What do you get when you combine some of the greatest baseball players of the 21st century with some of the worst? A decade and a half of mediocrity. And mediocrity has more or less been the modus operandi of the Jays since they won their second and last World Series in 1993, failing to make the playoffs for over twenty years. That is, until last season when then-General Manager Alex Anthopoulos decided to put an end to the status quo by bringing in heavyweight talent like Troy Tulowitzki and David Price. And while the Jays would ultimately wind up just short of reaching the World Series, falling to the Kansas City Royals in heartbreaking fashion in six games in the ALCS, this year they appear to have another shot at the title, with a comfortable lead in the AL Wild Card with just six games to go in the regular season.
In honor of their second consecutive postseason appearance, we thought we’d compile a list of the 8 best and 7 worst Blue Jays since 2000. (Two factors that we took into consideration when deciding the best were longevity and consistency, which is why you won’t see names like David Price, who only played for the team for part of a season, or Tony Batista, who only had one good year.)
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23 BEST: Edwin Encarnacion
After fizzling out in Cincinnati, Edwin Encarncion came over to Toronto as an add-on in the Scott Rolen trade, but he would wind up becoming one of the best players in franchise history, let alone the 21st century. After seeing limited time in his first few years with the club, he had a career season in 2012 when he hit 42 home runs and drove in 110. And he would follow it up with four more stellar seasons, including possibly his best ever in 2016, where he is hitting .269 with 42 home runs and a career best 126 RBI.
Since 2012, Double E has arguably been the most consistent power hitter in the American League, with 31 more home runs and 50 more RBI in that time span than David Ortiz. In fact, only Chris Davis has hit more home runs than Edwin over the past five seasons.
21 WORST: Pat Hentgen
After one of the most successful tenures as a pitcher in Blue Jays history—which included a World Series championship, three All-Star appearances. and a Cy Young Award—Hentgen wound return to Toronto in 2004 after spending four seasons in St. Louis and Baltimore.
Unfortunately, in his second stint with the team he looked like an entirely different pitcher altogether, unable to find the pinpoint command that had won him 107 games (fourth all time in franchise history at the time) in 9 seasons from 1991-99, going 2-9 with a sky-high 6.95 ERA in 18 games and walking more batters than he struck out. His performance was so bad that he decided to retire mid-season, saying of the decision, “I always said when I played here that I'd like to retire as a Blue Jay, and lo and behold I did it.” It’s just too bad that he couldn’t go out on top.
20 BEST: Russell Martin
More important than his 43 home runs and 151 RBI combined over two seasons is his ability to make a team better. Since coming over to the Jays in 2015, Canadian backstop Russell Martin has helped turn the Toronto pitching staff into one of the best in the AL East. In particular, because of his superior play calling abilities, he's helped Marco Estrada become an All-Star, J.A. Happ a Cy Young contender, and Aaron Sanchez one of the most promising young starters in all of baseball.
It's no coincidence that, prior to 2016, Martin made the playoffs 8 times in 10 seasons, and he brought that postseason magic with him to Toronto. Assuming they retain their lead in the wild card race, they will have made the playoffs two years in a row after missing it for 22 straight.
19 WORST: Esteban Loaiza
Esteban Loaiza carved out a pretty good career for himself in the big leagues, compiling a career record of 126-114 over 14 seasons. He even finished second in Cy Young voting (to Blue Jay Roy Halladay) in 2003 after he finished with career highs in wins (21), innings pitched (226.1), ERA (2.90), and strikeouts (207).
But it was a different story when he was in Toronto, where he’d spent three lackluster seasons and compiled a 25-28 record with an ERA just south of 5. Loaiza’s time in Toronto is made all the more disappointing by the fact that he had his best seasons immediately after being traded, making back-to-back All-Star teams and lowering his ERA by over 1.3 points.
18 BEST: Vernon Wells
Minus a couple down seasons, Vernon Wells was a lone bright spot in the dark ages of 21st century Blue Jays baseball, batting .280 with 223 home runs and 813 RBI in 12 seasons with Toronto. His best season came in 2003, when he led the league in plate appearances, hits, doubles, and total bases, while batting .317 with a career best 33 home runs and 117 RBI. On top of his offensive contributions, Wells was one of the best defensive centerfielders in the game, earning three consecutive Gold Glove Awards from 2004-06.
After leaving Toronto following his third and final All-Star season, he would never quite be the same, failing to bat above .233 for the remaining three years of his career and eventually being designated for assignment.
17 WORST: Drew Storen
This one hurts even more because it was so recent. Brought over in a trade with the Washington Nationals in exchange for Ben Revere and a player to be named later, Drew Storen was expected to compete with Roberto Osuna for the role of closer at the beginning of the year. Any question as to who the closer should be, however, was soon put to rest, as the only thing Storen was able to put an end to was his career in Toronto, posting an abysmal 6.21 ERA in his brief time with the Jays before being shipped off to Seattle in exchange for Joaquin Benoit.
Storen came into Toronto with an ERA just over 3 and 95 career saves, but he left, just a few short months later, with his tail between his legs and a 1.59 WHIP (according to FanGraphs, 1 is considered “excellent” while 1.60 is considered “awful,” so you can make up your own mind as to how good he was).
16 BEST: Shannon Stewart
Shannon Stewart might not have been as glamorous as some of the Jays power hitters in the early 2000s, but he contributed with more than just the long ball, batting over .300 every year from 1999 to 2003 and swiping his fair share of bases. And in 2001 he was the only Jay to finish in the top 25 of MVP voting after he hit .316 and stole 27 bases.
Even though he never made an All-Star team, Stewart was consistent throughout his ten years with the club, batting just under .300 with an on-base percentage of .365, regularly setting the table for the sluggers behind him, like Carlos Delgado, Tony Batista, and Shawn Green.
