Opening day is upon us, baseball is back, and the Toronto Blue Jays are again headed for a season without a World Series berth. Now, we at The Sportster happen to enjoy watching the Toronto Blue Jays play, especially when they come into contact with the Texas Rangers, but their outlook for the 2017 season is clouded with questions. Can Jose Bautista return to All-Star form, or is he too old? Are we seeing a full regression from Troy Tulowitzki? Who is going to step up in that rotation?
While the Blue Jays have been one of the game’s better teams in the past two seasons, the start to this decade saw Canada’s lone baseball team trying to mix and match with veterans who were either past their prime, not good fits, or a combination of the two. There’s also been what can only be described as horrendous decision making in the front office; does anyone remember the megatrade with the Miami Marlins? How about sending Noah Syndergaard and Travis d’Arnaud to the New York Mets for an aging R.A. Dickey and catcher Josh Thole?
From former All-Stars to prospects who became elite players with other teams, the Toronto Blue Jays have had plenty of players over the past few seasons who, when their names are mentioned in the same name as the team, will cause fans to say, “wait, they were on the Blue Jays?” Today, let’s look at some of those former Blue Jays players who, for one reason or another, likely aren’t remembered by even the most diehard fans…
15. Josh Johnson
Here’s a perfect example of what happens when a pitcher who already has battled injuries for so much of his career gets sent to a team attempting to buy a World Series win. Pitching 16 games for the Blue Jays in 2013, Johnson at least regained his strikeout pitch, striking out more than a hitter per inning (83 in 81.1 innings) for the first time since 200 (186 in 183.2 innings), but that was really the only positive.
Going 2-8 with a 6.20 ERA, Johnson gave up a career-high 15 home runs and posted a career worst -1.5 WAR. As recently as January, Johnson was prepping for a comeback with the San Francisco Giants after his third Tommy John surgery, but the two-time All-Star decided to cut his losses and call it quits.
14. Yunel Escobar
One of the many notable shortstops the Blue Jays have tried using in their decades-long revolving door Escobar slashed .272/.335/.373 in his two and a half seasons with 24 home runs, 115 RBI, 53 doubles, and four triples; Escobar also posted an 8.6 total WAR – including a career-high 4.7 in 2011 – and a 4.2 Defensive WAR. Escobar was also involved in a notable controversy in September 2012 after putting a homophobic Spanish slur in his eye black.
Interestingly, Escobar really didn’t have a reasoning, telling the media, “It’s not something I intended to be offensive. I didn’t mean to say anything with it. It was not for anyone and it was not meant to offend. … it’s just a word.” The kicker is that like a white teenager who defends using a racial slur by saying he has black friends, Escobar sad he has gay friends – his home decorator and his barber.
13. Kyle Drabek
The son of Doug, this Drabek was a first-round pick of the Phillies in the 2006 MLB Draft (taken above Ian Kennedy and Joba Chamberlain among pitchers in the first round) and the main trade chip in the deal that sent Roy Halladay to Philadelphia after the 2009 season. Making his big league debut in 2010, Drabek started 30 games over five seasons from the Blue Jays from 2010-14, pitching to an 8-15 record with a 5.27 ERA.
The control that made Drabek stand out as a future ace in the minor leagues was nowhere to be seen, as the former first-rounder walked 111 career hitters in 172.11 innings with the Blue Jays. Toronto lucked out with some important trades at the end of the 2000’s, including the Scott Rolen-Edwin Encarnacion swap in 2009, but this one was (predictably) a bust.
12. Kelly Johnson
When that day comes where Kelly Johnson is laid out and buried, his tombstone will read, “here lies Kelly Andrew Johnson: he played for every American League East team.” Johnson’s first tenure in the American League East came with the Toronto Blue Jays, whom he spent the second half of the 2011 season and all of 2012 with, slashing .233/.323/.375 with 19 home runs, 64 RBI, 17 stolen bases, and a 190-78 K-BB ratio in 713 plate appearances.
Interestingly, the versatility that makes Johnson so important now wasn’t always on display when the veteran was in Toronto, as Johnson primarily played second base and designated hitter for John Farrell’s squad. During the 2012 season, Johnson’s 1.8 WAR was eighth on the 73-89 Blue Jays, but wasn’t enough for the team to consider bringing him back.
