By Grant Brisbee, Andy McCullough and Stephen Nesbitt
This MLB season has had a little bit of everything. Shohei Ohtani showed out. Luis Arraez flirted with .400. Ronald Acuña Jr. chased the 40-40 club and created the 40-50, 40-60, and (maybe) 40-70 clubs. Meanwhile, the Orioles and Rays ran away from the field in the AL East. The Marlins, Diamondbacks and Reds became contenders. The Yankees, Mets, Red Sox, Cardinals, Giants and Padres fell from the playoff picture. And the A’s are headed for Las Vegas.
What we haven’t gotten yet is trophies. That’s about to change.
As we wrap up our last MLB power rankings of the season, we’re handing out our end-of-year awards. Each team gets a trophy to celebrate. That’s right. No one goes home empty-handed. Some teams will receive a real trophy like Cy Young or MVP or Best Jomboy Lip-Reading Moment of the Year while the others will be getting one we just conjured up. Let’s get into it.
Last Power Ranking: 1
Commissioner’s Trophy: Awarded to the team that wins the World Series
Look, the postseason is a crapshoot. Weird stuff can happen. Hey, remember that time the 83-win Cardinals won it all in 2006? And so on and so forth. You all know the caveats. But the Braves look primed to blast through this coming October like a wrecking ball. You like a balanced attack? Atlanta leads the sport in collective batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage. You like star power? Ronald Acuña Jr. might win National League MVP. Spencer Strider has a chance to win the Cy Young Award. The Braves have it all. It will be up to the rest of the sport to stop them this postseason. — Andy McCullough
Last Power Ranking: 4
Mookie Betts Award for being the Most Valuable Player in Baseball (The Mookie Award): Self-explanatory
Sure, Ronald Acuña Jr., Freddie Freeman and Matt Olson have arguments, too, but all of them were plug-and-play talents. Hey, you, Freddie and Matt, go play first base and sock dingers. Hey, you, Ronald, go run around the bases, hit a bunch of dingers and zip around the outfield. Good work, all.
Betts was the only one here who was capable of filling in at a strange position because it helped the team. He played almost as many games at second base as in the outfield, and he even picked up more than a handful of starts at short.
The best player in baseball? Maybe, maybe not, but that’s not the question before us.
The most valuable player in the National League this season? Not sure how you can argue that he isn’t, considering the circumstances. — Grant Brisbee
Betts sets single-season mark for RBIs by leadoff hitter
Last Power Ranking: 2
American League Rookie of the Year: Best rookie season
The Orioles have a chance to collect more meaningful trophies this postseason, especially if they can hold onto the top seed in the American League. Baltimore boasts a deep position-player core that most of the sport envies. In 2023, the team has benefited from a full season from infielder Gunnar Henderson, who showed flashes in a 34-game cameo last season. Still just 22, Henderson has emerged as the most valuable player on the Orioles, a potential MVP candidate in future years. He can handle both shortstop and third base. He’s been a dangerous hitter. He might make even more noise in October. — AM
Last Power Ranking: 3
Rafael Soriano Award: Best random Rays relief season
Shawn Armstrong pitched for three teams before the Rays acquired him for cash considerations in 2021. He appeared in 11 games before being designated for assignment. Tampa Bay re-acquired Armstrong last summer. All of which set the stage for Armstrong to post a 1.09 ERA in 36 appearances in 2023, part of the fleet of arms keeping the Rays in contention despite a wave of injuries to the starting rotation. Tampa Bay rarely has a traditional pitching staff. But the club stays competitive by mining excellent seasons out of players who have bounced around the sport. — AM
Last Power Ranking: 6
Erik Neander Award: For sneaking into a three-team trade and winning
We were all scratching our heads a bit last winter when the Braves and A’s were hammering out a Sean Murphy trade and, somehow, the Brewers came away with a fleecing. They gave up Esteury Ruiz — who has lightning speed but little bat to speak of — and got All-Star catcher William Contreras, reliever Joel Payamps and minor-league pitcher Justin Yeager.
