The Toronto Blue Jays have set out in pursuit of a third consecutive playoff appearance with a roster built around a potent lineup supported by a deep starting rotation. In other words, things are pretty good in Toronto. Jays fans may nitpick over losing Edwin Encarnacion to the same Cleveland Indians who handily dispatched them in last fall’s ALCS and failing to adequately replace him, but a fanbase that had grown so accustomed to mediocrity over the previous 20 years since the club’s 1992-93 heyday surely doesn’t have much to gripe about.
Indeed, a stretch of success that has included a Josh Donaldson MVP award, the iconic Jose Bautista bat flip, back-to-back ALCS appearances and the regular sight of a packed Rogers Centre has helped push two decades of living in the shadow of AL East division foes further into the memory banks. But to fully appreciate how far the Jays have come, where they’ve come from needs to be acknowledged. For the Blue Jays, the late-90’s through the 2000’s and into the 2010’s was a time of talent departures, free agent flameouts and a failure to properly build around homegrown stars like Roy Halladay and Carlos Delgado. Even worse, the Jays grew used to third-, fourth- and fifth-place finishes in the AL East while the Yankees, Red Sox, Orioles and Rays all enjoyed varying measures of success.
As you might expect from a franchise plagued by a 21-year playoff drought, there was no shortage of discontent among the many players who suited up for the club over that time. There were public trade demands, online expressions of frustration and even a few fights engineered by players who were rather eager to make their way out of Toronto. All may seem well and good with the likes of Donaldson and a “6ix”-loving Marcus Stroman showering their adopted city with love while winning, but it hasn’t always been that way. Here are 15 players who hated being Blue Jays:
15. Mark Buehrle
The relationship between Mark Buehrle and the Toronto Blue Jays was the rare one that actually ended better than it began. More often, a merger of player and team will begin with hope and optimism, only to end on a sour note amidst disagreement and, often, disappointment. For Buehrle, that disappointment came early when the lefty was traded north of the border less than a year after making what he believed to be a long-term commitment in Miami. To make matters worse, the pitbull-loving pitcher found himself firmly at odds with a province-wide pitbull ban in Ontario, meaning that Buehrle left the rest of his family back home in St. Louis to care for the pups. Fortunately, Buehrle remained a professional, veteran presence in the Jays’ rotation, even earning an All-Star nod in 2014 and helping the team back to the playoffs in 2015 – before being left off the postseason roster, that is.
14. David Segui
For a guy who enjoyed a lengthy, 15-year career in Major League Baseball, David Segui’s stop in Toronto was little more than a blip. He was acquired from Seattle at the 1999 trade deadline and even re-signed with the club that off-season. However, Segui was shipped to Texas before the season even started. During what was just a 31-game stint in Toronto, the veteran first baseman took exception to taking a positional back seat to slugger Carlos Delgado. Yes, Delgado was the star that the club was building around, but Segui was clearly the better defensive option, thereby turning the decision into an exercise in ego-feeding. Perhaps the most enduring thing about Segui’s brief tenure in Toronto would become his testimony against Roger Clemens, which alleged that he had spoken to strength coach Brian McNamee about Clemens’ steroid injections.
13. Steve Delabar
You wouldn’t expect a career reliever with just two saves to his name to get much love from All-Star voters, so it was a considerable surprise that Steve Delabar earned a spot on the AL team in the 2013 mid-season showcase on the strength of a fan vote for the last roster spot. Unfortunately, it seems that Delabar started viewing himself as an All-Star soon after participating in the game, even if Jays management didn’t necessarily agree. Less than two years after the All-Star campaign, Delabar did not take kindly to an Opening Day roster snub in favor of rookie pitchers Miguel Castro and Roberto Osuna. He vented his frustrations about the demotion to just about anyone who would listen, including manager John Gibbons, GM Alex Anthopoulos and the media. He would play out the season as a member of the organization but was released ahead of the 2016 campaign.
12. A.J. Burnett
Even during their down years, you can’t say that the Jays didn’t at least try to gain some traction in the AL East. One such bold attempt came at the 2005 Winter Meetings when GM JP Ricciardi spent over $100 million on AJ and BJ – A.J. Burnett and B.J. Ryan, that is. While Ryan was set to be the team’s stud closer, Burnett was joining Roy Halladay to form a potent 1-2 combination atop the starting rotation. Neither one panned out. Burnett suffered through injury woes and never quite shed his reputation garnered in Florida as something of a grouch. When he finally did get healthy in 2008 and produced 18 wins and a career-best 231 strikeouts, he promptly optioned out of the last two years on his contract to sign with the Yankees.