11. Frank Francisco
It feels like Frank Francisco has been everywhere, but he only pitched for four teams – three of which came between 2011-14 after leaving the Texas Rangers. Francisco’s 2011 season with the Blue Jays was one of the best in his career, as the veteran pitched to a 3.55 ERA with a 53-18 K-BB ratio in 54 games for first-year manager John Farrell. Serving as Toronto’s closer after dealing with an early groin issue, Francisco saved 17 games and had a 1.37 ERA after the All-Star Break; in that time span, batters slashed .188/.220/.323 against the Dominican-born reliever.
Oh, and there were no incidents involving chairs being thrown at fans or negative slurs being thrown around, so Blue Jays management had to be thrilled with that. Hooray for progress!
10. Jose Molina
The greatest backup catcher in New York Yankees history (and the man who hit the final home run in the old Yankee Stadium, but don’t tell that to the spirit of Babe Ruth, Molina joined the Blue Jays after winning the 2009 World Series with the Bronx Bombers. Tasked with being the catcher-in-waiting until top prospect J.P. Arencibia was ready, Molina stuck around up north for two seasons, slashing .263/.323/.396 with nine home runs – including a six homer season in 2010 (!!!!!) and 38 RBI in 374 plate appearances from 2010-11.
Behind the plate, Molina was his normal exemplary self, throwing out a league-best 44 percent of baserunners in 2010 (that’s 15 men thrown out in 34 attempts, astounding for a catcher). Not too bad for the forgotten Molina brother, huh?
9. Ricky Romero
Here’s a throwback name and, for some reason, one of the most unhittable pitchers in the older MLB: The Show games. A first-round pick of the Blue Jays in 2005, Romero was in the majors by 2009, pitching to a 13-9 record with a 4.30 ERA for the upstart team up north – while also battling one of the weirder, funniest injuries in baseball history. By 2011, Romero was one of the top left-handed pitchers in the American League, making his first All-Star Game and finishing with a 15-11 record for the Jays.
In his first three seasons, Romero had an 11.6 WAR, but began to fall apart in 2012 when he finally lost control of his pitches and walked a league-high 105 batters. Romero made only two starts in 2013, going 0-2 with an 11.05 ERA in four games, and is now in the San Francisco Giants organization trying to work his way back up to the show.
8. Eric Thames
Lately, there’s a popular story going around baseball about a former Seattle Mariners player the Milwaukee Brewers took a chance on after an outstanding stint in Korea. That player, Eric Thames, actually got his start with the Blue Jays! As a rookie with the Blue Jays in 2011, a 24 year old Thames slashed .262/.313/.456 with 12 home runs, 37 RBI, 24 doubles, five triples, and was even hit by a pitch five times.
Along with catching prodigy J.P. Arencibia, Thames figured to play a key role in the Blue Jays’ future…but slashed .243/.288/.365 with three home runs and 11 RBI in 160 plate appearances for Toronto in 2012 before being dealt to Seattle for reliever Steve Delabar in July. If Thames is looking for a chance to show the Blue Jays what they missed out on, the Brewers come to town on April 11…
7. Jeff Francis
Once the young ace of the 2007 Colorado Rockies team that made the World Series, Jeff Francis finished his career as a journeyman, officially ending things north of the border two years ago. In 14 games with the Blue Jays during the 2015 season, Francis pitched to a 21-9 K-BB ratio in 22 innings and finished five games (not closed, but finished), but allowed 27 hits and 15 earned runs in 22 innings for the eventual-playoff bound team.
Originally from British Columbia, Francis announced his retirement after the 2015 campaign and celebrated his time with the Rockies, telling MLB.com’s Thomas Harding, “It was special to be able to be a champion — I know we didn’t win it all, but that was a team that came together, even though I don’t know what was expected of us. We did special things in dramatic fashion. We felt unstoppable. It was almost as if the drama was too much to think about. Looking back, I’m sure there was a lot of pressure, but I don’t think we felt it. We just rode a wave and took it as far as we could.”
6. Maicer Izturis
Once the longest-tenured Los Angeles Angels, Izturis ended his ‘really-only-memorable-if-you-saw-him-play’ career with the Blue Jays a few years ago. In 118 games with the Blue Jays from 2013-14 – 107 of those coming with the revamped Toronto team in 2013 – Izturis slashed .240/.291/.310 with five home runs, 33 RBI, 13 doubles, and a 42-29 K-BB ratio; Izturis was by no means spectacular, but played three-thirds of the infield in 2013, providing some much-needed depth when injuries popped up.
