Spring Hat

The 9 Most Significant Spring Training Transactions in Blue Jays History

The 9 is a monthly list series that will take a look at interesting parts of Blue Jays history, with an attempt to throw in a fun fact or two for every entry. Why nine? Well, there are nine innings and nine players on the field, so it seemed like a proper baseball number. Without further ado, here is this month’s issue.

It’s finally time for spring training. All the free agents have signed, and the team is ready to do battle with the players they have in camp. There are a few position battles yet to be sorted out, but for the most part, the 2016 Toronto Blue Jays roster is fairly close to being set. Two fights still being waged recently had a new name thrown into the hat, as Rafael Soriano was signed to a minor league contract to compete for the last spot in the bullpen, and Domonic Brown was brought in to compete for the fourth outfield spot. For the last few years though, big Blue Jays transactions in spring are uncommon.  However, historically the Jays have added some pretty nice pieces to their team after camp had opened.  So with that in mind, let’s take at a look at the 9 most significant spring training transactions in Blue Jays history:

9. March 30, 1993 – Darrin Jackson acquired from the San Diego Padres for Derek Bell and Stony Briggs

After 1992 World Series hero and starting left fielder Candy Maldonado signed with the Chicago Cubs, the Toronto Blue Jays were left with a hole in left field going into the 1993 season.  24 year old Derek Bell had been the team’s 4th outfielder in 1992, but the team wasn’t confident he was was ready to step into a starting role on contending team, so they traded for “proven veteran” Darrin Jackson. He wasn’t flashy, or all that good, but Jackson had played 155 games in 1992 and hit 17 home runs.  He would start on opening day after beating out fellow veteran journeyman Darnell Coles,  but would play very poorly with the team, as is evident by looking at his slash line of .216/.250/.347.  He would appear in only 46 games with the Jays before being traded for Blue Jays great Tony Fernandez.  Derek Bell, on the other hand, would immediately become a starter in San Diego and go on to carve out a decent enough career for himself, even getting some MVP votes in the 1995 season. On its surface, this trade looks quite bad for the Jays, but since they were eventually able to flip Jackson for a rejuvenated Tony Fernandez – a key figure in the 1993 world series run – it’s hard to view the move as a total loss. That’s why it makes this list.

Fun Fact: Derek Bell had been the Jays top prospect going into the 1989 season, and again prior to 1992. After one so-so season as the fourth outfielder, Toronto gave up on him and sent him packing. It was a fairly shocking trade at the time, and Bell turned out to be a much better player than Darrin Jackson in the end, which really surprised no one. However, the Jays viewed Bell as a lazy player, and it was a reputation that followed him his entire career. In 2002 he famously was released with 4.5 million left on his Pirates contract after leaving the team in spring training because they told him he had to battle for his starting position after putting up terrible numbers the previous year. He never played again.

8. March 19, 1992 – Alfredo Griffin signs as a free agent

34 year old light-hitting utility infielders are not normally thought of as meaningful pick-ups, but in much the same vein as the previous entry on this list, any transaction made by a championship team is likely to be looked upon favorably after the fact. In Griffin’s case, he’d already been a Blue Jay fan favorite for 6 seasons in the 1970s and 1980s. Manuel Lee had been the starting shortstop for 1991, but had not played very well. Eddie Zosky (remember him?) was slated to take over the starting spot for 1992, but after performing terribly in spring training at the plate and in the field, it was decided he needed to get more seasoning in the minors. That’s why Griffin was brought in to back-up Lee at short and Alomar at second. Griffin held that job for 2 seasons (backing up Dick Schofield/Tony Fernandez and Alomar in 1993) and performed the way you’d expect a light-hitting back-up middle infielder to perform; he held his own defensively when called upon, while not proving to be very effective at the plate. Griffin retired after 1993, with his last moment on a baseball field being standing on deck to watch Joe Carter’s World Series winning drive to left field clear the fence.