While Yeager missed most of this season because of injury, he was a top-30 Braves prospect before the trade. Payamps has struggled lately, his ERA climbing slightly to 2.62, but he was a shutdown set-up man for most of the year. And Contreras is batting .288/.366/.461 with 17 homers this season. He’s strong defensively and looks like he’ll be a fixture in the top half of the Brewers’ lineup for years to come. The Braves have gotten plenty of production from Murphy, but in Contreras, who is just 25, the Brewers may have landed the best player in the deal — a possibility that was evident as soon as the trade was struck. No team in baseball has allowed fewer runs this season than Milwaukee, and this trade played a big part in making that happen. — Stephen Nesbitt
Last Power Ranking: 7
Manager of the Year Award: The top manager in each league
Bruce Bochy has as many Manager of the Year awards as Matt Williams, Eric Wedge, Don Mattingly and Mike Shildt. He never won the award in San Francisco, which means he’s one behind Gabe Kapler there.
Just give the award to Bochy this year. C’mon. He’s done a helluva job, and it’s a way to retroactively award him the three or four he should have won. — GB
Last Power Ranking: 8
Phil Connors Award: Season that most feels like “Groundhog Day”
Stop us if you’ve heard this before: The Blue Jays entered this season with a good bit of hype — they were one of the World Series favorites in The Athletic’s preseason predictions — and a good bit of talent. And yet here they are, in the final week of the regular season, trying to claw into a postseason berth. Toronto underplayed its run differential by eight victories in 2021. The team failed to catch the collapsing Yankees in 2022. And this year they’ve been surpassed by both Baltimore and Tampa Bay. And yet … if they make it into the postseason tournament, they’ll be a tough out. It’s a familiar script. — AM
Last Power Ranking: 9
Manny Ramírez Award: Best outfield ingenuity
The postseason is almost upon us, which means Nick Castellanos will be paying attention in the outfield again. And bully for us that we get to witness it. To be clear: This is not a cheap shot at Castellanos, who rebounded from a rocky first season in Philadelphia to enter this weekend with a .787 OPS much closer in line with his career average. Castellanos admitted last October that he occasionally lost focus in the field during the regular season, but he locked in once the Phillies reached the postseason. Castellanos started a bit earlier this year with an ill-advised but magnificent catch and throw to nab a runner at the plate.
Nick Castellanos the man that you are!!!! pic.twitter.com/xWXjhJH84n
— Philadelphia Phillies (@Phillies) September 20, 2023
Now, the party starts. — AM
Last Power Ranking: 5
Delmon Young Award (pending): The player who stunk it up in the regular season, then morphed into a fire-breathing deity in the postseason
There’s a chance for José Abreu to be this player. His OBP is under .300, and he’s nowhere near as productive as he was last season. But a scorching hot October could make him an Astros legend. It’s an award that’s pending.
There are glimmers of hope. Abreu already hit more homers in September than he hit in any month before this. He might be ascending at the right time, and he can turn into a secret postseason weapon.
Except the Astros still need to get to the postseason. Which they might not. In no small part because of José Abreu.
It’s complicated. But so is baseball. — GB
Last Power Ranking: 10
Mark Buehrle Award for Sneaky Excellence: The pitcher who is really good (but not quite great) every danged season
Buehrle pitched for 16 seasons. He never had an ERA under 3.12. He never had an ERA over 4.99. He was a human bowl of just-right porridge every year. I’m not going to argue that he should be in the Hall of Fame, but I’d definitely point at his plaque and say “That dude was cool” if he eventually got in. No complaints.
Luis Castillo needs another nine seasons to get there. But it’s the path he’s on right now. Buehrle was consistently one of the most valuable pitchers in baseball, but he got Cy Young votes just once, finishing in fifth place. Castillo doesn’t have any Cy Young votes yet, but this should be the year. He might finish higher than Buehrle ever did.
It doesn’t matter because this kind of excellence doesn’t need plaques or ceremonies. It’s just a dude being good at what he does over an extended period of time, and that’s worthy of its own kind of reward. — GB
Last Power Ranking: 11
One True Outcome Trophy: Most strikeouts
On Sunday, the Twins set the all-time record for most strikeouts by a hitting team, previously owned by the 2021 Cubs (1,596). Minnesota, with 1,600 strikeouts, has five hitters (minimum 200 plate appearances) with strikeout rates above 31 percent, and a sixth, Trevor Larnach, just a handful of plate appearances from qualifying. Don’t get me wrong — these Twins walk and homer, dabbling in all three true outcomes, but there’s none they know like a strike three.
