Six years ago today, the Blue Jays brought back a familiar face in Billy Koch, when they signed him to a one-year, $950,000 contract on January 10th, 2005.
The experiment of bringing back Koch for another stint with the Jays didn’t even last until the end of Spring Training, as the Jays released him after he made only four spring outings and compiled a 15.00 ERA.
Koch, always outspoken, had this to say when he was asked if he would take his release in stride and try to sign on with another team:
“I’m going to make the Toronto Blue Jays pay every cent of my salary.”
“To be released after four outings? What’s four outings in the spring? Nothing,” Koch said. “They can pay my gas money for my car, they can pay to fill up my 240-gallon tank for my 30-foot Pursuit, they can gas up my jet boat and our three jet skis.”
Needless to say, his ugly departure from the Jays organization in 2005 marked the end of his professional baseball career.
The Jays’ 1st round (4th overall) pick in the 1996 draft, Koch was best known among Jays fans for being able to consistently hit 100 mph with his fastball. He signed for a $1.45M bonus and was a starter in the Jays’ Minor League system. The Jays were very aggressive in Koch’s development, as he skipped two levels and started his first professional season at Hi-A Dunedin.
The following season in 1998, he made 25 starts with Hi-A Dunedin before leapfrogging Double-A and getting a couple of starts in with Triple-A Syracuse before the end of the season.
After making 5 starts for Triple-A Syracuse, Koch made his Major League debut on May 5th, 1999, throwing 2.2 innings of hitless relief. The Jays were really without a closer after Randy Myers departed after the 1998 season, so management felt that Koch would be a fine replacement, considering his velocity and mediocre offspeed stuff. Koch was vaulted into closing right away, and he made the most of it by notching 31 saves that season and finishing 7th in Rookie of the Year voting.
His best season with the Jays was the following season in 2000, where he posted a 2.63 ERA in 78.2 innings along with 60 strikeouts, 33 saves, and what would be a career-low 18 walks.
In 2001, his numbers got worse and he was back to his trademark area of around a 4.3 BB/9, posting a 4.80 ERA and 1.471 WHIP in 69.1 innings as well. About three weeks after J.P. Ricciardi was hired as General Manager of the Jays, he made one of his first deals by shipping Koch out to his pal Billy Beane and the Oakland Atheltics for Eric Hinske and Justin Miller.
Overall, in his three seasons with the Jays, Koch went 11-13 with a 3.57 ERA in 211.2 innings, to go along with 202 hits (8.6 H/9), 81 walks (4.2 BB/9), and 172 strikeouts (7.3 K/9).