Here we are nearing the end of another free agent off-season and it has been crazy. The dollars being thrown around at big names hoping to be the saviour of Franchise X. With James Shields and Max Scherzer still to land the season of movement is still afoot. In Blue Jays land we hustled the dollars up to Russell Martin to the tune of $82 million in hopes that he will be that inspirational leader and game warrior that has been lacking in the clubhouse. His signing was as much about clubhouse as it was about on the field, that is no secret.
Teams sign guys for a myriad of reasons for hope of achieving the same goal: a World Series Championship. How has free agency been to the Blue Jays throughout their history? Depending on the season, there have been key signings meant to deliver different things dependent on club needs. Since the Blue Jays have always had free agency as a means to an end, what were the key signings in the history of the ballclub? Here are my top 5 most important signings….not necessarily the best ones but the ones that changed the course of how the club did their business off the field…
1. Roger Clemens
Contract: Four years, $40 million US (opt-out clause after second year)
Date signed: Dec. 13, 1996
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This was about power. About doing what they needed to stay near the top. The economics of the game started to inflate heavily and the Canadian dollar was taking a beating (not to mention Interbrew looming overhead). The Blue Jays snookered Dan Duquette and stole Clemens away when Duquette was sure Clemens’ best days were behind him. Gord Ash was making his first huge move after the World Series years started to gently fade from memory. He showed the Blue Jays would always be there to get the best players available. He showed they were still tough and resilient and willing to do whatever it took. Clemens did his part winning two Cy Young awards and two pitching Triple Crowns during his Blue Jays tenure…too bad he didn’t have the talent around him to win anything but personal awards.
2. Ken Dayley
Contract: Three years, $6.3 million
Date signed: Nov. 26, 1990
This signing marked the end of the “Stand Pat” era. Then GM Pat Gillick had developed a reputation of doing nothing to make his team better. He went a couple years without a trade or major free agent signing….until Dayley. This was the first big money free agent signing of the Blue Jays existence really and it was the beginning of a new path that would eventually lead to two championships. Forget the fact that Dayley was a bust and pitched in only ten games due to various injuries and a horrible bout of vertigo.
It was the intention of the signing that makes it important. It showed the Blue Jays were willing to play the free agent game as long as it was adding a piece or two to put them over the top. It’s all about attitude and knowing your roster. Gillick needed a power lefty and Dayley had a pretty good 6 year run in St. Louis. He was a bit of a bus but the nuances that went into the deal showed the club and their fans that the executive have been rewarded for their tenacity.
3. Dave Winfield
Contract: One year, $2.3 million
Date signed: Dec. 19, 1991
After the debacle that was the Ken Dayley signing, Dave Winfield was the first tried and true free agent signing that led to wins and not just words. Winfield batted .290 with 26 homers and had the game winning hit in the 1992 World Series. He got the fans involved by challenging them to be vocal. He was 40, he was past his prime but he was a leader…something the Blue Jays just seemed to have a shortage of. Winfield brought a winning attitude and intangibles to the clubhouse that we will never know. He led that team to the title and earned every last dollar of his one year signing in Toronto.
4. Jack Morris
Contract: Two years, $10.85 million
Date signed: Dec. 18, 1991
Just before Winfield there was Morris. The Blue Jays knew all about his competitiveness having faced him many times over the course of their existence. In fact there are some who would challenge that Morris and Blue Jays great Dave Stieb were the two best pitchers in the American League during the 1980s. After Morris pitched one of the greatest games ever in the 1991 World Series Game 7 (10 innings of wizardry), the Blue Jays swooped in and put him atop their rotation. He would lead the team with 21 victories (becoming the first Blue Jay to ever get to 20 wins…Stieb must have been furious) and eventually their first World Series. Not too shabby.
5. Paul Molitor
Contract: Three years, $13 million
Date signed: Dec. 7, 1992
And finally we have Mr. Molitor. He was the Dave Winfield of the 1993 Blue Jays. A career Milwaukee Brewer who just wanted a shot at a World Series. He wasn’t the type of player Winfield was but he was one of the best hitters of his generation. Not only did he bat .332 but he led the American League in hits (211) and hit 22 home runs….a career high. In the Fall Classic he had 12 hits in 24 at-bats and was named the World Series MVP. Now that is an impact signing.
Are the Blue Jays nearing that point where one player here and there could mean championship or no championships? Not yet and Alex Anthopoulos is not one to just get a guy for the sake of getting a guy. When the time is right he will…won’t he?