Blue Jays: Top 100 Players in Franchise History (6-10)
Spring Training is now over and the MLB season has started, but we are finishing our look at the Top 100 Blue Jays in team history. In the first instalments so far, I looked at players ranked 11-100 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.
10. Tom Henke (1985-1992)
Tom “The Terminator” Henke joined the Blue Jays organization as free agent compensation going into the 1985 season. After shutting down hitters in AAA Syracuse to start the season he was called up at the end of July and immediately became the club’s closer, ultimately becoming the best closer in franchise history. Over the remaining 2+ months, Henke picked up 13 saves while posting a 2.03 ERA and a 0.93 WHIP, which not only got him votes for Rookie of the Year, but also got consideration for AL MVP.
In the eight seasons that Henke was the team’s closer he only had an ERA higher than 2.91 once, which was 1987 when it was only 3.35. In 1987, Henke was sent to the All-Star Game during a season he led the league in saves with 34.
Henke pitched in five different postseasons for the Blue Jays and 1992 was his best. In that playoff run, Henke pitched in seven games, collecting five saves and posting a 1.13 ERA.
Henke would leave in free agency after that first World Series victory and he is still the all-time Blue Jays Save leader at 217, which is almost 100 more than second place. His Blue Jays career totals also include 29 wins, a 2.48 ERA and 1.03 WHIP.
9. Edwin Encarnacion (2009-2016)
Edwin Encarnacion had a very interesting start to his Toronto Blue Jays career. He was acquired from the Cincinnati Reds at the Trade Deadline in 2009 for Scott Rolen, however, after putting up mediocre numbers offensively and struggling at third base he was put on waivers at the end of the season. The Oakland Athletics claimed him on waivers but less than a month later he was granted free agency and the Blue Jays signed him back.
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In 2010, Edwin Encarnacion showed some raw power as he hit 21 home runs in just 332 plate appearances, but earned the nickname “E5” due to his inability to play third base and causing several errors. After splitting the next season between first base and third base, in 2012 he would move to first base (and DH) permanently and his career took off. In the five seasons after (2012-2016), Encarnacion averaged 39 home runs and 110 RBI. He was selected to the All-Star Game three times and received consideration for AL-MVP four times.
Encarnacion had his biggest moments during the 2016 Postseason. In the AL Wild Card Game, with the contest tied in the 11th inning, Encarnacion hit one of the biggest home runs in team history when he took the first pitch he saw from Ubaldo Jimenez and put it into the second deck of Rogers Center for the walk off win to move to the ALDS. Encarnacion got even better in the next series when he hit 5 for 12 (.417) with a pair of home runs to knock out the Texas Rangers.
He would leave in free agency after that season to the Cleveland Indians and his 239 home runs in a Blue Jays uniform currently sits third in franchise history.
8. Vernon Wells (1999-2009)
The Toronto Blue Jays selected Vernon Wells with the fifth overall pick in the 1997 MLB Draft. After some brief stints with the club, Wells played his first full season in 2002 when he looked like a star in the making as he finished the season with 34 doubles, 23 home run and 100 RBI. Wells followed that season up with an MVP type season that saw him lead the league in both hits (215) and doubles (49) while also having career highs in home runs (33) and RBI (117). Wells posted a slash line that season of .317/.359/.550, which led to an All-Star Game appearance, a Silver Slugger Award and finishing eighth in AL-MVP voting.
In his next few seasons, Wells would earn three consecutive Gold Gloves in centre field. In 2006, Wells would make an All-Star appearance in a season that saw him hit 40 doubles, 32 home runs and 106 RBI, while posting another phenomenal slash line of .303/.357/.542. That offseason, Wells signed a seven-year deal with an average salary of $18 Million. Wells had good years, but did not live up to some fans expectations and became the brunt of many negative comments. Wells would be traded at the end of the 2009 season, a year in which he was an All-Star again as he hit 44 doubles and 31 home runs.
At the conclusion of his career Wells currently sits amongst the leaders in most power hitting categories in franchise history. He is second in doubles (339) which is just four behind the leader, fourth in home runs (223), second in RBI (813) and second in total bases. Wells was a star in Toronto.
7. Jimmy Key (1984-1992)
Jimmy Key joined the Toronto Blue Jays organization in 1982 when the club drafted him in the third round in the MLB Draft. He played two years in the minor league system before making the club out of the Spring Training for the 1984 season and pitched 63 games out of the bullpen. The following season he was moved into the rotation and became one of the best #2 pitchers in all of baseball for close to a decade.
Key finished with 12+ wins in eight consecutive seasons and was named to two All-Star Games in that time. His best season came in 1987 when he finished second in Cy Young voting to Roger Clemens. Key posted a 17-8 record and led the league in both ERA at 2.76 and WHIP at 1.06.
He was equally good in the playoffs as he pitched in seven different games, starting five of them from 1985-1992. His playoff career consists of a 3-1 record and a 3.03 ERA. Key had his best performances in the 1992 World Series. With the Blue Jays up two games to one, Key started a pivotal Game 4 and pitched into the eighth inning allowing just one earned run to claim the victory and put a stranglehold on the series lead. He then came into Game 6 in the bottom of the tenth inning to get the final two outs. He returned for the bottom of the eleventh and again was able to get two outs, however, due to an error had allowed one run. Mike Timlin came in to close out the game and Key earned the victory in the World Series winning game.
Key was a fan favourite in Toronto and caused an emotional goodbye when he walked off the mound in Game 4 as it was all but certain that he was leaving in free agency. Key would leave that offseason to New York to play for the Yankees. Key is tied with Dave Stieb with the lowest career ERA amongst starting pitchers, as well as having the lowest WHIP of any starting pitchers. Key also sits fourth in victories in club history.
6. Jose Bautista (2008-2017)
Trading for Roberto Alomar and Joe Carter may have been the most impactful decision in team history, but acquiring Jose Bautista for Robinzon Diaz turned out to be the most lopsided trade the Jays have made.
The Blue Jays stole Bautista from the Pittsburgh Pirates in August 2008 after he had failed to really latch onto a full-time spot. Bautista had shown potential as he had averaged 15 home runs a season from 2006-2008. In his first full season in Toronto, he split time between the two corner outfield positions and third base. He finished the season with 13 home runs, which would be the last time over the next eight years he would fail to hit at least 23 long balls.
Bautista would explode offensively in 2010 as he would not only win the home run title with 54, but he would set a franchise record. He added 35 doubles and 124 RBI, while showing patience at the plate finishing with 100 base on balls. His slash line would be .260/.378/.617 which led to him finishing fourth in AL-MVP voting. This would be the first of six consecutive All-Star appearances and the first of three Silver Slugger Awards.
In 2011, Bautista would have his career best season, he led the league in home runs (43), base on balls (132), Slugging Percentage (.608) and OPS (1.056). Over his 10 year career in Toronto, Bautista would finish with 288 home runs which sits second in franchise history and currently holds two of the top five single season home run records.
Bautista would perform equally as good in the playoffs as in 20 postseason games he collected 10 extra base hits (six home runs), had an OPS of .904 and is best known for his home run in Game 5 of the 2015 ALDS. He would leave in free agency after the 2017 and bounce around the league for a bit. It is just a matter of time until Bautista’s name is immortalized on the Level of Excellence at Rogers Centre.
Who was your favourite of this group of Blue Jays?