It is December 19th. Baseball has been over for nearly two months, and up to now the offseason has been nuts. Absolutely insane.
Hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent lavishly in the free agent market on high profile players such as Robinson Cano, Carlos Beltran, Jacoby Ellsbury, Brian McCann, Ricky Nolasco, Phil Hughes, Curtis Granderson, Jhonny Peralta and Joe Nathan.
The Toronto Blue Jays have signed one player to a major league free agent contract, catcher Dioner Navarro. Hardly Earth shattering.
But before you go crazy and blame Alex Anthopolous for sleeping on the job, or blame Rogers for not opening up the purse strings to bring in a big name, you should realize what has been obvious for years: free agency is a disaster waiting to happen.
Look at some of the huge contracts doled out over the past few years. Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton in Anaheim have not been worth anywhere near the money they were given. Same with Prince Fielder in Detroit, Johan Santana in New York, and players like A-Rod, Carl Crawford, and Toronto’s own Melky Cabrera.
But every so often, a GM signs a player to a contract that might not be as splashy and high profile as others, but turns out to be much more beneficial.
On this date 22 long years ago, this dream scenario happened to the Toronto Blue Jays.
The 1991 Jays won the AL East, and were favoured in the ALCS but were upset by the Minnesota Twins, a loss that crushed the fan base, the players, and the front office. When trying to figure out what happened, it was pretty easy to locate exactly where the blame should be placed. While the Jays were loaded with players such as Joe Carter, Roberto Alomar, and Devon White, they were incredibly weak at the DH position.
In 1991 Toronto’s DH production was abysmal to say the least: .248 average, 5 HR, 57 RBI, .687 OPS. Eleven different players took time at DH
during the season, and none of them inspired fear in the opposition, especially not the three who played the bulk of the games: Rance Mulliniks, Pat Tabler, and Mookie Wilson. Each of those men were in their mid-30’s and well past their prime. In order to take the next step, Toronto needed a DH.
On December 19, 1991, they got one, signing Dave Winfield from the California Angels to a one-year $2.3-million contract. While Winfield was a sure-fire future Hall-of-Famer, he was also 40-years old and clearly getting set to play his final years on the big leagues. His signing was nowhere near the biggest and most prominent that offseason, with players like Bobby Bonilla, Orel Hershiser, Dwight Evans, Eddie Murray, Otis Nixon, and Rick Sutcliffe signing contracts.
But Winfield turned out to be the most important signing in franchise history. He put up incredible numbers, stats even a fantasy baseball owner would be proud of. Winfield hit .290, slugged 26 HR with 108 RBI, and put up an .867 OPS and a 4.0 WAR. He more than doubled Toronto’s DH production single-handedly from the wretched 1991 season, and was one of the biggest reasons the Jays went back to the playoffs and finally took the World Series monkey off their backs.
So Jays fans, remember that when you consider this offseason. Yes the Jays didn’t bring in Cano or Omar Infante to play second, and they didn’t woo Nolasco or McCann to fill the starting pitcher and catcher holes.
But sometimes the best signings are the ones you don’t expect.
Can Navarro become the next Winfield?
Time will tell.