The 2019 season was a big stepping stone for the Blue Jays and their rebuild towards a young core, as a majority of the top prospects were slated to make their MLB debuts.
Vladimir Guerrero Jr. led the way in late April, followed by Cavan Biggio and Bo Bichette later in the season. Lourdes Gurriel Jr., Danny Jansen, and Rowdy Tellez beat them to the punch in 2018 but a majority of fans were waiting for the trio of young players who were following in the footsteps of their MLB fathers.
Guerrero Jr. was the consensus top-ranked prospect in baseball at the time and Bichette was not far behind him. Biggio on the other hand was ranked at #10 on the Jays’ prospect board per MLB Pipeline, with the fifth-round pick back in 2016 being known for his athleticism, versatility, and for his eye at the plate, which is why he racked up 71 walks (16.5%) during his rookie season.
Fast forward to 2023 and while Guerrero Jr. and Bichette have carved up roles on the roster at first base and shortstop respectively, Biggio has found himself in a different position. Limited to 79 games in 2021 due to various back/spine injuries, Biggio came into 2022 fighting for reps at second base with Santiago Espinal. The previous season saw the club give Biggio the keys to the hot corner once Guerrero Jr. moved across the diamond and the results were not pretty, as he struggled to find a rhythm to the tune of a 0 DRS, a .935 fielding percentage, and nine errors through 52 games.
While he platooned with Espinal at second base to begin last season, Biggio struggled at the plate, failing to register a hit through his first nine games. By the end of April, Biggio found himself on the COVID-19 IL and was eventually optioned to Buffalo for a few weeks, with the hopes of a reset to help him find his swing. Once he returned to the active roster in late May, Biggio found himself continuing to play second base but also getting reps across the field, with a majority of his starts coming at first base (when Guerrero Jr. was given rest/DH Days) and a few starts in the corner outfield spots. He finished the year with a .202/.318/.350 slash line with six home runs, 38 walks, and a .668 OPS to the tune of a 0.9 bWAR.
The Blue Jays and Biggio’s role in 2023
Looking at the Blue Jays’ projected roster in 2023, the acquisition of Whit Merrifield at the trade deadline is shaping up to see a platoon between the former Royals utility player and Espinal for second base rather than Biggio. It appears that Biggio is more likely to take on an increased utility role compared to playing a singular position, which makes sense given his athleticism.
Having a player like Biggio on the roster is a benefit for the Jays in lots of different ways.
First off, his lefty bat helps bring some additional versatility to the right-handed heavy lineup even after the Kevin Kiermaier and Daulton Varsho acquisitions. If he can continue to find ways to get on base as he did in 2019 and 2020, having him at the bottom of the lineup to turn over when George Springer, Guerrero Jr., and Bichette come to the plate is one way to generate additional runs, especially after the RISP issues that haunted the Jays throughout the 2022 season. The shift being taken away should also benefit Biggio, as the lefty batter pulled 46.0% of his at-bats and was shifted 82.8% of the time last season, with Tate Kispech here at Blue Jays Nation
covering this in depth.
Secondly, injuries are likely to happen each year and having someone like Biggio, who can cover multiple positions if needed, creates fewer roster logjams or scrambling to help find replacement-type players. While the Jays do have some infield depth if needed (Barger, Lopez, etc), manager John Schneider will likely rely on Biggio to be the backup first baseman when Guerrero Jr. needs an off-day and as additional defensive help in the outfield as needed along with Merrifield.
Lastly, Biggio is entering his second year of arbitration this offseason but as a Super Two player, he is still under team control until after the 2025 season. Whether the Jays continue to have him play as a utility player or potentially leverage him in a trade in the future, Biggio doesn’t heavily impact the overall payroll but is able to contribute on the field in multiple ways. This bodes well considering the Jays will likely only have Merrifield for another season (he has an $18 million option for 2024 which is unlikely to be picked up).
Biggio and the Utility Role
Overall, Biggio is a versatile player that will likely find himself more on the bench this year given the current roster, filling in when needed for players needing rest days or covering for injured players. This can all change if he has a strong spring and can keep it going into the regular season, potentially outplaying Espinal or Merrifield for playing time, but there are a couple of different factors at play for that to happen. For now, having Biggio in a utility role and filling in at first base seems like his role in 2023.