The Twins also set a new club record on Sunday with 1,477 pitching strikeouts. The Twins lead the majors in strikeouts and will soon surpass 1,500 — a plateau only 30 clubs before them have reached. Pablo López has 228 strikeouts, third-most in the majors. Sonny Gray has 179. Jhoan Duran has 81 in just 60 innings.
For better or worse, the Twins have punched (out) their way to the playoffs and had a cakewalk to a division title. We’ll see how all the whiffs play in October. — SN
Last Power Ranking: 14
Red Hot Chili Peppers Trophy: People who are absolutely killing it, nailing their roles and given assignments while something awful is happening in front of them
Zac Gallen and Merrill Kelly have combined for almost 370 innings and 60 starts, doing their best to propel their team to the promised land. They are Flea and John Frusciante; two uncommon talents doing what they’re best at.
Every other member of the Diamondbacks rotation is sing-rapping, “Welllllll, I’m a dippin-dot hamper of limping hot garanimals/Flipping all the dominos and squinting at the hamster girls.” They have an ERA of 5.00 or 6.00 or 7.00 or whatever, it doesn’t matter. It’s bad, and you just wish they’d stop. It’s ruining what the talented people are doing.
Gallen and Kelly, though? They’re cool. (And Chad Smith is, like, Kevin Ginkel in this analogy. No problems with you, sir. Keep on keepin’ on.) — GB
Last Power Ranking: 12
Aaron Judge Award: Best walk year (Position-player division)
After returning in June from a knee injury, Cody Bellinger got going slowly. For his first week and a half back on the field, he was slapping some singles, not running much and relegated to first base. The season was almost half over, and, despite a red-hot April, Bellinger as of June 25 had a .769 OPS — about 30 points above league average. Not bad. But not what he’d wanted when he signed a one-year, $17.5 million deal with the Cubs (with a mutual 2024 option) hoping to hit free agency at just the right time.
Now, it’s all come together. Bellinger is flirting with a .900 OPS, and since late June, he’s been even better: .337/.375/.577 (.952 OPS). On the season, Bellinger has 26 homers, 20 steals, 95 RBIs, a strikeout rate down eight points from last season, and 6 Outs Above Average, according to Statcast. This isn’t MVP Belli, but he’s looking a lot more like his 2019 form than anything we’ve seen since. And that combination of promise and production will get him paid this winter. — SN
Last Power Ranking: 15
Batting title: The person with the highest batting average
As it turns out, even with the new rules, it’s hard to hit .400. Luiz Arraez gave it a shot. He made it to May 9 at .408 before falling below that hallowed threshold for the rest of the season. So it goes. During his next 113 games, Arraez hit .339 with an .833 OPS, catalyzing the Marlins into a surprising position of contention for the National League Wild Card. There were a lot of folks in the game who thought Miami might have gotten fleeced in trading away pitcher Pablo López for Arraez. But Arraez did the thing he does best — get hits — better than anyone else in 2023. — AM
Last Power Ranking: 13
Tommy Edman Trophy: Best out-of-nowhere rookie season
If I’d have said before the season that Elly De La Cruz, who was No. 4 on Keith Law’s preseason top-100 prospect rankings, would end the year with 16 homers, 14 steals and an .864 OPS in half an MLB season, Reds fans (and fantasy owners) would be thrilled. But those are, in fact, Matt McLain’s numbers this season. McLain, the 2021 first-rounder out of UCLA, struggled somewhat at Double A last year and ranked seventh on Law’s Reds prospect rankings entering 2023. And yet McLain has just raked against big-league pitching. Extrapolate his numbers across a full season and it’s close to 30 homers and 25 steals. McLain should return soon from an oblique injury. It may not be soon enough to save the season, but with a rookie class of McLain, De La Cruz, Spencer Steer, Andrew Abbott, Noelvi Marte and Christian Encarnacion-Strand, the Reds are in prime position for 2024. — SN
Last Power Ranking: 16
American League Cy Young Award: The best pitcher in the American League
Just about the only thing that went right in The Bronx this year was the performance of Gerrit Cole, who will likely run away with this hardware when the votes are tallied in November. After eight innings of one-run baseball against Toronto last week, Cole led American League starters in ERA (2.75) and innings (200) while ranking third in strikeouts (217). Cole has lived up to his $324 million contract during his first four seasons as a Yankee. He finished second in the Cy Young voting in 2021. He can collect his first trophy soon. — AM
Gerrit Cole reminds us again of what might have been in Yankees’ lost season
Last Power Ranking: 19
The Brendan Ryan Award: A player who is below the Mendoza Line while still racking up defensive value
In 2012, Brendan Ryan hit .194/.277/.278. It was a low-offense era back then, but still. Yet he was worth 3.4 WAR, according to Baseball-Reference. He was pretty close to being the most valuable position player on the team, even though he hit .194 with a .277 on-base percentage.
