Having a chance to re-watch a bunch of classic Blue Jays games has reminded me of something. You don’t need a star at every position.
It’s been a lot of fun to re-visit the Blue Jays teams of the early 90’s, and a pretty good reminder about why those teams were so successful. They were loaded with talent.
Looking at the 1993 All-Star game as an example, the Blue Jays had seven players on the AL squad that year. Sure, Cito Gaston was the manager and got to select his reserves, but he couldn’t have done that without justification. As a result, Joe Carter, Roberto Alomar, and John Olerud were voted on to the team that year, and Gaston later added Paul Molitor, Devon White, Duane Ward, and Pat Hentgen as well.
As stacked as some of those “WAMCO” lineups were (W-White, A-Alomar, M-Molitor, C-Carter, O-Olerud), I also couldn’t help but notice something as I reviewed the lineups, pitching staffs, and even the statistics from those teams. It reminded me that you don’t have to have an All-Star at every position in order to succeed.
Granted, the game has changed quite a bit from the early 90’s, but I don’t know that the point I’m making here really has all that much. If you’re rolling your eyes at me right now, let’s start by looking back at the 1992 batting lineup for the Blue Jays, and the slash lines for those players.
1- Devon White– .248/.303/.390, 17 HR, 60 RBI, 37 SB, 6.3 bWAR
2- Roberto Alomar– .310/.405/.427, 8 HR, 76 RBI, 49 SB, 6.6 bWAR
3- Joe Carter– .264/.309/.498, 34 HR, 119 RBI, 30 2B, 2.5 bWAR
4- Dave Winfield– .290/.377/.491, 26 HR, 108 RBI, 33 2B, 4.1 bWAR
5- John Olerud– .284/.375/.450, 16 HR, 66 RBI, 28 2B, 3.4 bWAR
6- Candy Maldonado– .272/.357/.462, 20 HR, 66 RBI, 25 2B, 2.5 bWAR
7- Kelly Gruber– .227/.275/.352, 11 HR, 43 RBI, 16 2B, 0.1 bWAR
8- Pat Borders– .242/.290/.385, 13 RBI, 53 RBI, 26 2B, 0.7 bWAR
9- Manuel Lee– .263/.343/.316, 3 HR, 39 RBI, 10 2B, 3.2 bWAR
There’s no denying that there’s talent in the group above, and that’s not even looking at the pitching staff (maybe we’ll do that another day). Alomar was an All-Star along with Juan Guzman that season, Carter continued to produce as a 32-year-old, and so did Winfield, who was the ripe age of 40 in 1992.
However, things get pretty thin after the top five, as this was before Olerud really broke out and became an MVP calibre hitter, although there’s nothing wrong with a .375 OBP. Maldonado was a little above average in the six-hole, and after that there’s not a lot of offensive threats. Gruber had been a dangerous hitter earlier in his career, but was already in decline by 1992, and Borders and Lee provided their value on defence.
Now let’s do the same with the 1993 squad as well, and I’ll even include Rickey Henderson, who wasn’t acquired until the summer.
1- Rickey Henderson– .215/.356/.319, 4 HR,12 RBI, 22 SB, 0.5 bWAR, 5.0 total
2- Devon White– .273/.341/.438, 15 HR, 52 RBI, 34 SB, 6.2 bWAR
3- Roberto Alomar– .326/.406/.492, 17 HR, 93 RBI, 55 SB, 6.1 bWAR
4- Joe Carter– .254/.312/.489, 33 HR, 121 RBI, 33 2B, 2.0 bWAR
5- John Olerud– .363/.473/.599, 24 HR, 107 RBI, 54 2B, 7.8 bWAR
6- Paul Molitor– .332/.402/.509, 22 HR, 101 RBI, 22 SD, 5.6 bWAR
7- Tony Fernandez– .279/.348/.394, 5 HR, 64 RBI, 21 SB, 3.1 bWAR, 3.3 total
8- Ed Sprague– .260/.310/.386, 12 HR, 73 RBI, 31 2B, 1.4 bWAR
9- Pat Borders– .254/.285/.371, 9 HR, 55 RBI, 30 2B, 0.0 bWAR
This lineup was even more dangerous than the World Series championship squad from 1992, and had to have provided nightmares for many American League pitchers. Henderson wasn’t all that great after arriving in Toronto, but he was still a dangerous on-base threat at the top of the lineup and definitely could still run. Even with his struggles during his short stay with the Blue Jays, he was still an upgrade over Maldonado.
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The most significant difference was the breakout season for Olerud, as he ended up winning the AL batting title and announced himself as one of the best hitters in baseball that year. I laugh out loud every time I look at his stats from that season, and he was the number-five hitter in the lineup.
Despite the fact that Molitor had big shoes to fill coming in for Winfield, he was able to provide even more value from the DH spot. Fernandez was also a welcome upgrade at shortstop when he returned to Toronto after an early-season trade, and helped lengthen the lineup. Sprague was a suitable replacement and even an upgrade over Gruber the year before, and Borders remained a steady presence behind the plate.
Getting back to my original point, despite the fact that the Blue Jays had a lot of offensive talent back in the early 90’s, they weren’t 1-9 deep. They were closer to being that way in 1993, but they also didn’t get quite the same production from their starting rotation that season either, as Jack Morris struggled to a 6.19 ERA, Dave Stewart had a 4.44 ERA, and even Guzman jumped nearly a run and a half up to 3.99 from a 2.54 ERA the year before.
I think it’s the ’92 squad that makes my point more effectively though, as that team was really riding the offensive talents of their top-five, maybe six with Maldonado at times. Why is this significant? Again, we’re talking about nearly three decades ago now, but it shows that a great team doesn’t have to have 25 All-Stars, and that still applies today. It’s about having those stars players and putting the right complementary parts around them, and Pat Gillick was a master of it back then.
As I look at the Blue Jays’ talented young core of Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette, Cavan Biggio, Lourdes Gurriel Jr. Nate Pearson, and arguably more, I can’t help but see the same type of opportunity ahead for Ross Atkins and the Blue Jays’ front office. They already added some very nice pieces over the winter, and 2020 campaign was supposed to be about an important year of growth for this core. Hopefully they’ll be able to get back to it at some point yet this year, as it’s a significant stepping stone.
Obviously it’s going to take some of these young stars turning into the next Alomar, Olerud, and Carter, but the potential is certainly there for the modern day Blue Jays core. It’s going to be a lot of front to watch them grow up, and hopefully they’ll be able to bring the World Series back North of the border for the first time since way back then.