The Blue Jays were an expansion team in 1977, and were the fastest American League expansion team to win a championship – winning the world series in their 16th season (1992). They also had their first winning season in just their 7th year, and won their first division title in their 9th year – in which they lost a heart-breaking 7-game ALCS to the Royals, after being up 3 games to 1. They would go on to win division titles again in ’89, ’91, ’92 & ’93. In fact, from ’83-’93, they never had a losing record. But, since that time, the Blue Jays have fallen on hard times. They have only once finished above 3rd place in the division (despite 9 winning seasons), and haven’t made the playoffs in the 21 seasons since their championship in ’93 – which is the longest active streak in baseball.
Despite their lack of success of late, the Blue Jays have had their fair share of award winners – one MVP, 4 Cy Young awards (including three consecutive from ’96-’98), and 2 Rookies of the Year. There is one Hall of Fame member wearing a Blue Jays cap on his plaque – and, he will likely continue to be the only one for the foreseeable future. Since the franchise has only existed during the period since free agency began in 1975, it will be difficult to find players who spent a great deal of time in Toronto. But, here are my top 5, all-time:
Honorable Mention: Joe Carter – if for no other reason, just for hitting that home run to win the World Series in ’93. Carter doesn’t rank very high on many offensive stat lists, because he was on the downslope of his career while with the Blue Jays. But, that home run will forever be a part of baseball lore in Toronto.
5. Jose Bautista (’08-present) – In his six full seasons in Toronto, Bautista has been a 5-time All-Star. He has finished in the top 6 in MVP voting three times, has led the league in HR twice, walks once, SLG once, and OPS once. Since 2010, he has averaged 37 HR (including a season in which he played less than 100 games), 94 RBI, and a .952 OPS. If he had found that stroke a little earlier in his career, we might be talking about one of the great hitters in baseball. But, he’s already 34, and we’ve seen some decline since his age-30 season. He still ranks fairly high on a number of Toronto’s all-time lists, and will likely continue to climb (as he’s signed through 2015, with a very reasonable team option for 2016): 5th in OBP (.385), 2nd in SLG (.538 – including 2 of the top 3 seasons in Toronto history), 2nd in OPS (.923), 3rd in HR (203 – will easily jump into 2nd this coming season), 9th in RBI (518), and 2nd in OPS+ (149 – which includes two of the Blue Jays’ top 5 seasons).
4. Dave Stieb (’79-’92, ’98) – Stieb is one of the few players to have spent nearly his entire career with Toronto. Only one season was spent with any other team (’93 with the White Sox – he was out of baseball from ’94-’97). Because of his long tenure, he has easily pitched more innings than anyone else in a Blue Jays uniform. So, he naturally has the lead in complete games (103), and shutouts (30). But, because he actually pitched well during his tenure in Toronto, he’s also their all-time leader in wins (175) and strikeouts (1,658). Stieb was a 7-time All-Star, winning 15+ games six times, leading the league in ERA once, IP twice, and ERA+ twice. He also finished in the top 7 in Cy Young voting four times, reaching as high as 4th in 1982. In addition to the previously mentioned stats, among pitchers to have pitched at least 500 innings in Toronto, he ranks 3rd on the Blue Jays’ all-time list in ERA (3.42), 7th in win pct. (.566), 7th in WHIP (1.24), and 5th in ERA+ (123).
3. Carlos Delgado (’93-’04) – Delgado is the offensive side’s version of Dave Stieb. He spent the majority of his career in Toronto, so it should come as no surprise that he has more plate appearances than anyone else in Blue Jays history. So, it makes sense that he leads all Blue Jays in runs scored (889), and total bases (2,786). But, during his prime (’98-’04 – at ages 26-32), Delgado was an offensive force. He averaged 38 HR, 120 RBI, and a .292/.408/.579/.987 stat line. During that time, he was a two-time All-Star, three-time Silver Slugger winner, finished 4th in MVP voting in 2000, and was runner-up in 2003 – when he led the league in RBI and OPS. He probably would have received more recognition, had he been playing somewhere besides Toronto – after his rookie season, when they won the World Series, they never finished above 3rd place in the division. But, as it is, Delgado leads all Blue Jays in career SLG (.556), OPS (.949), doubles (343), HR (336), RBI (1,058), and walks (827). And, he ranks 2nd in OBP (.392), and 3rd in OPS+ (142).
2. Roberto Alomar (’91-’95) – You won’t find Alomar’s name ranked very high on many all-time Blue Jays stat lists. In part because he was a good-not-great offensive player (.300 career average, leading to 2,724 hits), and he was only in Toronto for 5 years. Oddly enough, that was the longest tenure he had in any one place, which is why his Hall of Fame plaque pictures him wearing a Blue Jays cap (inducted in 2011). While his tenure was short, it was far from uneventful. He was an All-Star every year in Toronto. He won the Gold Glove at second base every season in Toronto. He averaged 41 stolen bases per season in Toronto. He won the ALCS MVP in ’92, batting .423 with a 1.157 OPS. He never led the league in any offensive stats, but was respected enough to finish 6th in MVP voting three straight years (’91-’93). Despite his short tenure, he does rank 2nd on the Blue Jays’ all-time batting list (.307), 6th in OBP (.382), 9th in OPS (.823), and 2nd in stolen bases (203).
1. Roy Halladay (’98-’09) – I’m betting that some of you reading this didn’t know Halladay spent 12 seasons in Toronto. His first four seasons were spent either as a reliever, or as a spot-starter. He also split his time between AAA and the majors for much of that time. So, his first season as a full-fledged starter wasn’t until 2002 – when he appeared in his first All-Star game, led the league in IP, and went 19-7 with a 2.93 ERA, and 1.19 WHIP. From ’02-’09 his average season was a 16-7 record with a 3.13 ERA and 1.13 WHIP – and that includes him missing a portion of ’04 & ’05 with injury. Doc Halladay was a 6-time All-Star, won the Cy Young in ’03, and finished in the top-5 four more times (’06-’09). He led the league in wins once, win pct. once, CG’s 5 times, SHO 3 times, WHIP once, and K/BB ratio 3 times. One of the keys to Halladay’s success was the fact that he simply did not walk batters. After becoming a full-time starter in ’02, he only surpassed 40 walks in a season once. He holds the Blue Jays’ record for the best BB/9 average in a season – 1.083 in 2003. He also has 5 of the top 9 seasons in BB/9 in Toronto’s history. Among pitchers with at least 500 IP in Toronto, Halladay ranks 5th in ERA (3.43), 2nd in wins (148), 1st in win pct. (.661), 3rd in WHIP (1.20), 2nd in BB/9 (2.00), 2nd in K’s (1,495 – just 163 behind Stieb, in spite of pitching over 800 fewer innings), 2nd in K/BB ratio (3.29 – including the best – and 4 of the 5 best – seasons in Blue Jays history), and 2nd in ERA+ (133).