When Danny Valencia came over to the Toronto Blue Jays in 2014, he had already established himself as a veteran utilityman who mashed lefties and played decent defense at all four corners on the field.
In 335 games before his landing in Toronto, he had hit a decent but uninspiring 35 home runs with an OPS+ of 95 split between the Twins, Red Sox, Orioles and Royals. Acquired in exchange for backup catcher Erik Kratz, things seemed to be looking up for Valencia as there was a pathway to more playing time in Toronto than in any of his other previous stops.
After struggling in the second half of the 2014 season, he won his arbitration case heading into 2015 and immediately rewarded the club. In March/April, his OPS+ was 119. May saw his numbers dip a bit down an OPS+ of 75 but he posted a 168 and 120 mark in June and July.
"Playing with this group of guys and in front of those fans, that has to be the most fun experience of my entire career in the big leagues. I still play golf with Russell Martin and we actually were just talking about that group of guys and we were both saying how that 2015 squad was the first time we ever felt like we were surrounded by a group of true friends", Valencia tells me in a recent conversation.
As a whole, Valencia saw himself emerge as a quietly reliable piece for this Blue Jays club. Around him, management had brought aboard David Price, Troy Tulowitzki, Mark Lowe and LaTroy Hawkins to try and put together the squad necessary to march to some postseason baseball.
But there's one name the Blue Jays added that ultimately spelled the end for Valencia's career in Toronto: speedy outfielder Ben Revere.
"I was completely blindsided by the move," Valencia tells me when asked about his surprise DFA. "Honestly, the day before I got that news, Alex Anthopoulous walked through our clubhouse and told everyone that nobody from the big league roster was going to be traded, so it hurt at first."
He mentions that Revere's ability to play all three outfield positions likely made someone like himself a bit more expendable.
"To their defense, it's not like I was the premier guy you'd want playing in the outfield every day. I understood why they brought him aboard but I was definitely blindsided because I enjoyed every minute of my time there."
Needing to address the elephant in the room, I had to ask Valencia about the rumors floating around the internet that there was some friction between him and some of his Blue Jays teammates that led to his being let go. Even after speaking with him for ten minutes, I could tell that these rumors did not have any truth to them. Valencia himself was shocked to hear that anything of the sort has been mentioned on social media.
"Wow, I certainly never felt that way at all," he chuckles. "I truly don't even know what you would've heard. I can't say I experienced anything negative while I was there at all. I loved John Gibbons, was well-integrated in the clubhouse and developed relationships with many of the guys in there, all of whom I still talk to to this day. Loved every minute of my experiences there and have nothing but fond memories of everyone there from the front office to the coaching staff to the trainers."
After he left the Blue Jays, his friendship with Martin continues to this day. He also mentions a close friendship he's maintained over the years with José Bautista, Marcus Stroman and Kevin Pillar.
As a member of the Seattle Mariners in 2017, Valencia was approached with an offer to participate in the upcoming World Baseball Classic, but the stars did not align and he was not able to end up making the commitment. In 2019, after he concluded his big league career, he was approached by Team Israel about acquiring Israeli citizenship to play on their National Team in an effort to qualify for the 2020 Summer Olympics, which they later did, mostly thanks to Valencia himself.
In the Olympic Qualification tournament in Italy, he led all players in the tourney in runs (seven), home runs (three), RBI (nine) and walks (five), while posting a batting average of .375 along the way. His hot bat carried over into the Olympics as well, as he hit three home runs with seven RBI.
"Long story short, we shocked the world and won it all to advance to the Olympics. Those Summer Olympics in Tokyo were incredible, so much more than I ever thought would happen in my wildest dreams. Truly one of the best baseball experiences of my life", he says.
While his inclusion in the 2023 World Baseball Classic for Team Israel had not been previously reported, Valencia confirmed with me that he will indeed be a part of their roster in the upcoming event.
"Yeah, I'm on the team. It's probably going to be my last round of playing in my career. Ian (Kinsler), the manager, asked me to come back for one last round. I've been loving it so far, it's like bonus baseball for me. I live down here in South Florida surrounded by tons of friends and family and it's going to be such a surreal experience. If it was anywhere but Miami, I would've declined. To be able to suit up one last time in front of my hometown, that's an experience I cannot pass up."
Now, Valencia has not appeared in a major league game since 2018 and hasn't played any affiliate ball since 2021 when he was signed by the Long Island Ducks to prepare for the Olympics. I made sure to ask him what he officially considers his status as.
"Yeah, I'm pretty much done. I get to play ball one last time with Israel which is going to be an incredible experience that allows me to travel the world and still play games. It's pretty cool to have that under my belt, but I'm not doing this to pursue any more contracts in professional ball."
Nowadays, Valencia is a real estate agent in South Florida, working for a company called Lang Realty. He mentions the amount of people hustling around his area that are thriving in real estate, so he decided to seriously pursue it in his post-playing days.
"It's always good to be involved in that part of life with investments and properties. I worked hard, got my license and was able to get my foot in the door in a well-established company around here. I help buyers and sellers find their dream homes. It's such a good business to be in, I've been dabbling in the buying and selling of properties since 2014 and I'm proud to be a more formal real estate agent now."
Valencia is a quiet, well-spoken, humble individual who has managed to find a meaningful life after baseball and I congratulate him for that.
"I've dealt with the rumors and drama everywhere I've gone in my career. People think that if a guy plays for a bunch of different teams, it's because there's issues in the clubhouse, but that's simply not the case. I want the people of Toronto especially to know that I cherished my time there and will have fond memories of the experiences for the rest of my life."