The best players in '23 without any awards

December 21st, 2023

It’s time to hand out some invisible trophies.

MLB’s awards season came to a splashy, star-studded conclusion with Saturday’s “All-MLB Team Show” in Las Vegas ... or did it? Because it says here that, even with the hefty amount of hardware given out by the league, the Baseball Writers’ Association of America and other entities, some really good seasons fell by the awards wayside.

That’s why we have the annual All-Awardless Team, to give those who haven’t received an actual honor the big thrill of … um, seeing their name on the Internet.

To be eligible for the All-Awardless Team, a candidate cannot have won the MVP, Cy Young, Rookie of the Year, Hank Aaron Award, Roberto Clemente Award, Silver Slugger, Gold Glove, Reliever of the Year, Comeback Player of the Year, Outstanding DH, Players Choice Award, Heart & Hustle Award or been named to the All-MLB First or Second Team.

Let’s award the awardless!

Catcher: , Cardinals

There were other catchers with compelling cases for this coveted honor, but Contreras won over the voting body (consisting of ... me) with something very important: Sympathy points! Contreras came to the Cards with the difficult task of replacing Yadier Molina, and within a month, the club made the odd decision to pivot away from him at the position amid a disappointing start. That change in plans turned out to be temporary, however, as Contreras soon was back behind the plate. He still wound up starting 89 games there and had an offensive season very much in line with expectations, including a .264/.358/.467 slash line. He was seventh in catcher WAR (3.4, per Baseball Reference) and fourth in catcher OPS+ (124) among those with at least 400 plate appearances.

First base: , Guardians

This one came down to Naylor (.308/.354/.489, 17 homers, 31 doubles, 97 RBIs) and Red Sox rookie Triston Casas (.263/.367/.490, 24 homers, 21 doubles, 65 RBIs). Take your pick; they were equally impactful on their clubs. But because Naylor was one of only a dozen guys in MLB to hit .300 with at least 400 plate appearances and because Casas at least had the deserved attention that comes with being an AL Rookie of the Year finalist (he finished third), we’ll give the Awardless award to Naylor. Celebratory headbutts all around!

Second base: , D-backs

As hardcore All-Awardless Team observers are aware, we’ve had these conflicts come up from time to time where we honor a player who won a postseason award (in this case, NLCS MVP). But because these picks are rooted in the regular season, we are well within our right to ignore October hardware. So congrats to Ketel for his .276/.358/.485 line, 25 homers, 26 doubles and nine triples for an Arizona team that surged up the standings. It was his first season playing at least 100 games at second base since 2018, and he turned in his best, healthiest season since he finished fourth in the NL MVP voting in 2019. And though his hits in 16 of 17 postseason games didn’t seal this “award” for him, they are worth noting!

Shortstop: , Royals

It was an agonizing choice between Witt and the Mariners’ J.P. Crawford, who fully absolved the Mariners of their decision to abstain from the high-end shortstop market in free agency by having the best offensive season of his career. But I left Witt off my All-Debut Team in 2022 and still haven’t heard the end of it from Royals people. So consider this my mea culpa to Kansas City. Were there a Super Sophomore Award, Witt would be worthy. He drastically improved all of his rate stats while banging out 30 homers, 28 doubles and a Major League-leading 11 triples to go with 49 stolen bases. He was also one of the best defensive shortstops in baseball.

Third base: , Rays

There was no parade for Paredes this year, but he was a huge reason why the Rays got off to a historic start and finished with 99 wins. His 131 OPS+ tied Guardians All-MLB Team member José Ramírez for best among qualified third basemen in MLB. He led the Rays with 31 homers and 98 RBIs, and he had above-average walk and K rates. Some flukiness was baked in here, because Paredes’ hard-hit rate (28.5%) was actually among the lowest in the league. But results are results, and Paredes was a surprisingly regular provider of them in 2023.

Designated hitter: , Braves

It’s kind of wild that Ozuna slashed .274/.346/.558 with 40 homers, 29 doubles and 100 RBIs and was nowhere near the best -- or even the second-best -- hitter on his team. But such was life for the 1927 Yankees ... err, 2023 Braves. Ozuna struggled mightily in the opening month (.397 OPS through the end of April) but crushed the ball the rest of the way (.969) to re-establish himself as a major power threat.

Outfield: , Mets; , Rockies; , Astros

Honestly, we’re not sure whether to congratulate or console Nimmo for receiving an All-Awardless nod in consecutive years, but here we are. His mammoth eight-year, $162 million deal with the Mets looked iffy, given his injury history, but he posted up for the second straight season and had almost identical output to 2022 with a .274/.363/.466 line and 60 extra-base hits.

Jones proved a wily offseason pickup who had a rousing rookie season for the Rox. In 424 plate appearances, his 138 OPS+ was comparable to that of Kyle Tucker (142) and NL Rookie of the Year Corbin Carroll (134). Jones slashed .297/.389/.517 with 29 homers and 37 doubles. His road OPS was actually higher than his home OPS, and his elite arm was a big asset in the outfield.

You could go any number of ways with the last outfield spot depending on what you prioritize, but McCormick felt like a perfect fit for this club, given that he didn’t get a concrete starting role in 2023 despite a big offensive leap that resulted in a .273/.353/.489 line, 22 homers and 70 RBIs in 457 plate appearances. McCormick was a big reason why the Astros endured a litany of injuries and still came out on top in the AL West.

Starting pitcher: , Cubs

It’s tempting to give this nod to the Giants’ Logan Webb, who entered the year as my starter on the All-Underrated Team and once again was not an All-MLB pick. But at least Webb finished second in the NL Cy Young voting. Steele finished fifth in that crowded category, but his 146 ERA+ tied for fourth in MLB among those with at least 150 innings. Steele went 16-5 with a 2.06 ERA and an elite 5% walk rate in 173 1/3 innings. Though it didn’t win him any awards, he’s worthy of a salute here for truly asserting himself as an ace in a season in which he helped guide the Cubs into late-season contention.

Relief pitcher: , Red Sox

The Astros’ Hector Neris and Bryan Abreu, the Pirates’ David Bednar, the Dodgers’ Evan Phillips, the Marlins’ Tanner Scott and the Orioles’ Yennier Cano were just some of the effective arms that didn’t land Reliever of the Year or an All-MLB spot. But considering Martin is 37 years old, has never been an All-Star (despite steadily strong relief work over the last half-decade or so) and has endured more Coldplay jokes than anybody should have to, it just feels right to give him the last of our invisible awards this year. Among those with at least 50 innings pitched, Martin’s 1.05 ERA was the lowest in MLB, and his 434 ERA+ was 10th best all-time in the AL or NL. Way to “Viva La Vida,” Chris (sorry).