Dave Winfield spent only one
season in Toronto but he had a profound impact on the lineup, in the clubhouse and in the media,
as he encouraged traditionally-sedate Jays’ fans to be more vocal in support of
the team. In 1992, after coming over from the California Angels for ‘measly’ $2.3 million
as a free agent, Winfield hit .290 .377 .491. He added 26 homers and 108 RBI at
the age of 40, while walking 82 times and striking out only 89 times. Winfield
won his first World Series – in his 19th MLB season – and appeared in the post
season for the first time since 1981 with the New York Yankees (They lost to
the Dodgers). In 1992, he played 130 games at designated hitter and 26 games in
the outfield, where he did not commit in error while making 52 putouts.
Winfield batted clean-up the majority of the time, sandwiched between Joe
Carter and John Olerud. He was only the ninth highest paid player on the Jays
that year, but Winfield’s impact in the clubhouse was a huge difference maker
in turning a group of talent, young ballplayers into World Champions.
Frank Thomas is somewhat similar
to Winfield because he is a prodigious slugger, who is nearing the end of an
illustrious career. Thomas’ track record of being a good clubhouse guy has been
marred by some tough years in Chicago, but by most accounts he had a very positive impact in the Oakland clubhouse in 2006. After battling
injuries for a number of years, Thomas, 39, put up impressive numbers last
season and hit .270 .381 .545 with 39 homers and 114 RBI. The Jays took a huge
gamble by giving him a two-year, $18 million contract. He doesn’t run well at
all, but Thomas walked 81 times last season, while also striking out 81 times.
He has walked more than 100 times on 10 occasions in his 17 year big league
career, including eight straight years from 1991-1998. Thomas will serve as
insurance in the lineup for Vernon Wells, which should have a positive impact
on the Jays’ highest paid player. In turn, Troy Glaus will offer Thomas
Edge: Dave Winfield (1992 – for his durability and clubhouse presence)
Devon White, Joe Carter and Candy Maldonado patrolled theoutfield on most days for the Blue Jays in 1992. White was one of the best
reclaimation projects the Jays have ever had. Originally drafted in the sixth
round by the California Angels in 1981, the Jamaican native spent parts of six
seasons with them before he struggled with a .217 AVG/.633 OPS in 1990 at the
age of 27. The Jays were quick to acquire the speedy defensive whiz in the
hopes they could help him turn things around. He was traded
by the Angels with Marcus Moore and Willie Fraser to Blue Jays for Ken Rivers,
Luis Sojo and Junior Felix. White was a
standout and fan-favourite for five seasons in Toronto. Offensively, he struggled in 1992
but played an outstanding center field and stole 37 bases in 41 tries, while
hitting .248/.693. White won a Gold Glove in 1992.
Candy Maldonado was another smart acquisition by Toronto
General Manager Pay Gillick. Maldonado, 31 in 1992, was acquired midway through
the 1991 season from the Milwaukee Brewers where he was struggled offensively
while experiencing limited playing time. The Jays parted with two minor league
players (William Suero and Bob Wishnevski). Suero had 30
career MLB at-bats, while Wishnevski never made it out of the minors. However,
he holds the Arizona Fall League record for saves (12) and spent time in Japan.
Maldonado, on the other hand, revived his career and had a solid season in 1992
when he batted .272/.819. Defensively, he played 132 games in the outfield,
mostly in left field, and had a .978 field percentage. Maldonado’s 20 homers
helped to create protection for John Olerud in the lineup.
After 1993, Joe Carter’s importance
to the Blue Jays’ post-season exploits could never be questioned. But his
walk-off World Series winning home run off Phillies’ Wild Thing Mitch Willams
(you know, that homer that still gives you goose bumps) was not his only
contribution. Carter also hit .273 with two home runs in the 1992 World Series
Originally drafted by the Chicago Cubs second overall in 1981, Joseph Chris
Carter made a name for himself as a Cleveland Indians’ slugger. But the
blockbuster trade from San Diego to Toronto (along with Roberto Alomar for fan favourites Tony Fernandez and Fred McGriff) began a journey that saw him become a household
name in Canada.
In 1992, Carter, 32, solidified the No. 3 hole in the lineup with 34 homers, drove
in 119 runs and he batted .264/.807. He also possessed some speed (he was a
former four-time 20/20 and one-time 30/30 player) and he swiped 12 bags in
1992. Carter spent the majority of his time in right field in 1992, made eight
errors and had a .971 fielding percentage.
Other players who spent time in
the outfield in 1992 included Derek Bell, Dave Winfield, Canadian Rob Ducey,
Turner Ward and Pat Tabler. Bell,
an up-and-coming rookie, received the most playing time and appeared in 56
games (24 in left, 18 in centre and 15 in right). Interestingly enough, none of
the five part-timers made an error that season.
Reed Johnson was a little known
prospect in with only 70 games above A-ball when he was thrust onto the Jays’
roster and never looked back. Johnson, 30, was drafted the same year as Rios.
