One of the more unsung heroes on the 2023 Toronto Blue Jays was utilityman Cavan Biggio, who played a career-high 111 games and quietly increased his value quite a bit thanks to a season that featured way more ups than downs. Heading into the 2024 season, he has most definitely earned a spot on the roster, something that we may not have been able to say a year ago.
Biggio and his job security have always had a rocky relationship. The son of Hall of Famer Craig Biggio posted two strong seasons in a row in 2019 and 2020 but saw his numbers dramatically fall off over the next two years, to the point where it was worth wondering if the Blue Jays would be better off moving on.
Locked in a heated battle for the starting second base job in 2023 Spring Training, Biggio competed with the likes of Whit Merrifield and Santiago Espinal, ultimately losing the job to the former and splitting time with the latter at other positions around the infield. Keeping Biggio, someone with positional versatility and a decent amount of pop in his bat, on the bench was the perfect scenario for the Jays, who already had their best option holding down the starting role.
A 16-game stretch in the first month of the season in which he hit just .111 with two home runs and 19 strikeouts once again had Biggio's future with the club on the rocks. He seemed to be barely clinging to a roster spot after hitting .202 in 2022, but the Blue Jays' continued patience with him began to pay off in May. In 18 games during the month, he still struggled with strikeouts (12), but he hit .278 with an .833 OPS and seemed to be heating up.
A hot month of June, followed by lukewarm July and August showings pushed Biggio back down on the depth chart; especially when Davis Schneider was promoted and took the world by storm. It became clear that each of Biggio, Espinal and Merrifield would need to step their game up if they were to see any time on the field alongside Schneider.
In the end, only Biggio stepped up and showed why he deserves the majority of the playing time, regardless of where he lines up. In 26 games during September/October, he went on an absolute tear; posting a .277 average with a .781 OPS, driving in 14 runs and most notably, walking 18 times with 19 strikeouts. Biggio turned his game up to a whole new level and had a real case for being the Blue Jays' most valuable hitter during that time.
As the season marched on, Biggio made a few mechanical adjustments to his swing and overall approach that helped him see better results. Instead of going for a "home run in every at-bat" approach, he shifted his focus to barreling the ball more, which results in more base hits and less of a "boom or bust" type of approach. Once he began to make these changes, things started looking up for him rather quickly.
On a year-to-year level, the 28-year-old improved his production in nearly every facet. He hit more home runs, he drove in more runs, he scored more runs, brought his strikeout-percentage down and saw his defensive versatility tested like it never had previously been before. Biggio has always called second base his home, but he made appearances at all three of the other infield positions (even shortstop!) and both outfield corners. Moving forward, he has made it clear to the Blue Jays that he is accepting of the utilityman role and wants to continue to get reps at shortstop and even center field. That kind of "put the team first" mentality is going to keep him around for a while.
While none of the positions Biggio plays are "easy", second base is consistently regarded as an easier one to handle than, say, shortstop or third base. However, his Outs Above Average at every position but second labeled him as a positive defender. He recorded one OAA in right field and third base while having -5 at second. This suggests that he's capable of handling more of a utility role rather than being tied down to a single position. With the season he just had, this will work out just fine for the Blue Jays.
Next season, Biggio is going to face a lot of the same competition he did heading into this season. However, the performance he put up this year is likely just enough to give him a leg up on the rest of the group. Merrifield is likely going to hit free agency and Espinal is a non-tender or trade candidate. Beyond them, Schneider is going to be back and will likely snag the starting second base gig, while Otto Lopez and Ernie Clement, two more DFA candidates, could compete for playing time as well if they stick around. Addison Barger and Orelvis Martinez, two promising prospects on the 40-man roster, will be looking to steal Biggio's role from him as well.
Assigning a letter grade to Biggio and his 2023 season is no easy task. He was able to turn things around offensively and took huge strides defensively, so there's something to be said about that. His late-season stretch went a long way to raise his grade from "C" territory to "B" territory.