In the last 100 years, Ryan has the highest WAR of any player under the Mendoza Line with fewer than 20 homers. The second-highest WAR in that category over the last century was Trent Grisham. But that was last season. What about this season?
This season’s Grisham has the seventh-highest WAR of a Mendoza Liner over the last 100 years. He’s the only player to have two seasons in the top 10. He can pick it. But he can also whiff it. Overall, still valuable, and it’s not close.
Right below Grisham’s 2023 season? A 23-year-old Mike Schmidt in 1973. The future Hall of Famer hit below the Mendoza Line, but he had enough thump and glove to be a helpful player. I’m not saying that’s going to be Grisham’s ceiling, but he could grow a fierce mustache as a low-risk, high-reward move. — GB
Last Power Ranking: 17
The Joe Panik Award: Best (or worst) use of a .700 OPS
There have been 22 players in major-league history with 1,000 plate appearances or more and an OPS of exactly .700. One of them was Joe Panik, who made an All-Star team and enjoyed championship moments with the Giants. He was a solid, professional hitter. Occasionally excellent. Mostly fine.
So, too, are the Giants, whose season OPS is creeping down toward .700 on the nose. They attack each at-bat with a … well, it’s not exactly an élan, but it’s workmanlike. And often useless. But sometimes OK! And if the bulk of them did it while a few of the other hitters were showing off power or OBP or MVP stats, it would work.
Oops, All Paniks! is no way to build an entire lineup, though. So it goes for the 2023 Giants. — GB
Last Power Ranking: 18
Bert Blyleven Award: Best pitcher to never win a Cy Young
This season will not be the end for Chris Sale, who still has a year remaining on the $145 million extension he signed after the 2018 World Series. And Sale can still turn back the clock, as he did when striking out 10 Blue Jays in six innings of one-run baseball on Sept. 16. But his time as an elite starter appears to have ended. He logged 97 innings in 2023, twice as many as he accrued in the previous three seasons as he recovered from various ailments. He still possesses the competitive zeal that made him one of the best pitchers of the 2010s. His career is an admirable one, worth savoring as he gets closer to the sunset. — AM
Last Power Ranking: 20
Mariano Rivera Award: Best AL reliever [written before the weekend]
That’s right. I’m ripping the AL Reliever of the Year award right off Félix Bautista’s mantle and handing it, for the second consecutive year, to Emmanuel Clase. Clase will wind up pitching 15 to 20 percent more innings than Bautista, and Clase, even with an ERA more than twice what it was last season, has 42 saves, tied for most in the majors over the past five seasons. You may not care that much about saves, buddy, but I bet the retired relievers who vote on this award do.
[written after Clase’s blown save Friday]
Terry Ryan Trophy: Fewest home runs hit by a team
The Guardians have hit 118 homers this season. For reference, Matt Olson, Ronald Acuña Jr. and Austin Riley have 130 by themselves. Cleveland is currently 27 homers behind the Nationals, the widest margin between 29th and 30th place in this category since the 2000 Twins ended 28 homers behind the Phillies. The Guardians hit just 127 homers last season, but the Tigers had 110. — SN
Last Power Ranking: 22
Apollos Hester Award: To the team that had us in the first half
The Pirates were in first place in the NL Central on April 1, May 1, June 5 and again as late as June 15 — 41 percent of the way through the regular season. And then they went from one of the best stories of the seasons to a second-half afterthought.
