No. 5 Eric Hinske
In December 2001, new Blue Jays General Manager J.P. Ricciardi made his first trade. Ricciardi had been in the Athletics front office before joining the Blue Jays three weeks earlier and chose his former team for the first big deal of his tenure.
Ricciardi traded closer Billy Koch, who had saved 100 games for the Blue Jays over the previous three seasons, for minor leaguers Eric Hinske and Justin Miller. The move was regarded at the time as a salary dump, a way to get rid of Koch’s $2.35M salary. Ricciardi saw it differently.
“This was the best deal we felt we could make, the one we’re most comfortable with,” he said at the time. “[Hinske] fits everything I like in a player…he’s not that far away from the majors, a half-year at the most. He’ll compete for a job this spring.”
His prediction proved prescient. Hinske earned the starting third baseman job out of Spring Training and made the Blue Jays forget all about their former fireball-throwing closer.
Hinske’s first home run with the Blue Jays was a go-ahead, extra-inning shot at Yankee Stadium that gave the club a 5-4 win over the Yankees. It augured what was to come, as Hinske finished the season with 24 home runs, still a Blue Jays club record for homers by a rookie. He also established Blue Jays rookie records with 84 RBI and an OPS of .845. His immediate contribution was rewarded when Hinske became only the second player in franchise history to win Rookie of the Year honours, joining Alfredo Griffin who shared the award in 1979.
Hinske didn’t approach those numbers again over his next three-plus years with the Blue Jays. But he still had his moments. On April 29, 2005, his two-run homer off Randy Johnson was the difference as Roy Halladay tossed a complete game shutout in a 2-0 win against the Yankees. He was sold to the Red Sox in 2006, ending his career in Toronto with 78 home runs in 655 games, fifth all-time among Blue Jays third basemen.