11. Dioner Navarro
As the starting catcher for the Blue Jays in 2014, Dioner Navarro was perfectly serviceable but didn’t exactly prove himself irreplaceable for the 83-win club. That winter, the Jays went out and added free agent Russell Martin, bumping Navarro into a backup role. The signing has certainly panned out, with Martin serving as a proven leader and steady presence behind the plate while counting as a key contributor to back-to-back playoff runs. For his part, Navarro made his mark as a key reserve until that wasn’t enough for a player who felt he didn’t belong on the bench. Amidst the team’s success, numerous reports claimed that Navarro asked for a trade. He didn’t get one, but he did sign with the White Sox that off-season – before being traded back to Toronto later in the year. Once again an ex-Jay, Navarro can’t even find major league employment, let alone a starting job, at this point.
10. Colby Rasmus
The Blue Jays thought they were getting a high-potential prospect at a bargain bin price when they acquired Colby Rasmus from the St. Louis Cardinals for some spare part relievers at the 2011 trade deadline. But perhaps there should have been more attention paid to the factors that put him at odds with a classy Cardinals organization in the first place. While father Tony wasn’t an over-bearing presence as he was in St. Louis, Colby seemed lethargic and disinterested while largely keeping to himself during his three and a half inconsistent, unproductive years in Toronto. Though only 27 at the end of his tenure, he went out with a whimper, starting just once over the last 26 games of the 2014 season and signing in Houston without much interest from the Jays. Rasmus has since said he is “more comfortable” with the Astros than he was in Toronto and former Jay Adam Lind admitted that Rasmus’ exit would bring “more smiles” to the Jays’ clubhouse.
9. Al Leiter
Just to be clear, Al Leiter (Pictured Right) does not seem like a bad guy. The highly regarded broadcaster, renown philanthropist and winner of the 2000 Roberto Clemente award was seen as nothing less than a class act over the duration of his 19-year career. Even during an early career seven-year tenure in Toronto, he never offered any indications he was unhappy or asked for a trade. Still, it wasn’t lost on Jays fans at the time that the organization sacrificed a lot for the pitcher, giving up beloved outfielder Jesse Barfield to acquire him and then remaining patient during his drawn out, injury-filled development. Finally, Leiter enjoyed something of a breakthrough in 1995 by winning 11 games and crafting a 3.64 ERA over 28 starts. And as a token of appreciation to the Blue Jays, the left-hander promptly jumped ship, signing with the Florida Marlins as a free agent, where he immediately turned in an All-Star campaign and even tossed a no-hitter.
8. Brett Cecil
If the eight-year relationship between Brett Cecil and the Toronto Blue Jays had been represented through Facebook, it would probably have merited “It’s Complicated” status. The roller coaster ride from 2009 through to 2016 saw Cecil go from blue chip starting pitcher prospect to minor leaguer to reliever to minor leaguer to All-Star reliever to miscast closer to beleaguered liability. Upon signing with the St. Louis Cardinals this past off-season, Cecil even admitted that a change of scenery might be necessary, although he did acknowledge that he would miss his only major league home. The lefty’s frustrations became evident last season, as he struggled to a 1-7 record and his highest ERA in four years. Upon getting booed at home, Cecil conceded that it bothered him to be singled out, saying, “Jesus, for almost 10 years of my life I’ve put everything I’ve had into this organization. It’s the only organization I’ve been with.”
7. Frank Thomas
To this day, it still looks strange to see the Big Hurt in a Blue Jays uniform. While most would associated the slugger with his decorated career on Chicago’s south side, Frank Thomas did enjoy something of a late career renaissance with the Oakland A’s. Coming off of a 39-homer campaign in Oakland, the Jays signed him to a two-year, $18 million contract ahead of the 2007 season. And to be fair, Thomas was productive in Toronto, smacking 26 homers and driving in 95 runs in his only full season north of the border. In his age-40 season, however, the wheels started to come off a bit. He hit only .167 through his first 16 games, prompting manager John Gibbons to bench Thomas, a decision the Hall of Famer didn’t take kindly to. He griped openly about it and even claimed that his career “would not end like this”, thereby expediting his exit.