There have been bright spots. They’ve won 16 of their past 25 games. Andrew McCutchen had a happy homecoming before being hurt. Bryan Reynolds is sticking around. Ke’Bryan Hayes has homered. David Bednar is a dude. Johan Oviedo looks like a steal. Mitch Keller has a chance to be the Pirates’ first 200-inning starter since Gerrit Cole. But the fall-off in the midsummer months was enough to sink a hot start and a strong finish. — SN
Last Power Ranking: 21
Barry Larkin Trophy: Best use of no-trade clause to veto midseason move
Listen, leaving a losing team in late July to join a World Series contender sounds great to me and probably to you. But Larkin didn’t want to go to the Mets in 2000, and, for whatever reason(s), Eduardo Rodriguez didn’t want to join the Dodgers this summer. Rodriguez, after going seven shutout innings Sunday against the Athletics, has a 3.40 ERA across 145 2/3 innings this season. (He had a 2.13 ERA before his midseason finger injury, though, so it hasn’t been entirely smooth sailing since then.) The Dodgers didn’t get a chance to add the veteran lefty to their thin rotation late this season, but they did knock him around last week and chase him in the third inning. So, there’s your consolation. Rodriguez, owed $49 million over the next three years, can opt out and try for a longer deal or a better AAV than that ($16.3 million) this offseason. — SN
Last Power Ranking: 23
Theo Epstein Award: The executive deemed a savior upon arrival
The Mets are expected to unveil David Stearns as their next head of baseball operations as early as this week. Owner Steve Cohen’s ardor for Stearns, the former head honcho in Milwaukee, has been an open secret for several years. Much like the Guggenheim group convinced Andrew Friedman to take over the Dodgers, Cohen has plucked Stearns out of a small market and dropped him into the big city to run a well-financed behemoth. The Mets were a colossal disappointment in 2023 despite boasting the largest payroll in baseball history. Stearns will be charged with improving the organization’s infrastructure, enhancing the player-development pipeline and fortifying the depth of the 40-man roster. It’s a lot for one offseason. But expectations will be high in Queens. — AM
What can David Stearns’ track record tell us about the Mets’ future?
Last Power Ranking: 24
The 2002 Giants Award: The greatest waste of inter-dimensional talent, the likes of which you’ll never see again
Well, well, well. Look who we have here. It’s the Angels. And they’ve painfully, unconscionably wasted talent that tumbled down from Mt. Olympus and/or fell from the stars. They wasted the kind of talent that just doesn’t come around every 1,000 years.
It reminds me of the 2002 Giants. Remember them, Angels fans? They had Barry Bonds, a god among men, albeit one who was finding better living through chemistry. They wasted that opportunity and then it floated away, never to return. Or, at least, it returned several years later in a much different form.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that the 2031 Angels will win the World Series. And the 2035 Angels will win their third World Series in five years after Brandon Wood hits a pennant-winning walk-off homer.
Mostly, though, I’m saying the Angels screwed up. It wasn’t pretty. And it was definitely a waste. It gives me no pleasure to take an award based on the misery of the 2002 Giants and shove it back at the organization that took everything from them.
