Not just number, but "Hello, I am ____" nametag required in the clubhouse. - Tom Szczerbowski
It's obvious that the Jays of 2013 will be vastly different than that of 2012, but is this the most change they've ever had, and how how their most-radically revised teams fared on the field?
In their Opening Day lineup and the first trip through the starting rotation, the 2013 Blue Jays will likely feature at least six players who didn't play a single game with the team or its affiliates in 2012: Josh Johnson, R.A. Dickey, Mark Buehrle, Jose Reyes, Melky Cabrera, and either Emilio Bonifacio or Maicer Izturis. We all knew that the Jays have had massive turnover, but even with the Jays having had to build their organization from the thin pickings of an expansion draft, the 2013 team will be the team's most changed.
Throughout the 1980s the Blue Jays were about as static as a sports team can be, calling up players as they became ready and keeping them there - Dave Stieb, Jimmy Key,
Josh Jesse Barfield, George Bell, Tony Fernandez, Fred McGriff -- until by the latter half of the decade, they'd built up a very good team. There was a burst of activity in the early 1990s that turned that very good team into a two-time Series champion, followed by another much-less successful all-out effort in the late 90s. After that, other than the ill-fated binge in 2006 that brought Lyle Overbay, Troy Glaus, and more, there simply hasn't been much reason for the Jays to make a ton of moves before now -- they were simply too far behind the best teams in the East -- and, one assumes, nothing like the Marlins deal presented itself.
The Blue Jays have started the year with three players who were new to the organization in 10 seasons: 1980, ‘83, ‘91, ‘93, ‘95, ‘96, ‘99, 2000, ‘01 and ‘03. The most notable of these seasons was 1991, when the trade of McGriff trade netted Roberto Alomar and Joe Carter and a separate deal landing Devon White set the stage for the 1992-93 greatness.) Only four times prior to 2013, have the Jays had more than three new faces in their opening lineup or starting rotation:
1997: Gord Ash had watched the Blue Jays slide from 94 wins in 1993 to a 77-win pace in the strike-shortened ‘94 and a 63-win pace in '95, so when they ticked back up to 74-88 in 1996, Ash really went for it: he brought in catcher Benito Santiago (coming off a freakish 30-homer season), second baseman Carlos Garcia, outfielder Orlando Merced, hard-throwing but erratic fifth starter Robert Person, and oh-by-the-way nabbed Roger Clemens as a free agent. Clemens was phenomenal, of course, but the rest performed about as you would expect those four guys to perform, and the Blue Jays picked up just two games off their 1996 record, all (and then some) attributable to Clemens.
1998: Ash went back to the drawing board, bringing in four new guys to follow (and sometimes replace) 1997's five: catcher :Darin Fletcher, infielder Tony Fernandez (not new to the team, of course, but newly back with the team for a third time), first baseman/designated hitter Mike Stanley, and DH Jose Canseco. By and large, these guys performed better than the previous class, and along with strong years from Carlos Delgado, Shawn Green, and Shannon Stewart and more brilliance by Clemens, the ‘98 Jays improved all the way to 88-74. That was thanks to a great late-season push, though; they were 24.5 games behind the Yankees and 9.5 behind Boston at the end of July, and ended up trading Stanley to the Red Sox for some prospects.
2006: Having finished 2005 at 80-82 and 15 games behind both the Yankees and Red Sox, J.P. Ricciardi went to town, bringing in Bengie Molina on a small one-year deal, trading for Lyle Overbay and Troy Glaus, and signing A.J. Burnett to a huge five-year deal. (That's four; relievers are outside the scope here, but he did also bring in B.J. Ryan on a huge five-year deal). It looked pretty crazy at the time, but the Jays did jump to 87 wins in 2006 and stayed above .500 through 2008, so I suppose one could argue that it "worked" in some sense.
Finally, the only year before 2013 in which the Jays opened with six new faces:
1978: After losing 107 games in the inaugural 1977 season, Pat Gillick took over and made some sweeping changes. The opening day lineup and five-man rotation featured five players who weren't around in ‘77, all of them veterans of questionable quality: RIck Bosetti (a minor-league journeyman center fielder who played nearly 300 games for the 1978-79 Blue Jays and put up a 77 OPS+), Luis Gomez (one of the worst hitters in big-league history, who inexplicably got 153 games at short after topping out at 89 as a utility infielder for the Twins), Tom Hutton (who played corner outfield after a career as a mostly poor first baseman and put up an 88 OPS+), John Mayberry (the one who kind of "worked"; he hit .256/.352/.450 as a Blue Jay and remained through the beginning of his final season), Rico Carty (who hit very well in 104 games as the team's DH), and Tom Underwood (95 ERA+ in nearly 200 innings). The team lost 102 games, five "better" than the year before. Carty and Hutton were both traded during the season. They went on to lose 109 in 1979.
All in all, the Blue Jays' record in making large-scale changes is not great. This time promises to be different: They've added five very good players, though, a far cry from the chaff of ‘78 (and even the sixth starter, be he Emilio Bonifacio or Maicer Izturis, is no Luis Gomez). This team was probably already better than the 89 losses they were stuck with in 2012, having lost Jose Bautista for 70 games and gotten almost unfathomably poor play from its bench. This will almost certainly be the most "different" team the Blue Jays have ever had, but it also seems to stand a good chance of being among the most improved -- though the approximately 20 wins they'd have to gain to become a playoff contender in the AL East still looks like a very tall order.