As the Blue Jays 2017 season mercifully came to an end earlier this month, most of the discussion has pivoted to video year-end reviews, player grades and performance awards. Because you’ll get plenty of writers more talented than I telling you who played well, who was a disappointment and who broke out, I’ve created some alternative year-end awards to hand out to the 2017 Toronto Blue Jays – ones where you won’t see Justin Smoak, Marcus Stroman or Roberto Osuna.
Frankie Muniz Fallen Star Award: Mat Latos
This award goes to the player on the Blue Jays’ roster whose star has fallen the most in the last several years. Like most teams that finish ten games below .500, there were several contenders. This year’s winner, however, is Mat Latos.
It was only a few years ago the Jays were actively pursuing Latos via trade – and presumably willing to give up a whole lot more than a minor league invite to spring training to get him. But things can change pretty quickly when you’re a major league pitcher – especially one who has suffered some pretty major knee injuries.
Latos did his best to keep the Jays in games, but the combination of deep American League East lineups and a dip in his once great velocity was too much for the onetime ace to overcome. Latos was released in late May.
Pat “Mr. Bases Loaded” Tabler Award for Situational Hitting: Ryan Goins
Named after Pat Tabler, who finished his career 43 for 88 with the sacks juiced, Ryan Goins is this year’s award winner for situational hitting.
While Steve Pearce hit two walk-off grand slams within one calendar week, Goins hit a robust .333/.372/.545 with runners in scoring position this season. That included a whopping .714/.688/1.214 (yes, that’s slugging) line with the bases loaded, which in turn lead to a career-high RBI mark. Goins (62) finished with three fewer runs batted in than Jose Bautista (65) this season. Let that stat sink in and wash over you.
Despite a season-long slash line of .237/.286/.356, Goins’ good luck with runners in scoring position sparked the return of a debate that many of us thought died in 2015: one in which people argue he is a starting caliber shortstop. At least it gave us something to talk about.
I still don’t see too many opposing pitchers shaking in their boots if they see Goins stepping up to the plate with the game on the line next season.
Kevin Pillar Sneeze Award for Most Bizarre Injury: Aaron Sanchez
This year’s winner didn’t suffer at the hands of a dugout step (Maicer Izturis), a slip in the shower (Russell Martin), or an ill-placed sprinkler head (Michael Saunders). This year’s winner suffered at the hands of a doctored baseball conspiracy that goes all the way to the commissioner’s office.
It’s hard to fathom something as seemingly insignificant as a blister derailing so much of the Blue Jays’ season, but that is exactly what happened in 2017. Sanchez’s inability to treat and contain blisters on his pitching hand limited the Jays star pitcher to only eight starts this year.
Before you start calling him soft, you try to spin a curveball at the knees or hit 98 on the black with half your fingernail missing.
Sanchez was one of many pitchers around baseball who had to deal with blister issues for the first time in their careers, so hopefully whatever was causing the all the hot spots and homers gets remedied ahead of the 2018 season.
Fully healed fingers crossed, anyway.
Marty York Hottest Take of the Year Award: A.J. Pierzynski for ‘The Man In White Is Real”
Traditionally, winners of the MYHTOTY award are peddling a nuclear level take about how to best run the team moving forward – moving Troy Tulowitzki to first base, blowing up a team that went to the ALCS, that kind of thing.
But this year’s winner goes to Fox Broadcaster A.J. Pierzynski for continuing to back the idea that a man in white is sitting in centre field at the Rogers Centre relaying signs to Blue Jays’ hitters. Pierzynski, acting as a color commentator in the Astros/Red Sox series, described how during his playing career, teams would adjust their signs in Toronto to prevent ‘a guy out in centre field from relaying stuff’.
Despite being largely debunked due to a lack of concrete evidence back in 2011 when the theory first surfaced, A.J. fanned the flames of the conspiracy theory to a new generation of baseball fans. If the Man in White was real, the Jays sure could have used his help this year when they finished dead last in the AL in runs scored and 13th in slugging percentage. Maybe he couldn’t afford the increased ticket prices. File this conspiracy away deep, deep in the archives next to “the umpires are biased and won’t let a Canadian team win”.
Alex Anthopoulos Trade of the Year Award: Francisco Liriano for Teoscar Hernandez (and Nori Aoki)
When it comes to transacting with Francisco Liriano, Ross Atkins has done very well for himself. Last season, the Jays were able to acquire Liriano and some much needed prospect depth all for the low, low price of Drew Hutchison (who has since been outrighted by the Pirates).
This season, with Liriano struggling mightily, Atkins was able to convince the already playoff-bound Houston Astros that they needed a pitcher with a 5.88 ERA to make themselves into a World Series contender; and that they needed to give up Teoscar Hernandez to get him.
Given his lackluster results, the Astros might have just as well kept Hernandez and let him pitch instead of trading for Liriano.
It might be a little much to expect Hernandez to continue lighting the American League on fire like he did in September, especially given his fondness for striking out, but at the very worst, Hernandez provides the Jays with a young, controllable player to serve as depth. All in exchange for half a season of a struggling, free agent-to-be pitcher. Savvy move by Atkins and company here.
Doogie Howser Child Prodigy Award: Bo Bichette and Vladimir Guerrero Jr.
Toronto sports fans haven’t been this excited about a teenage athlete since, well, last year. But Auston Matthews is a hockey player so it’s different. Bo and Vlad Jr. spent 2017 tearing through low and high-A ball, where the two teenagers were some of the youngest players at the level. In turn, both have become some of the most highly touted prospects in all of baseball. In true Moneyball fashion, the Blue Jays may have found the new market inefficiency: drafting the children of former major leaguers. In a year where not much was going right for the major league club, these two were a much-needed silver lining.
“Bring Your Kleenex to the Ballpark” Most Emotional Moment: Jose Bautista Sendoff
Part of me didn’t believe it would happen given the amount of undue criticism aimed at Jose during his historic tenure in Toronto. But in the end, Blue Jays fans wised up and gave Jose the goodbye he deserved. Bautista, arguably the Jays’ best hitter of all-time, was one of the few bright spots on Blue Jays teams that struggled for relevancy in the early 2010s. When the team went on its magical 2015 run, he became the face of baseball in Toronto, punctuating the Jays’ first playoff series win in 20 plus years with his notorious bat flip.
Whether you came for the dominant offensive numbers, his demonstrative and emotional showmanship on the field, or his savage and hilarious sparring with the media off it, Jose Bautista has been one of the greatest Blue Jays of all time.
In order to honor the maybe franchise icon during his last home game in Toronto, John Gibbons elected to remove Bautista from the game in the top of the 9th inning. Seeing Joey Bats jog off the field to a standing ovation at a speed only fractionally faster than he runs the bases at this point in his career was an emotional moment for any Jays’ fan. Darren O’Day will be able to sleep a little better this winter knowing Bats won’t be back in the AL East again next year. Or if he is, it will be at the spacious Tropicana field.
Here was to closing the book on the 2017 Blue Jays season, and a more competitive 2018.
Lead Photo © Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports