Ryan Goins was non-tendered by the Blue Jays a few days ago, potentially ending his tenure with the team. The acquisition of Aledmys Diaz made him expendable, as the Jays look to build more depth behind injury prone starters. Despite playing a lot the last two years, Goins was never meant to be a starter, only to be called upon when injuries hit the player meant to start in front of him. If he fielded competently (which he did), and wasn’t a complete embarrassment with the bat, the Jays would live with him until the bigger star came back.
The issue in recent years was, of course, that the stars were often out much longer than the team had hoped, forcing them to go to Goins more often. Goins had 400 at-bats in two of the last three seasons, soldiering on every day as his name was penciled into the lineup. His fielding wasn’t as good, and his bat never really stood up against MLB pitching.
Despite obvious limitations, Goins became a fan favorite. Some thought him a regular, a clutch hitter with a fantastic glove. So, why the love from fans, despite the absolutely logical arguments that explain him being bad? With a little reflection, it’s easy to see why. Blue Jays fans have a recent history of appreciating plucky backup infielders.
Fans of a certain vintage will remember John McDonald, who was with the team from 2006 to 2010. As the Jays scuttled through the late 00s, the shortstop position was a turnstile of mostly mediocrity. Names like Russ Adams, Aaron Hill, Royce Clayton, David Eckstein, Marco Scutaro, Alex Gonzalez, and Yunel Escobar rotated through the lineup. But it was often Johnny Mac who ended the season playing the position, as the Jays’ best laid plans went awry. McDonald’s calling card, like Goins, was his defense. His quick reflexes and equally quick release was something to see, whatever position he was playing.
While McDonald is remembered very fondly by most Jays fans, looking back at the stats, it’s interesting to see that he was actually a worse hitter than Goins in his day. It’s unlikely that the current evaluating environment would view him very fondly, even as a backup. It’s probably part of why the Jays tried to move away from him every season, realizing that his bat wasn’t terribly useful, save for the occasional tear-jerking dinger. But McDonald was an easy player to appreciate, between how pretty his defense was and how regular he seemed. He wasn’t a large behemoth, athletic and fast and worldly in his skill. He seemed just normal enough for fans to appreciate him, even as his superlative defense suggested otherwise.
Between McDonald and Goins, we had Munenori Kawasaki, another light-hitting backup who shuttled between AAA and the majors for a couple seasons. Unlike the other two, Kawasaki’s defense wasn’t really his calling card. He was probably best known for his memorable post-game interviews, even as he, too, filled in for more capable, injured teammates with enthusiasm, and as much skill as he could muster. The one moment everyone probably remembers is his walk-off double against the Orioles, a delightful surprise from a man who had absolutely no hitting power to speak of.
Matt Devlin is pure joy, surprised and delighted as Kawasaki stings a ball into the gap, past a defeated Adam Jones. Everyone has seen a game like this, the Jays trailing late, needing a clutch hit with men on base to take the win. Josh Donaldson and Jose Bautista, those guys are imposing, the guys pitchers don’t want to see in that spot. That it was the tiny, light-hitting Kawasaki that did it here just made it better, somehow.
It’s unlikely that anyone reading this will have their opinion changed of Goins, or any of the players mentioned here. And that’s fine. Ryan Goins had his time with the Jays, with his share of highlights and lowlights. He’ll probably continue his career in a similar role elsewhere, as a defensively adept backup, which is a role he’s suited for. The end of the Goins argument is likely a relief for a certain segment of Jays fans, but even as Goins moves on, we can and should appreciate why fans like Goins, and players similar to him. We’ve often had someone like Goins on the team, a backup that warms the hearts any time he’s in the game. Looking at that history, we’ll probably have another Goins (or McDonald, or Kawasaki) on the Jays soon enough.
Fear not, Jays fans.
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