However, the Cal State Fullarton sparkplug was taken in the 17th
round and was viewed as a long shot. Through hard work and determination
though, Johnson transformed his career into a starting left fielder on a Major
League team trying to make the playoffs. He lacks the power for a corner
outfielder, but Wells makes up for that in centre, which allows Johnson to
focus on doing what he does best: igniting the offence. Johnson may not
duplicate his line of .319 .390 .479, but you can expect him to continue
to be a thorn in the sides of opposing pitchers. He can also play all three
The Jays lack some depth in the
outfield. Veteran Matt Stairs, 39, figures to be the Jays “fourth outfielder”
although he only played 18 games in the outfield the last two years. Top
prospect Adam Lind, 23, should also see some time in the majors this year,
although he must be at the top of his game to play even an average left field.
The Jays signed a couple of minor league veterans (Mike Vento and Jeff Duncan)
who could find their way to the 40-man roster, should the Jays have long-term
injury problems in the outfield.
He was not quite as well known as Cleveland’s Albert ‘Don’tcall me Joey’ Belle, but Toronto’s 1992 shortstop Manuel ‘Don’t call me Manny’
Lee played a significant role on the Jays’ World Series team. At the age of 27,
Lee – a colourful character – had perhaps his best all-around season in 1992.
Offensively, Lee was no superstar but he batted a respectable .263 AVG/.659 OPS
(remember this was pre-A-Rod). More important he played solid defence by
allowing only seven errors at shortstop, which was good for a fielding
percentage of .987. That was even more impressive given that he had spent the
majority of his time at second base prior to 1991. There was some question as
to Lee’s true age, as he bottomed out by age 30, when he made his last MLB
appearance with St. Louis, although he hit 1.000 (1-for-1) that season. He was
originally signed as a non-drafted free agent by the New York Mets and was
acquired by the Jays in the 1984 Rule 5 draft.
Other players who appeared at shortstop for the 1992 Jays
included Alfredo Griffin and the ill-fated 1989 first round draft pick Eddie
The 2007 Blue Jays do not appear to have a man earmarked for
the short stop position and it could very well come down to whomever plays the
best in spring training. John McDonald, 32, is the incumbent, having played 90
games at short for the Jays in 2006. He is no offensive stud, but his glove and
arm are above average. Last season he made an uncharacteristically high number
of errors (14) and his field percentage was only .960. Offensively in 2006,
McDonald hit a paltry .223/.579.
Veteran Royce Clayton appears to be the man who will
threaten McDonald’s playing time. Clayton, 37, is another solid defensive
player, although age has deteriorated his skills to the point where he may be
just average. In 2006 for both Washington and Cincinnati, Clayton
allowed 16 errors and posted a .966 fielding percentage in 129 games.
Offensively, Clayton hit .258/.648, a modest upgrade from McDonald.
Rule 5 draftee Jason Smith will also have a shot at spending
significant time at shortstop for the Jays in 2007. Smith, 30, is not your
typical Rule 5 pick. He has played parts of six seasons in the majors with
Chicago (NL), Tampa Bay, Detroit and – most recently – Colorado.
Smith was originally drafted in 1996 by the Cubs in the 26th round.
His career numbers are .230/.655 and he is best known for having above-average
power, but below-average ability to make contact. Smith, traditionally a
utility player, has a career .955 fielding percentage at shortstop. Recently
acquired (off waivers from Cincinnati)
Ray Olmedo could also see his fair share of time at short stop, if he has a
solid spring. Olmedo did not have much opportunity in the majors with the Reds
the last three years, but he has a little speed, a solid glove and reasonable
patience at the plate. He lacks power, though.
The Jays are somewhat thin when it comes to shortstop depth
in the minors. Former first round pick Sergio Santos – obtained from Arizona in the Orlando
Hudson deal – has been an offensive bust at triple-A (.214/.553 in 2006) but is
still only 23. Ryan Klosterman will man the position for double-A New Hampshire
in 2007. The 24-year-old has speed (72-for-81 in steals in his career) and
above-average pop. However, his defence is inconsistent, as is his ability to make
contact. Many scouts project him to be a solid utility player, but not a
Edge: Manuel Lee (1992)
There was a time when many thought
a young pup by the name of Kelly Gruber would man the hot corner for the Blue
Jays for many years. But the former No. 1 draft pick of the Cleveland Indians
quickly faded after one solid offensive year in 1990. By 1992, Gruber hit
.229/.627 in his final season with the Jays and his final full year in the
majors at the age of 30. Offensively, Gruber was a liability in 120 games. He did
not hit for power (11 homers), he did not walk (26) and his annual double-digit
steal totals dropped to seven. Defensively, the dwindling star made 17 errors
and posted a .949 fielding percentage. The best news of the season for Jays’ fans, aside from winning the World
Series, was probably when the California Angels agreed to foot some of the bill
($4.3 million) for Gruber’s final season. He was shipped off, with cash, for
Luis Sojo on Dec. 8, 1992.