(It gives me a little pleasure, not going to lie.) — GB
Angels’ Shohei Ohtani undergoes elbow surgery
Last Power Ranking: 26
Jimmy Rollins Award: Best 22-year-old shortstop who held his own in the majors
When Rollins was 22, he posted a 93 OPS+ while playing 158 games for the Phillies. CJ Abrams, a crucial part of last year’s Juan Soto trade, entered Saturday’s games with a 98 OPS+, having kept himself afloat despite struggles early in the season. It is hard to play shortstop in the big leagues. It doesn’t come easy. And while Abrams may not be a breakout star, he looks like a steady regular as Washington plots a revival. — AM
Last Power Ranking: 25
John Fisher Trophy: Biggest step backward by a lottery team, in honor of the 2021-22 A’s
The Cardinals didn’t tank intentionally. Far from it. They thought they’d have a good ballclub this year. But things went sideways in a hurry. Before you knew it, they were getting out of the gate with a 10-24 record and squabbling with their catcher about playing the outfield. There were myriad issues, and many of them persisted throughout the summer. The Cardinals sold at the trade deadline without going wild, so the front office will go back to work this offseason trying to remodel the roster in time to produce a contender for 2024. They need pitching, pitching and more pitching. If you’re gonna be bad, it pays to be bad and get better odds in MLB’s new lottery for the first six picks in the draft. The Cardinals currently have the league’s fifth-worst record. Uncharted territory for them. — SN
Last Power Ranking: 27
Jeffrey Loria Award: Biggest fire sale, in honor of Loria’s entire track record
It was clear by the end of April, when the White Sox were 14 games under .500, that the problems in Chicago hadn’t gone out the door with Tony La Russa (who never got all the way out the door, either). So, just like that, preparations began for a fire sale. First went Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo López, then Lance Lynn and Joe Kelly, then Kendall Graveman, Jake Burger and Keynan Middleton. All that’s left is Luis Robert Jr. and piles of rubble. Robert has 5 WAR, according to FanGraphs. Next is Elvis Andrus, at 1.3. No other hitter is above 1 WAR. The rotation still has Dylan Cease and Mike Clevinger — since no one wanted to take his contract when he went through waivers — but the major-league roster is mostly a wasteland now. — SN
Last Power Ranking: 28
National League Rookie of the Year: Best rookie season
OK, so we know that Corbin Carroll is actually the National League Rookie of the Year. Might be unanimous. Should be unanimous.
But that hoses Nolan Jones, who is a perfectly fine Rookie of the Year winner. There’s going to be a season, maybe even next season, where the award goes to a rookie who is Pretty Good, Considering, when a player with Jones’ stats would have taken the award easily. As is, he had to go against a first-round fancypants with a prospect pedigree and “five tools.” Doesn’t seem fair.
Maybe the BBWAA can give Jones the “Rockie of the Year Award” as a wink-wink kind of thing and give him a trophy. Then Jones can lick his thumb and give a little squeak-squeak-squeak on the inscription, and the smudge over the “c” turns into a perfect “o,” and he’ll get an authentic Rookie of the Year award, just like Carroll’s. Just as valid, too.
If that doesn’t happen, though, honor the contributions of Jones, who had a heckuva season for a franchise that needed a little positivity. — GB
Last Power Ranking: 29
Snuffy Stirnweiss Trophy: Best sophomore breakout, in honor of the speedy Snuffy’s ascent from mediocre in 1943 to MVP caliber in 1944
If Bobby Witt Jr. had replicated in the first three months of the season what he’s done since in the final three months, we’d have spilled a whole lot more ink about Witt and Ronald Acuña Jr.’s race to turn in the first 40-60 season in MLB history, and Witt, with a .313/.349/.580 slash line (.929 OPS), might have won AL MVP over Shohei Ohtani. Instead, Witt will have to settle for a still-remarkable 30-50 season, an .805 OPS and a top-five MVP finish. Phooey.
One of the fastest men in the game is also playing Gold Glove defense at shortstop and closing holes in his swing. And he just so happens to be playing for the hottest team in baseball. Watch out. — SN
Last Power Ranking: 30
Out of the Ashes, a Seed Award: Brent Rooker
Forest fires aren’t always bad. Sometimes they’re necessary. Sometimes they’re unnecessary, but there are still ancillary benefits for something, someone, somewhere, something.
As the A’s burst into flames that licked the ozone layer, Brent Rooker got an opportunity. There was ash all around him, ash on his face, ash piling up in the dugout. But it helped him become a bona fide major leaguer. If he were on a team that wasn’t being run into the ground by a talentless failson, maybe Rooker would have spent this season buried on the depth chart, putting up gaudy numbers in the Pacific Coast League. As is, he’s proven he belongs in some capacity.
The 2023 A’s were an embarrassment to baseball, the East Bay and humanity writ large. They kind of helped Brent Rooker establish himself, though, and that’s pretty cool. — GB
(Top photo of Adley Rutschman: Ron Schwane / Getty Images)