Longtime readers of mine will know I like putting random facts into these lists, so here’s one for Izturis: before retiring in March 2016, Izturis was one of the remaining two players that were active members of the Montreal Expos, who he debuted with in 2004. The other? One Bartolo Colon, of course!
5. LaTroy Hawkins
A teammate of Molina’s on the 2008 New York Yankees – and one of the more hated members in recent Yankees history, actually, for taking Paul O’Neil’s #21 – Hawkins spent the final months of his long career with the Blue Jays during the 2015 season. Coming over from the Colorado Rockies as part of the Troy Tulowitzki-Jose Reyes megadeal, Hawkins pitched 16.1 innings of 2.76 ERA ball, making his first postseason since 2011 in the process.
Come October, Hawkins allowed seven runs in 1.2 innings, so it wasn’t exactly a perfect, storybook ending for the one-time Twins starter. In those final few months, Hawkins ran a now-deleted blog for Sportsblog.com, analyzing critical series and talking with teammates. When the host site updated, Hawkins’ posts were temporarily lost, though his interview with teammate Josh Donaldson is sitll on YouTube.
4. Darren Oliver
Yet another journeyman pitcher on this list, Oliver pitched his final two seasons in 2012 and 2013, pitching to a career-best 2.06 ERA in that first season. Overall, Oliver was 6-8 with a 2.90 ERA in 112 games – 32 of those being games that he finished – in 105.2 innings of work; Oliver also had a 92-30 K-BB ratio with the Jays, his second-highest strikeout per nine innings ratio (7.8) when spending more than one season with a team.
For the Blue Jays, they were two forgettable years and Oliver didn’t exactly light the world on fire, but there was one interesting moment that stands above all else. At the end of his final season, Oliver – who was primarily a starting pitcher from 1996 to 2004, wanted to make one final start against the Tampa Bay Rays. Had the Blue Jays not won the first two games of the series, Oliver would have been granted that wish.
3. J.P. Arencibia
On every list of these, there’s always that one player whose name may ring a bell, but who fans actively try forgetting about. J.P Arencibia is that player for the Toronto Blue Jays. A first-round pick of the Blue Jays in 2007 after not signing with the Seattle Mariners in 2004, Arencibia arrived in the big leagues during the 2010 season as a can’t-miss prospect, the future behind the plate for Toronto. See, about that…
Arencibia slashed .212/.258/.412 with 64 home runs, 193 RBI, and a pitiful 400-74 K-BB ratio for the Blue Jays from 2010-13, becoming a common target for fans frustrated with the direction the organization was headed. Can you blame them? Still, the veteran catcher had nothing but kind words for Toronto when he announced his retirement earlier this year, writing, “Toronto and Canada will always hold the biggest part of my heart, I always felt right at home there.”
2. Randy Ruiz
If you asked ‘who???’ out loud, you’re not alone, so here’s the short version on Randy Ruiz: prior to making his big league debut in 2008 with the Minnesota Twins, the Bronx-born slugger was a career minor leaguer who had played for seven different franchises. Ruiz looked like the next coming of Carlos Delgado or Joe Carter in his 33 games with the Blue Jays in 2009, slashing .313/.385/.635 with seven doubles, ten home runs, and 17 RBI in 115 plate appearances.
Come the 2010 season, the 32 year old Ruiz was expected to play a big role in the Blue Jays’ offense, especially given that Jose Bautista had yet to break out as ‘Joey Bats.’ Instead, Ruiz slashed .150/.150/.275 in 40 at-bats before departing for Japan.
1. Omar Vizquel
If you remember Omar Vizquel playing for the Toronto Blue Jays, then you deserve serious congratulations because this was a forgettable stint north of the border. In his lone season with the Blue Jays, Vizquel slashed .235/.265/.281 with five doubles, a triple, no home runs, seven RBI, three stolen bases and a 17-7 K-BB ratio. Vizquel did have his moments during that final season, including becoming the third-oldest player to hit a triple and becoming the final player with service time in the 1980s to step onto a big-league field as an active player.
Unfortunately, Vizquel’s final season did not feature a cameo from former Indians teammate Jose Mesa, who once threatened to kill Vizquel over comments made in the shortstop’s 2002 autobiography Omar! My Life On and Off the Field. There aren’t many better book titles than that, folks.
What recent players do you remember having a stint with Toronto Blue Jays? Make sure to let us know in the comment section below.
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