How did Pat Gillick build those great Blue Jays teams of ’83-’93? The Jays had a superb draft record, some excellent international signings, AND they rarely traded prospects.
In Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 of this series, we examined the great Blue Jays teams from ’83-’93. If a Wild Card existed back then, they would have been in the post-season 11 years running. How did they maintain that high level of success?
The Jays had some amazing Rule 5 pickups (Willie Upshaw, George Bell, Kelly Gruber). They drafted incredibly well. They concentrated efforts on scouting the Dominican (Alfredo Griffin, Damaso Garcia, Tony Fernandez, Juan Guzman, Manual Lee and Nelson Liriano). More Importantly, the GM at the time, Pat Gillick, had a simple philosophy. Don’t trade youth. Acquire it. To win, you had to build from within. And it worked – to near perfection.
All of the following players were drafted, traded for, claimed, or scouted and signed by the Jays from international markets. It was unbelievable to witness. Waves and waves of first-year talent constantly joined the roster year after year.
In 1979 it was Dave Steib; 1980 it was Lloyd Moseby; Jesse Barfield and George Bell (1981), Mark Eichorn (1982), Tony Fernandez (1983), Kelly Gruber and Jimmy Key (1984), Jon Cerutti, Cecil Fielder, Manny Lee (1985), Fred McGriff and Duane Ward (1986), David Wells and Nelson Liriano (1987), Pat Borders and Todd Stottlemyre (1988), Junior Felix and John Olerud (1989), Derek Bell, Juan Guzman, Pat Hentgen, Ed Sprague (1991) Jeff Kent (1992) and Carlos Delgado and Shawn Green in 1993. Roberto Alomar, only 23, was traded for, had years of control left, and was in his 4th season of MLB when he debuted with the Jays in 1991. That trade in 1991 and the subsequent signings didn’t take a 50-51 team to the post-season, it helped take a perennial contender to the post-season three times in a row, and to a World Series title, twice.
Then came 1992. After seven years of failing to reach the summit, Gillick made his move. Potential Hall of Famer Jeff Kent was shipped out of town to the Mets. David Cone, the national strikeout leader at the time was brought in, and the Jays took their first World Series ring. Was a trade worth it? Absolutely. But those two teams that pushed their way to the World Series had other notable additions such as, Jack Morris and David Winfield (1992) and David Stewart and Paul Molitor and Rickey Henderson (1993). When the big signings happened, the Jays payroll ballooned to at or near the top of the league. Those were the players needed back then to push the teams over the edge.
But would those additions have really been necessary in the era of the Wild Card?
Assuming those three extra playoffs spots were available, the Jays would’ve first found themselves in the playoffs as early as 1983, and the 10 years that followed. Would that have given them the experience they needed to get them through in ’85 and knock off Kansas City, instead of caving once up three games to one? Could they have won a World Series that year? No idea.
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Maybe, just maybe, the Jays would’ve won many more titles. They surely would have gained valuable experience along the way. We also have to keep in mind that if the Wild Card did exist, 1992 and 1993 would both have been more difficult to win.
When we complain today about why free agents don’t want to come to Toronto, perhaps it’s because they see what we have seen for so many years: Poor baseball. Poor development of our young talent. Look back at 92? Look how easy it was back then to sign top free agents.
This year, the recent signings are evidence that things may be changing. Things are looking up. Scott Boras even says nice things about us. When and if we start to win again, the city of Toronto will have no problem attracting talent.
When I look back on those early Blue Jays years they represent evidence of a solid plan to build competitive longevity. So what’s next and what similarities can we see with today’s young Jays?
In Part 5, A Return to Sanity, the final Chapter of this 5-part series, we look at the similarities of the Jays today to those early 80’s teams and the examine the prospects for another Golden Age in Jays Baseball.