14 WORST: J.P. Arencibia
J.P. Arencibia once hit 23 home runs in a season as a catcher for the Jays, at the time a franchise record (since tied by Russell Martin), but he also batted .219 that year with 133 strikeouts compared to just 36 walks. An inability to do anything but hit the long ball would be a recurring theme during J.P.’s four seasons with the Jays, registering just 36 walks in 869 plate appearances from 2012-2013. His .227 on-base percentage in 2013 ranks as one of the lowest all time for a starter in a full season.
His offensive woes could have been forgiven were he a great defensive catcher, but he was adequate at best behind the plate and a liability at worst.
13 BEST: Josh Donaldson
Josh Donaldson’s only been with the team for two seasons, but in that brief time he’s already left his mark on the franchise by winning an MVP (the first since George Bell in 1987) and leading the Jays to the postseason.
In what might turn out to be the most lopsided trade in baseball history, the Blue Jays acquired Donaldson from Oakland in exchange for Brett Lawrie (who’s no longer even with the A’s), Kendall Graveman, Sean Nolin, and Franklin Barreto. As an Athletic, Donaldson was already a solid player, batting .301 in 2013 and swatting 29 home runs in 2014, but it wasn’t until he landed in Toronto that he truly came into his own, hitting 41 home runs with a league-leading 123 RBI in his first season with the team and following it up with 36 more long balls this year.
12 WORST: Kevin Beirne
Even the most ardent fans probably don’t remember Kevin Beirne. That’s because he played just five games with the Blue Birds, letting up ten earned runs in 7 innings of work.
What makes Beirne one of the worst Jays of the century isn’t his poor numbers (although how do you defend a 12.86 ERA and a 2.714 WHIP?) but the fact that he represents one of the worst trades in franchise history. In 2001, he, along with Mike Sirotka (who never played for the Jays) and Brian Simmons (who was only slightly better than Beirne), were brought over from the White Sox in exchange for David Wells, who was coming off one of his best seasons ever and would go on to have several more good seasons with the Yankees.
Poor decisions like the Wells trade are what kept the Blue Jays from reaching the postseason for over two decades.
11 BEST: Jose Bautista
After bouncing around from team to team and struggling to find a place in the big leagues at the beginning of his career, Jose Bautista finally found a home in Toronto and broke out in a big way. With the exception of an injury riddled 2016, Jose has been named to the All-Star team every season since 2010, finishing in the top ten of AL MVP voting four times in that span. His 54 home runs in 2010 is a franchise record, and he’s right on the heels of Carlos Delgado for a number of other club bests.
Joey Bats is largely responsible for the recent resurgence of the Blue Jays—not just in the standings, but in attendance, as well, as he’s helped take the team from 25th overall in league attendance in 2010 to 5th overall this season.
10 WORST: Kevin Cash
Even by catcher’s standards, Kevin Cash was an atrocious hitter. Seeing limited time in three seasons for the Jays, he compiled a batting average of just .173 to go along with an on base percentage of .222. His best season with the team came in 2004, when he saw action in 60 games and had a career high 181 at bats, batting .193 with 4 home runs. I repeat, that was his best season.
Cash’s troubles at the plate continued after he left Toronto, as he would go on to post a career .183 batting average with an OPS (on-base + slugging percentage) of .526, at the time the fifth worst for a non-pitcher with at least 650 plate appearances in the history of the MLB.
Cash hasn’t faired much better as a manager, either, with a career winning percentage of .456 in two years as the skipper of the Tampa Bay Rays.
9 BEST: Carlos Delgado
Carlos Delgado doesn’t get the respect that he deserves as a slugger, likely because he played most of his career in the steroid era and for a team that consistently failed to make the playoffs, but his numbers are right up there with the greatest of all time: 473 home runs (336 of which came with the Blue Jays), 1,512 RBI, 483 doubles, and an on-base percentage of .383.
In 2000, Delgado put together possibly the greatest single offensive season in franchise history, playing all 162 games and batting .344 with 41 home runs, 137 RBI, and a league-leading 57 doubles.
Delgado, who began his career as a catcher in the Jays minor league system, is still the franchise leader in several offensive categories, including home runs and RBI.
8 WORST: Josh Towers
For some unknown reason the Jays kept giving Josh Towers chances from 2003 to 2007, despite the fact that he was showing virtually no signs of improvement and putting up some of the worst pitching stats in all of baseball, including an 8.42 ERA in 62 innings in 2006. That same year he went 2-10 and gave up 17 home runs, which averages out to about one home run every 3.2 innings, which begs the questions: why did they keep going to him?
With a subpar fastball that barely touched low-90s and a looping curveball that rivaled El Duque’s Eephus pitch in terms of hang time, Towers wasn’t exactly a shutdown pitcher. In fact, in 558.1 innings of work for the Jays, he fanned just 316 batters.
7 BEST: Roy Halladay
No other Blue Jay was as good for as long a period of time in the 21st century as Roy “Doc” Halladay, who earned his nickname because of his ability to gun down batters like famed Wild West gunfighter Doc Holliday. And he did indeed gun down his fair share of batters as a Blue Jay, with 1,495 strike outs over twelve seasons.
After a rough start in the big leagues—including a historically bad 2000, wherein he compiled an ERA over 10 and was eventually sent down to the minors—Halladay became the paragon of consistency for the rest of his career, regularly finishing atop the leaderboard in several statistical categories. He won his first of two Cy Young Awards in 2003 (his other came with the Phillies) when he led the league in wins, complete games, and innings pitched.
Even when the Jays had losing seasons, Doc was always a sure win, finishing his time in Toronto with a combined .661 winning percentage, despite being on a team that never made the playoffs.
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