6. Alex Rios
Few players ever came through the Blue Jays’ system amid the fanfare and hype of Alex Rios. The outfielder tore up the minors and was seen as a potential five-tool threat at the major league level. Rios showed flashes of that potential through five and a half seasons in Toronto, including back-to-back All-Star campaigns in 2006 and 2007. But with the talent came some ego-driven diva behavior, including a lack of consistent hustle and reported feelings by management that he wasn’t accepting of coaching instruction. Things came to a head for the Puerto Rico native when he was caught cursing out a fan in a YouTube video after declining to sign a child’s autograph while out in public. The incident happened in June of 2009 and by August, Rios had been waived in a move that caught many by surprise, given that he was just 28 and still had five years left on his contract. He hasn’t exactly made the club pay for the decision since.
5. David Wells
It always seemed as though Toronto loved David Wells more than David Wells loved Toronto. Those unrequited feelings carried over two separate stints with the team. The first ended after the World Series-winning 1992 season, when Wells was surprisingly released despite pitching four innings in the Series clincher, ostensibly because manager Cito Gaston didn’t like him. The second came about when Wells returned to Toronto in the Roger Clemens trade, expressing openly his displeasure with leaving the Yankees. Although the affable, portly pitcher known as “Boomer” would enjoy two stellar seasons in Toronto, including a 20-win All-Star campaign in 2000, he never stopped lusting for the Bronx (he would return via free agency in 2002). To make matters worse for the Jays, he was shipped to the White Sox after the 2000 season in the infamous Mike Sirotka trade.
4. Ted Lilly
The success of the recent Jays teams that manager John Gibbons has led to the postseason during his second tour of duty with the club has made it easier to forget that Gibby isn’t always the easiest guy to get along with. Ted Lilly knows that to be true all too well. Acquired via trade in 2004, Lilly was the team’s lone All-Star representative in that year’s mid-season exhibition and was generally a solid mid-rotation starter for the club over three years. Things took an ugly turn, however, in August of 2006, when Gibbons opted to give Lilly an early hook when the hurler was coughing up an 8-0 lead against Oakland. The lefty refused to give up the ball before finally walking off the mound, with some reports even alleging punches were thrown between pitcher and manager after the game. It was of little surprise, then, when Lilly bolted for Chicago to take the same free agent contract the Jays had offered, admitting that he was ready for a change of scenery.
3. Roger Clemens
Let’s face it – even in light of an unpleasant divorce and the dark, looming cloud of his steroid saga, there have been precious few additions in Jays history that inspired the sort of instantaneous excitement brought on by Rogers Clemens’ arrival. And he was absolutely lights out after leaving Boston to head north. In hindsight, we probably should have been suspicious when he rebounded from four All-Star-less campaigns to win 41 combined games over his age 34 and 35 seasons while sporting miniscule ERA’s and winning two Cy Young awards. Steroids aside, Clemens quickly grew frustrated that the rest of the club couldn’t keep pace with his own individual success. Despite the consecutive Cy Young’s, the Jays failed to finish any better than third in the division, moving the Rocket to request a trade after two years in Toronto. He was particularly displeased with ownership’s passive approach to building around him. I hate to say this about a guy as miserable as Clemens, but you can’t blame him for wanting out.
2. J.P. Arencibia
As far as debuts go, it doesn’t get a whole lot better than J.P. Arencibia’s arrival in the majors back in 2010. As part of a 17-run onslaught, the rookie catcher contributed four hits, including two home runs. Unfortunately, Arencibia’s career would more closely reflect the rest of his 2010 campaign, as he collected just one more hit in 30 more at-bats. A power stroke that saw him hit 62 home runs over the next three seasons was constantly undercut by high strikeout totals and low on-base percentages. Frustrations were simmering in 2013, when he shut down his Twitter amidst major fan backlash and engaged in a public feud with team broadcasters Gregg Zaun and Dirk Hayhurst, whom he felt had painted him as a villain.
1. Shea Hillenbrand
It’s hard to believe that Shea Hillenbrand only spent a year and a half in Toronto, given how notable his short tenure was. The trade to acquire him from the Arizona Diamondbacks for someone named Adam Peterson immediately proved to be a boon for the Jays as Hillenbrand rode a .291 average, 18 homers and a whopping 22 hit by pitches to his second All-Star selection. Things didn’t go so well one year later. The versatile infielder grew angered by the club’s failure to congratulate him on the adoption of a baby girl and his lack of playing time following the adoption. On top of that, he was disgruntled by having to share first base duties with Lyle Overbay and the third base role with Troy Glaus. One night, he refused to sit in the dugout with the team and even wrote inflammatory comments (believed to be “This ship is sinking” and “Play for yourself”) on the clubhouse whiteboard. These acts of insubordination led to a confrontation between Hillenbrand and Gibbons. To no one’s surprise, Hillenbrand never played another game for the Jays.
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