The Toronto Blue Jays reached the ALCS in 2015 and 2016 for many reasons, but getting superstars Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion and Josh Donaldson at such low costs are a major reason why. But the team went 22 years without making the playoffs because of some disastrous front office decisions.
Some of these choices by the Blue Jays include trading away future stars, passing up on big trade offers that would have landed big names and refusing to spend the money on top-notch free agents. Though the Jays' success in making trades over the years have been well documented, many people forget that this team could have been a dynasty by now -- if they played all of their cards right over the past decade-and-a-half.
You kids out there might not have a clue about some of the big moves Toronto could have and should have made. Here is a look at 15 superstars they could have had, dating back to 2000.
15 Mike Napoli
The Blue Jays acquired Napoli in 2011, and it was a huge move and pat on the back for general manager Alex Anthopolous. That's because Napoli came north of the border in a trade that sent Vernon Well's hefty contract to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. The Jays appeared to have a long-term solution at catcher with the power-hitting Napoli.
Instead of holding onto him, the Jays immediately flipped him to the Texas Rangers for reliever Frank Francisco. Napoli hit .320 and clubbed 30 home runs in his first season with the Rangers and helped them win the AL Pennant for a second-straight year.
Francisco was a huge flop in Toronto and only spent one season there. The Jays would use the frustrating J.P. Arencibia behind the plate until Russell Martin came along in 2015. How much nicer Napoli would have been for the Jays back then.
14 Ervin Santana
Ervin Santana has been a reliable fourth or fifth starter in his career. He sports a 133-116 record with a career 4.09 ERA. The Minnesota Twins pitcher found his name in the rumor mill leading up to the trade deadline. Jon Morosi reported that the Jays and Twins were in discussions regarding a possible trade.
What made this ideal for the Jays was that the 33-year-old Santana was making $13.5 million in 2016, and logic pointed to the rebuilding Twins trying to clear salary. A deal was never reached, however. Santana would finish the season with Minnesota while the Jays missed out on adding another weapon to the American League's top rotation. The Jays could have at least used Santana in their shaky bullpen, but it just wasn't meant to be.
13 Josh Reddick
The Blue Jays offense was a major letdown in 2016 after leading the majors in runs scored a season prior. A key reason for that was because the vast majority of their lineup was right-handed power hitters who weren't reliable enough to hit for average while striking out far too many times.
Josh Reddick appeared to be the perfect solution to their batting woes. He's a left-handed hitter with nice speed and slick defence. More importantly? According to FanGraphs, his career strikeout percentage is 17.1, but it was an impressive 12.8 in 2016.
Jon Morosi from MLB Network reported early on in free agency that the Jays were interested in Reddick, but were waiting to figure out if Jose Bautista would accept the qualifying offer presented to him. Reddick quickly signed a four-year deal with the Houston Astros, and the Jays let an ideal piece get away.
12 Jay Bruce
The Blue Jays were looking to add another bat before the 2016 season began, and power-hitting left fielder Jay Bruce seemed like a potent addition to a team that led the majors in runs scored a season earlier. Toronto worked out a three-team trade that would have sent Bruce to the Great White North and Michael Saunders to the Angels. But Saunders' knee injury held up the trade from taking place.
At first, the Jays were probably thrilled the trade didn't take place. Saunders reached the All-Star Game, but he was awful in the second half of the season. His 28.1 strikeout percentage was the eighth-worst in the majors, according to FanGraphs. Meanwhile, Bruce batted .250 and clubbed 33 home runs and 99 RBI in a season split with the Mets and Reds.
11 Dexter Fowler
Like Reddick, Dexter Fowler would have been an excellent option for the Jays in bringing in a speedy left-handed hitter who was tough to strike out. Fowler helped the Chicago Cubs win their first World Series in 108 years -- batting .276 with an .840 OPS and 4.3 wins-above-replacement. Fowler was one of the top players available in this year's free agent market, and the Jays took notice.
Jon Heyman from FanRag Sports reported in November that the Jays offered Fowler a four-year contract worth $60 million. An outfield that consisted of superb defensive stars Kevin Pillar and Fowler would have given opposing lineups nightmares. Ultimately, Fowler joined the St. Louis Cardinals on a five-year deal worth $82.5 million. Once again, the Jays struck out (pun intended), on landing a big name.
10 Andrew Miller
Andrew Miller has always been one of the best relievers in baseball, but he was overlooked for so many years until the 2016 MLB Playoffs. As everyone remembers, he shut down the Boston Red Sox' MLB-best lineup during the ALDS then followed it up by making the Jays' potent batters look incredibly silly as well.
Miller was in the middle of a four-year contract signed with the New York Yankees in 2014, but they traded him to the Cleveland Indians near the trade deadline in order to begin a rebuilding process. Thing is, the Jays could have made Miller their's back in the 2014 offseason. Back then, Jeff Blair from Sportsnet reported that the Jays were heavily pursuing him, and Ben Nicholson mentioned that Toronto also met with Miller.
The Jays ultimately chose to spend big money on star catcher Russell Martin and passed on Miller. Though Martin's been worthy of an investment for the Jays, you can only wonder if having Miller would mean the Jays were your 2016 AL champs.
9 Johnny Cueto
The Blue Jays were never big on going after Johnny Cueto, but you can't help but wonder how scary they would be if they ponied up the big dollars for his services during the 2015 MLB offseason.Cueto was coming off of a disappointing sting with the Kansas City Royals that saw him go 4-7 with a 4.76 ERA, though the Royals did end up winning the World Series.
It was clear from the get-go that Toronto had no intention of keeping David Price after his remarkable run with them in 2015, so adding Cueto could have offset some of the damage to losing the former AL Cy Young winner. The Jays ultimately brought back Marco Estrada and signed J.A. Happ, while Cueto signed a six-year deal worth $130 million to join the San Francisco Giants.
Cueto went 18-5 with a 2.79 ERA, so you wonder if the Jays should have added that big name to their big rotation.
8 Tim Lincecum
Though Tim Lincecum regressed rather quickly and remains unsigned by an MLB team, he was one of baseball's top pitchers for a handful of years with the San Francisco Giants. He won three World Series championships with them and took home the NL Cy Young in 2008 and 2009. Lincecum also led the league in strikeouts three years in a row from 2008 to 2010.
Like we said, Lincecum's career went off the tracks quickly and he may never start another MLB game, but what if the Jays had Lincecum and Roy Halladay together for a few years? Back in 2010, Jeff Blair talked to former Jays' GM J.P. Ricciardi who admitted that he nearly landed The Freak in a deal that would have sent Alex Rios to the Giants.
San Francisco GM Brian Sabean said that the Giants needed a new power bat after Barry Bonds retired, and Rios fit the bill perfectly. The Jays tried real hard on Lincecum, but the Giants smartly refused and wound up signing outfielder Aaron Rowand to fill out their hole in the lineup.
7 Ryan Howard
Ryan Howard will go down as one of baseball's best sluggers of the 21st century. The two-time home run leader has clubbed 382 home runs up to this point thus far. The 2006 NL MVP and 2008 World Series Champion has four 40-home run seasons under his belt and is a sure bet for 20-plus home runs every season.
But imagine Howard with Vernon Wells and Jose Bautista some seasons ago. In fact, this trade almost took place back in 2005 before Howard was a big deal. The Phillies were willing to give him to Toronto but wanted standout pitcher Ted Lilly in return. Toronto balked at the offer and would live to regret it. Lilly's 2005 and 2006 seasons with the Jays weren't superstar-material and the team missed out on adding baseball's best power hitter during his prime.
6 David Wright
David Wright Wright has been the face of the New York Mets franchise for over a decade and counting. The seven-time All-Star and two-time Gold Glove winner could have been a Blue Jay, though. Imagine Wright with Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion and other big names. The Jays were extremely close to landing Wright in 2002, but former GM J.P. Ricciardi backed away from the deal.
The Mets wanted Jays' veteran Jose Cruz Jr. and offered Wright in return, though the latter didn't have such a high upside during his minor league days. Toronto would lose Cruz after the 2002 season, while Wright became one of baseball's most dominant stars. Mistakes like this make it easy to believe that the Jays went 22 years without reaching a World Series.
5 Joey Votto
Joey Votto has been one of the most consistent hitters in baseball for over a decade now. The four-time All-Star won the 2010 NL MVP and has a career .313 batting average with 221 home runs. His WAR is above 4.0 basically every year, suggesting that there are few ball players as valuable as he is.
The thing is, the Blue Jays could have had the Toronto native by now. The Reds have been among baseball's worst teams for five years now, and the team has reportedly been keen on unloading his contract. Toronto has inquired about trading for Votto, but they're unwilling to give up top prospects for him and they'd like the Reds to take some money back, too. It seems like Votto is available to the Jays any time, but they've refused to pull the trigger. We'll see if it ever happens.
4 Zack Greinke
Zack Greinke has been one of baseball's best pitchers for a decade and counting. The 2009 AL Cy Young winner has led the majors in ERA twice and has a trio of Gold Glove Awards. It's hard to imagine how the star pitcher is already on his fifth major league team. Greinke opted out of his contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2015 following a 19-3 season with an insane 1.66 ERA.
He would sign an albatross six-year contract worth $206.5 million with the Arizona Diamondbacks. His first year in the desert was a disaster, going 13-7 with a 4.37 ERA. Perhaps the Blue Jays are happy they didn't end up signing him in 2015 to replace David Price. Rick Westhead from TSN reported that the Jays were considering an offer to the star pitcher, but ultimately they never came close to a deal. For the time being, no move was the best move for the Jays front office.
3 Andrew McCutchen
The former National League MVP helped the Pittsburgh Pirates reach the playoffs every year from 2013 to 2015. Andrew McCutchen has a career .292 batting average and an .868 OPS. The Blue Jays have had McCutchen on his radar for some time, but so far no trade has materialized.
Jerry Crasnick from ESPN reported during the winter that Toronto "kicked around", on possibly trading for McCutchen. The problem is Toronto will have to sell off their farm system which isn't that great right now. Cutch is also 30 years of age and figures to start slowing down over the next few seasons.
The Jays could probably add McCutchen if they wanted to, but they may end up regretting it in the long run. That being said, having him join Jose Bautista, Josh Donaldson, Troy Tulowitzki and Russell Martin would give Toronto one formidable lineup.
2 Noah Syndergaard
'Thor' is coming off of an NL Cy Young-caliber season in which he went 14-9 with a 2.60 ERA, 1.15 WHIP and 218 strikeouts. Noah Syndergaard's fastball easily exceeds 97-plus miles per hour and he figures to be baseball's best pitcher for the next decade. Too bad the Blue Jays didn't care enough about Syndergaard, who was one of their top prospects up until 2012.
Back then, Jays' GM Alex Anthopolous dealt Syndergaard and prospect Travis d'Arnaud to the Mets for 2012 Cy Young winner and knuckleballer, R.A. Dickey. It made no sense at the time to trade for a 38-year-old that had one quality season. Dickey spent four incredibly inconsistent seasons with Toronto while a 24-year-old Syndergaard is tearing up the majors. Can you imagine a Jays rotation today that would consist of Syndergaard, Marcus Stroman, Aaron Sanchez, Marco Estrada and J.A. Happ? I got really upset typing this.
1 Kris Bryant
Kris Bryant is now a top-five player in baseball, coming off of a 2016 NL MVP and World Series-winning season with the Chicago Cubs. Oh, and he's only 25 years of age and has played in just two MLB seasons. So in case you didn't know, his best years are yet to come.
The Blue Jays drafted Bryant in the 18th-round of the 2010 MLB Draft, but he chose not to sign with the team and went to college instead. Bryant was then drafted second-overall by Chicago in the 2013 Draft. The Jays simply just had to sign Bryant and convince him to start his career in the minors early, but they let the future of baseball slip away.
If there's any consolation, the Jays do at least have third baseman Josh Donaldson. There's no way they'd have him if Kris Bryant was on the team.