Fun Fact: Let’s be honest, Griffin was kind of bad. Known for playing fairly decent defense, he was an historically terrible hitter, finishing his career with a .249/.285/.319 slash line. So he didn’t hit for average, didn’t walk, didn’t hit for any kind of power, yet somehow managed to play in 1962 games. For players who had at least 7000 plate appearances at the major league level, his OBP is dead last…of ALL-TIME (the .319 slugging is 3rd worst, the batting average 5th worse). Yet amazingly, he just kept getting starting starting jobs, even somehow managing to somehow block future all-star shortstops (Tony Fernandez, Walt Weiss, and Jose Offerman) at three different stops in his career.

7. March 15, 1978 – Rick Bosetti Acquired from the St. Louis Cardinals for Tom Bruno.

During the expansion season of 1977, no one Blue Jay played more than 60 games in center field.  Going into the following spring training, no one appeared poised to grab the job, so the Jays pulled the trigger on a trade for 24 year old Rick Bosetti, who had played center for parts of the previous two seasons in St. Louis. He would immediately be installed as the Blue Jays starter, a role which he held for two seasons. A decent fielding outfielder, Bosetti’s .645 OPS in 1978 was hardly ideal, but for a team that managed to win only 58 games, it was certainly good enough to keep him in the line-up every day. For a new franchise that was desperately seeking some level of stability, simply being able to take the field every day made Bosetti a valuable Blue Jay, and earned him a spot on this list. He would be out of baseball by 1982, and has served as the mayor of Redding, California and is currently running for the California District State Assembly.

Fun (or Just Plain Weird) Fact:  Bosetti was kind of weird.  He is on record as stating that it’s his goal to urinate in every baseball stadium in America.  It makes sense for a visiting player to want to mark his territory in some way in an unfamiliar ballpark, but this seems to be taking it to the extreme.

6. March 29, 1994 – Mike Huff acquired from the Chicago White Sox for Domingo Martinez

Possibly the least recognizable name on this list for Blue Jays fans, Mike Huff nonetheless was incredible for the Toronto Blue Jays in 1994 after being acquired at the end of spring training. Left field had been a position of weakness for the Blue Jays for much of 1993, and with Rickey Henderson returning to Oakland, the Jays were looking to add depth for the 1994 season. For this reason, Toronto shipped out first baseman Domingo Martinez (who would never play another game in the major leagues) for the four-year veteran, Huff. He finished the strike-season with a .304/.392/.449 slash line, with his OPS of .842, third on team behind Paul Molitor and John Olerud, but ahead of Joe Carter and Roberto Alomar. Suffice it to say, the Blue Jays were happy they made this move, despite the incredible disappointment of the year, both in terms of team success and a league wide strike. Unfortunately, Huff couldn’t replicate the success of 1994, ultimately losing his starting spot part-way through 1995 to Shawn Green. He was out of baseball entirely by the end of the 1996 season, but for one half season in 1994, the Blue Jays had a very very good left-fielder by the name of Mike Huff.

Fun Fact: Despite the fact he started 80 out of 115 games in 1994, Huff didn’t win the job out of spring training. In fact, the opening day left fielder was actually some prospect by the name of Carlos Delgado. Delgado would struggle a bit at the plate and a lot in the field, and was eventually sent down to make way for Huff to begin his improbable run. We all know Delgado as the great first baseman he eventually became, but many of us likely forgot that the two-time defending World Series champions opened the following season with Delgado on the team, and in the outfield.

5. March 15th, 1978 – Rico Carty acquired from the Cleveland Indians for Dennis DeBarr

Carty was acquired on the same day as Bosetti. 38 years old at the time, Carty was still considered a pretty good hitter, having played very well for the Indians the past few seasons. Playing exclusively as the DH, he would be the best hitter in the Jays line-up by a fair margin for most of 1978, slugging 20 home runs for the team in 104 games with an OPS of .850. For his part, Dennis DeBarr, who had played 14 games in middle relief for the Blue Jays in 1977, would never play in the majors again.

Fun Fact: Rico Carty apparently liked Toronto. With him hitting as well as he was, the Blue Jays traded Carty to an Oakland team hoping to finish with a winning record (they wouldn’t; they played terrible ball over the last month and a half and finished well below .500). He clearly held no ill feelings, as he would sign with the Jays in the following offseason anyway, finishing his career with one more season as the Jays DH. Uniquely, he had played AAA ball for the Toronto Maple Leafs as part the the Brewers organization in 1963. There’s a legend that while a member of the Maple Leafs, Carty hit two home runs in the same at bat, hitting one after the umpire had called time, but followed it up by hitting another one on the next pitch anyway.

4. April 6, 1995 – David Cone acquired from Kansas City Royals for Chris Stynes, David Sinnes and Tony Medrano.

This could have easily been number 1 on this list, had Cone not have been traded to the Yankees right before the trade deadline of the same year, as he was almost certainly the best player the Blue Jays ever picked up in Spring Training. To be fair, it’s also a slight misnomer; Cone was certainly traded for during Spring Training, but since the offseason started with baseball still mired in a strike, there hadn’t really been any transactions made up until that point. 1994 was a terrible season for the Blue Jays, so hoping to make the best of their second chance to defend their 1993 title, the Jays struck a deal for the the 1994 Cy Young Award winner, Cone. Hopes were high, as this team still had the core nucleus of the 1993 World Series championship team; Roberto Alomar, Joe Carter, John Olerud, Devon White, Paul Molitor, Pat Hengten, Juan Guzman, Duane Ward and Mike Timlin were all still Blue Jays. Cone would prove to be every bit the player Toronto hoped for, as he would go 9-6 with a 3.38 ERA with the Blue Jays, but the high expectations were misguided, as the Blue Jays sat in 5th place. Eventually, they traded Cone to the wild-card bound Yankees, where he’d go on to help the Yankees to earn the first ever American League Wild Card and win game four of the World Series as a member of the Evil Empire.  But for half a season, the Jays were treated to some of the best pitching in all of baseball. Going the other way were Chris Stynes, who was rated the Blue Jays 9th best prospect at the time of the trade (he would go on to have a 10 year career, mostly as a back-up), Tony Medrano, a career minor leaguer, and David Sinnes who would spend only one year in the Royals organization before retiring from the game at age 24.

Fun Fact:  Most of us remember the other time the Blue Jays traded for David Cone. In 1992 the Jays picked him in August (how the heck did he clear waivers?!) and went on to win the World Series. At the end of that season, Cone decided to sign with the Kansas City Royals for three years/$18 million, making him the highest paid pitcher in the game at the time.  In 2015, another former Cy Young winner named David made his way into our hearts in a mid-season trade, only to leave and become highest paid pitcher in the the game at the end of the season. The contract? seven years/217 million. What a difference 22 years makes in terms of player salaries. Wow.

3. March 16, 2000 – aquired Brad Fullmer in a three team trade (David Sequi going to the Rangers/Lee Stevens going to the Expos)

In a rare trade that featured both the Toronto Blue Jays and Montreal Expos, the Blue Jays traded for Brad Fullmer in March of 2000, the last year before Rogers would take over ownership of the team from Interbrew. The Texas Rangers sent power hitting but defensively flawed and strike-out prone Lee Stevens to a Montreal Expos team hoping to contend, the Blue Jays sent slick-fielding, good hitting David Segui and his $4.3 Million contract to the Rangers, and the Expos send a 25 year old, mostly unproven first baseman to the Blue Jays. Brad Fullmer was by far the youngest, cheapest, and least accomplished of the three players involved, but would go on to have the best 2000 season of them all, hitting 32 home-runs and posting an .898 OPS as the Blue Jays full time DH. The 2000 Blue Jays had seven players who hit 20 home-runs, including four who hit more than 30, so Fullmer’s season is kind of lost in the shuffle, but he was very, very good that year, and cost significantly less than the guy for whom he was traded. He would play one more season as the Jay’s DH before being traded to the Angels, but Fullmer’s 2000 season is one of the best seasons by a DH the team has ever had.

Fun Fact: This trade was pretty interesting for a variety of reasons. For one, all three teams traded only a first baseman (although most reports indicate that Blue Jays sent cash Texas’ way as well). For another, David Segui had only recently joined the Blue Jays when he was dealt. Only half a game back of Boston for the wild card spot in July of 1999, the Blue Jays traded for Segui to bolster an already pretty great offense. He would play well the rest of the way, the Jays would score a team record number of runs, but they would finish 11 games back of the Wild Card. He actually re-signed with the Blue Jays in January before they traded him in March.

2. John Mayberry Sr. Aquired from the Kansas City Royals for cash on April 3rd, 1978.

The third move made by the new Jays franchise for a starting position player during spring training of 1978, Mayberry was a former two-time All-Star who had finished second in MVP voting in 1975. His stock had dropped since then, as he finished both the 1976 and 1977 with batting averages in the .230s. In fact, his coach, Whitey Herzog, had actually blamed him for the team’s 1977 ALDS loss to the Yankees (he struck out a lot, made errors and even arrived late to a game), so the team didn’t really want to keep him. Waiting until almost the start of the season, the Blue Jays managed to pick Mayberry up for just cash, and immediately plugged him in as their starting first baseman. While he was never able to regain his former glory, Mayberry nonetheless proved a valuable player in the middle of the team’s order for the next few seasons, even managing to hit 30 home runs in 1980. He played five seasons in Toronto, and even spent some years as a coach in their system following his retirement.

Fun Fact: Mayberry’s son, John Mayberry Jr. is currently in the Tigers training camp trying to crack the roster.  He has played for a variety of major league teams, including a short stint in Toronto in 2014, making John Mayberry and John Mayberry, the only father and son pairing to both suit up for the Blue Jays to this point (unless we count Prince Fielder’s apparently legendary adolescent batting practices in Toronto).

1. Rance Mulliniks: acquired from the Kansas City Royals for Phil Huffman on March 25, 1982

Rance Mulliniks was drafted as a shortstop, but had languished in the minors, spending only parts of five seasons in the big leagues. Already 25 and running out of options, the Blue Jays saw something they liked, picking him up for pitcher Phil Huffman. Huffman hadn’t played with the big league club since 1979, a year in which he lost 18 games due in large part to being fairly terrible, so he was easily expendable. Mulliniks was immediately moved to third base (a position occupied on his former team by some guy named George Brett) as the left-handed side of a platoon with Garth Iorg. . Rance immediately proved he could handle the position defensively, and his offense started to come around as well, especially his ability to get on base, as he would end his Jays career with an OBP of .365. The platoon would last until 1987, when Iorg retired and Mulliniks was moved to DH to make room for Kelly Gruber. Mulliniks played 11 years as a member of the Toronto Blue Jays, and in only one of them, his first year in 1982, did the Blue Jays have a losing season. He played an integral part on the first Blue Jays playoff team, and was able to gain a ring in his final season with the club in 1992. This is one reason why he’s first on this list. The other is that Phil Huffman never played a game for the Royals big league club, and was out of baseball by the end of 1985, having pitched only 4.2 innings since the trade. Basically, this ended up being possibly the most lopsided trade in the history of the Blue Jays (non-Jose Bautista for Robinzon Diaz division).

Fun Fact:  Rance Mulliniks was slow his entire career, and obviously even slower late in his career. Of some surprise, then, is that he actually hit the first inside the park home room ever at the Skydome. On July 11, 1991, as a 35 year DH, Mulliniks “sprinted” around the bases after a drive off of Kevin Brown in a 2-0 victory for the first place, playoff bound Blue Jays over the Texas Rangers.  It would prove to be the last home-run of his career.

So, there you have it. Nine players that the Jays picked up late in the offseason, after the sounds of spring had already started.  You may have noticed that the most recent player on this list was acquired in the year 2000. It’s been a long time since the Jays have made any significant Spring Training moves, so hopefully Soriano, Brown, or even another addition over the next few weeks can make an appearance on a future issue of “The Nine” as key late moves for the eventual 2016 World Series champions.

Lead photo: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

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