit’s bizarre injury. Here’s to what was a great 2016 and hopefully an even better 2017.
Lead Photo: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports