Blue Jays: Top 100 Players in team history (31-35)
Spring Training and Grapefruit League season is alive and well, and we are continuing our look at the Top 100 Blue Jays in team history. So far, I’ve looked at players ranked 36-100 and today I’ll look at the next five on the list. This is opinion based off of career stats with the club and accomplishments.
(Top Players 31-35)
#35 Mark Eichhorn (1982-1988, 1992-1993)
The Toronto Blue Jays selected Mark Eichhorn in the second round of the 1979 MLB Draft and he became a full-time bullpen pitcher in 1986. In his first full season Eichhorn finished third in Rookie of the Year voting and finished sixth in Cy Young voting. In that remarkable season he posted a 14-6 record with 10 saves while posting a 1.72 ERA and 0.96 WHIP, all while pitching out of the bullpen.
Eichhorn followed up his rookie season with leading the league in appearances in 1987 and collecting another 10 wins in his sophomore season, however, after one more year he was sold to the Atlanta Braves. He returned to Toronto at the Trade Deadline in 1992 and played on both World Series teams. Over those two postseason runs Eichhorn made four appearances and did not allow a run over 4.1 innings. He would leave in free agency after the second World Series and currently sits 17th on the Blue Jays All-Time List for pitching appearances.
#34 Kelly Gruber (1984-1992)
One of the best Rule 5 Selections ever was when the Toronto Blue Jays stole Kelly Gruber from Cleveland in 1984. Gruber went on to play over 900 games for the team, was a two-time All-Star, and also a Silver Slugger and Gold Glove winner.
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Gruber spent the first part of his career battling with Rance Mulliniks for playing time at third base and in 1988 he had won the starting job. In 1990, Gruber put up MVP type numbers when he hit 36 doubles, 31 home runs, 118 RBI with a slash line of .274/.330/.512 and went 14 for 16 in stolen bases. Gruber finished fourth in MVP voting that year.
By 1992 Gruber had really started to struggle offensively and went just 4 for 41 during the postseason. After the World Series, the Blue Jays traded him to the California Angels where he played 18 more games and a handful in the minor leagues before retiring. His 114 home runs in a Blue Jays uniform sits him 16th in franchise history.
#33 Marco Estrada (2015-2018)
The pitching performances by Marco Estrada in the 2015-2016 playoff runs is what jumps Marco Estrada up on this list. The Blue Jays acquired Estrada after the 2014 season in exchange for Adam Lind and at first it looked as though they were just getting a depth pitcher.
In his first year with the club Estrada had the best season of his career posting a 13-8 record with a 3.13 ERA and 1.04 WHIP, which got him votes for the Cy Young. That postseason, Estrada had arguably the most important pitching performance of the series. With the club down 2-0 in a five game ALDS series with the Texas Rangers, Estrada threw six shutout innings before allowing his first run in the seventh inning. The Blue Jays would win the game 5-1 and turn the series around where they ended up taking it in five games.
Over those two playoff runs Estrada’s win-loss record was just 3-3, but his pitching numbers should have earned him a couple more wins: 41.2 innings pitched, two walks, 34 strike outs with a 2.16 ERA and 0.74 WHIP. Estrada posted Cy Young numbers in the postseason against the best teams in baseball.
Back injuries derailed the end of his career to the point the club did not try to re-sign him once his contract expired after the 2018 season.
#32 J.A. Happ (2012-2014, 2016-2018)
The Blue Jays had J.A. Happ in their rotation on two occasions during his career. The team first acquired him in a nine player deal in the summer of 2012 from the Houston Astros. During his first stint with the Blue Jays he posted a 19-20 record with a 4.39 ERA over two and a half years. At the end of the 2014 season, with one year left on his contract he was traded to the Seattle Mariners for Michael Saunders.
After splitting the 2015 season with the Seattle Mariners and Pittsburgh Pirates he became a free agent and Toronto signed him to a three-year deal worth $33M. In his first season back with the club, Happ became just the sixth pitcher in team history to win twenty games when he posted a 20-4 record and 3.18 ERA that helped him finish sixth in Cy Young awards. He would play another season and a half in Toronto before being traded to the New York Yankees in 2018 for Brandon Drury and Billy McKinney.
During his second go-around with the club, Happ posted a 40-21 record with a 3.55 ERA. In total he finished with 59 wins and sits ninth in team wins in that category.
31. Aaron Hill (2005-2011)
The Blue Jays used their 13th overall pick in 2003 on middle infielder Aaron Hill from Louisiana State University. After flying through the minor league system, Hill made his debut on May 20, 2005, which was just 23 months after being drafted.
In his rookie season Hill split time at second base, third base, shortstop and designated hitter, however, he built such confidence from the organization that they moved Orlando Hudson that offseason to make Hill the permanent second basemen.
Hill would hold that role for the next six seasons. In 2007, he started to show power potential when he hit 47 doubles and 17 home runs while posting a slash line of .291/.333./459. Two years later, Hill would have an MVP type season that earned him the Silver Slugger award and a selection to the All-Star game when he hit 37 doubles, 36 home runs and 108 RBI. Unfortunately for Hill, his offence would decline drastically over the next two seasons to the point he was traded to the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Hill finished with his Blue Jays career with 96 home runs which leads all second basemen in franchise history.
In the next segment we look at a trio of outfielders, along with a World Series MVP.