Jeff Kent saw action at third base
for the Jays, playing in 49 games. He made 10 errors and posted a .915 fielding
percentage, which probably helped General Manager Pat Gillick decide he was not the third baseman
of the future and made him expendable. Tom Quinlan, brother of the Angels’ Robb
Quinlan, appeared in 13 games at third base. Both Ed Sprague and Pat Tabler
appeared at the position for one game.
Troy Glaus’ batting average is not
always a great deal higher than Gruber’s was in 1992, but the current Jays’
third baseman has serious power, plays hurt and is a great guy to have up when
the game is on the line (104 RBI). In 2006, Glaus hit .252/.868 with 38 homers.
As well, Glaus, 30, walked three times more than Gruber did in 1992. The
former college standout came to Toronto with a reputation for poor range and below average skills at third base, but he
erased those thoughts by mid-season. Glaus showed solid range, good reactions
and a strong throwing arm. The only real knock on Glaus is his inability to
remain healthy for an entire season. However, he stuck it out in 2006 and
managed to appear in 153 games, including a 145 at third base, where he made 14 errors
and posted a .963 fielding percentage.
Other players who appeared at
third base for the Blue Jays in 2006 included Shea Hillenbrand (17), Eric
Hinske (10), John Hattig (10) and John McDonald (2). In 2006, Hattig figures to
see some time at third base, along with McDonald, Jason Smith and possibly Rob
Cosby, although he was recently removed from the 40-man roster.
Edge: Glaus (2007)
There weren’t many players in the
history of the Blue Jays who were more popular than Robert Alomar in his prime.
In his day, Alomar, 24, was one of the top sparkplugs in baseball and an
absolute whiz in the field, as he dazzled fans night in and night out. In 1992,
Alomar made only five errors in 150 games, good for a .993 fielding percentage.
He was a total player and could swing a mean stick as well. During the Jays’
first championship year, Alomar hit .310/.832 and also scored 105 runs. He was
a true threat at the top of the order by walking more than he struck out
(87/52) and he stole 49 bases in 58 attempts. The only thing Alomar did not do
overly well in 1992 was hit for power, as he managed only eight home runs and a
slugging percentage of .427.
Jeff Kent appeared in 17 games at
second base for the Jays in 1992 before he was shipped off to the New York Mets
in the David Cone deadline deal. Utility man Alfredo Griffin, 34, in his second
tour of duty with the Jays, also managed to appear at second base 16 times,
mostly as a late-game sub in blowout situations.
It is never easy replacing a
fan-favorite and doing it as a second-year player learning a new position is
all the more difficult, but Aaron Hill had a solid 2006 season, laying hope
that he will offer stability to the position that has been in a state of flux
since Alomar departed. Hill, 25, had a tough start to the year, batting
.210/.468 in March and April before he hit .375/.775, .392/.709, .415/.804,
.270/.468 and .400/.800 in the subsequent five months. Hill will never be as
flashy as Orlando Hudson, but the former shortstop and first round pick has solid range and a plus arm
for his new position. Offensively, Hill looks to be a solid No. 2 hitter with
plus makeup. Hill can likely match Alomar’s power numbers from 1992, but the
Jays current second baseman will never steal many bases, especially under the
Backing up Hill will likely be a
combination of Russ Adams, John McDonald, Ray Olmedo and Rule 5 pick Jason
Smith. Triple-A second baseman Ryan Roberts could also see some time, if he has
a strong Spring Training and/or start to the season.
Edge: Alomar (1992)
Mike MacDonald RHP
Height: 6’1’’ Weight: 185
Age: 10/81 Signed: 2004 (15-Maine) Options: 3
Repertoire: 87-90 sinker, slider, change
Vs Left: .341
Vs Right: .198
Bases Empty: .259
Runners On: .291
Scoring Position: .287
Notes: MacDonald carved up hitters in the low minors despite less-than-stellar stuff. Many thought he would struggled in his first tasted of double-A, but he did not. MacDonald is probably better-suited for the pen because he needs good location to survive and his fastball is well below average. He averaged more than two ground balls per fly ball in 2006.
Jesse Litsch RHP
Height: 6’1’’ Weight: 195
Age: 3/85 Signed: 2005 (2004 draft-and-follow) Options: 3
Repertoire: 88-92 fastball/sinker, slider, change, curve
Vs Left: .320
Vs Right: .300
Bases Empty: .276
Runners On: .357
Scoring Position: .406
Notes: Litsch tries to be too fine at times. He has moved move quickly since signing as a draft-and-follow out of junior college. However, he hit a wall in double-A as he learned he cannot be in the strike zone so much against better hitters. The Rockies tried to sign Litsch as 37th round draft-and-follow in 2003 and considered redrafting him before the Jays took him. He overmatched Appalachian League hitters in his debut with four pitches and excellent control. Litsch goes straight after hitters with 88-92 mph fastball, 84-86 mph slider, which has plus potential, and a fading change. He also has a solid-average curveball. He is aggressive but tries to be too fine at times. Needs to through more on a downward plane. Litsch appears to have similarities to Syracuse pitcher Josh Banks.