Pat Gillick will always be fondly remembered by the Blue Jays for his work as a GM. While he built some winners, he struggled with the MLB draft.
Growing up as a massive Blue Jays fan and getting to experience two World Series championships before my 10th birthday, I believed that my team could do no wrong. I also believed that the man running the team, Pat Gillick, was a genius.
Don’t get me wrong, I still think Gillick had a great baseball mind, and there’s no doubt that he built some pretty impressive Blue Jays teams in the 80’s and 90’s. However, as I’ve been obsessively reading about the MLB draft that gets started later today, I couldn’t help but go back and look at the Blue Jay front office’s work in that department during Gillick’s time as the GM. Surely it had to have been a success, right?
Well, not exactly.
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Now that I looked at the draft results for the Blue Jays from 1978-1994 (during Gillick’s tenure in Toronto), I’m actually even more impressed that he was able to build a winner. Simply put, the Blue Jays really didn’t draft very well during those years, and most of their core pieces of those contenders were acquired through either the trade route, or through international free agency.
Don’t believe me? Here’s a list of what I view as the notable players that were drafted by the Blue Jays during those 16 years.
- 1982- David Wells, Jimmy Key, Pat Borders
- 1986- Pat Hentgen
- 1987- Derek Bell, Mike Timlin
- 1988- Ed Sprague, David Weathers, Woody Williams
- 1989- John Olerud, Jeff Kent
- 1990- Steve Karsay
- 1991- Shawn Green, Alex Gonzalez
- 1992- Shannon Stewart
- 1993- Chris Carpenter
Obviously there are several notable players on the list above, but let’s unpack it a little bit more. First, I listed nine years, and with all due respect to players that were drafted during the years missing from the list, I didn’t feel there was a noteworthy name that made a contribution in Toronto. Secondly, it wasn’t until later on that they started having success, as no one drafted after 1989 was a part of a winning roster.
There’s also the fact that Derek Bell had almost all of his MLB success with the Houston Astros (although many of us will never forget “the trenches”), Weathers only appeared in 17 games for the Blue Jays before improving elsewhere, and Jeff Kent had his borderline Hall of Fame career mostly in San Francisco (although trading him did bring David Cone to Toronto, who was a significant boost for their first championship). Woody Williams was also much more successful after arriving in St. Louis, which was the same story later on for Chris Carpenter as well.
If we’re talking about the winner that was built in Toronto for the early 90’s, the significant pieces that came through the draft were Jimmy Key, Pat Hentgen, John Olerud, Mike Timlin, and David Wells, although the latter was mostly a reliever until his second go-around in Toronto. Obviously Pat Borders was a World Series hero and a celebrated figure in Blue Jays history, but he wasn’t much more than an average backstop. Ed Sprague is fondly remembered for his key home run in 1992 as well, but he wasn’t exactly a homegrown star either. Karsay was used to acquire Rickey Henderson I suppose, but even that wasn’t a big difference maker at the end of the day, and the right-hander never did reach his potential elsewhere either.
Again, there are useful players that were drafted by Gillick and his crew, but we’re talking about a span of 16 years. I only have 16 players on the full list above, and as I mentioned, a lot of them had nothing to do with building a winner. The more I look at all of the draft picks during that timeframe, the more surprised I become about the success of that era.
While this may have sounded like a criticism of Gillick’s work with the Blue Jays, I’m actually feeling the opposite at the moment. He wasn’t afraid to make a gutsy trade like the one that brought Roberto Alomar and Joe Carter to Toronto for Fred McGriff and Tony Fernandez, and he had a knack for signing older veterans and getting a lot of value out of them, such as Dave Winfield, Paul Molitor, and many more. Gillick found a way to build a winner, and I’ll never take that away from him. Oddly enough though, the MLB draft didn’t have as much to do with it as I would have thought.