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Top 40 All-Time Greatest Blue Jays: #23 Shawn Green

Shawn David Green | RF | 1993-1999 | Career Stats | 1 All-Star

1999 Gold Glove
1999 Silver Slugger

The Blue Jays Top-40 continues with #23, Shawn Green, who was one of my favourite Blue Jays growing up. With a sweet sweet swing that produce average and power while playing gold glove defence in right field, what's not to like about Green? (We will forget about wanting to play in his home town, and more importantly, Raul Mondesi). Although to this day, I was still a little bitter by his departure, this column is one to celebrate his accomplishments as a Blue Jay, which was pretty impressive to say the least.

Shawn David Green was drafted in the first round, 16th overall, out of Tustin High School by the Toronto Blue Jays in the 1991 first-year players draft. For a high school draftee, Green progressed very quickly through the Jays' minor league system. He started his professional career in 1992 at Dunedin (A+), which is a very aggressive starting point for a high school hitter (in comparison, Travis Snider, the Jays' 2006 first rounder out of high school, started in Rookie Ball, which is 3 levels below A+). Maybe it was too aggressive on the Blue Jays' part, as Green was very ordinary in his first season. His underwhelming performance at Dunedin did not stop the Blue Jays' front office from promoting Green to AA the following season, which resulted in another mediocre season. However, while statisticians may see little reasons for optimisms, scouts loved him. For that reason, he was the #47th best prospect after his first season and the #28th best prospect after his second according to Baseball America's Top 100 Prospect List in 1993. In this case, I think the scouts are right.

In September of 1993, Green made his major league debut and played in a handful of meaningless games after the Jays clinched their division title. It was definitely not a fairy tale beginning to his career as he failed to do anything of significant in the 3 games he played (the only things that showed up on the record books are 6ABs, 1K, and 1PO). Nonetheless, by playing 3 games with the big club, he earned his first and only World Series Ring, which is quite a present for a 20 year old rookie.

After a couple years of failed potential, Green broke through big time in 1994, and developed into the 5 tool player that scouts have always envisioned him to be. He absolutely demolished International League (AAA) pitching, in addition to showing his Gold Glove potential in right field. At year end, he collected numerous accolades including being named the Blue Jays' minor league player of the year, and was ranked #6 in Baseball America's 1995 Top 100 Prospect List.

In 1995, Green has graduated from the minors and played full time in the big leagues. For the most part of his first three full seasons in the major, he was an extremely streaky hitter, almost like a Shea Hillenbrand evil twin. He habitually stank in the first half of the season and is one of the league's best post all-star hitter, which resulted in a couple of consistently mediocre lines by seasons end. Nonetheless, there are a couple achievements worth mentioning in his first three seasons in the big leagues, most namely his first. In his rookie season, he set a couple of then Blue Jays rookie records (extra base hits, .SLG) with his bat and led the atrocious 1995 Blue Jays team in several offensive categories (.SLG, .OPS) and tied for the team lead in extra base hits despite having nearly 150 at-bats less then his co-lead Paul Molitor. The talent is obviously there, but he just can't seem to get it all together for a full season.

There was also a lot of controversy surrounding Green in the first three years, most namely his relationship with then Jays' manager Cito Gaston. Green was in Gaston's proverbial "dog house". Gaston showed a lack of confidence in his young right fielder, holding him to a short leash whenever he struggles, and almost always benches him when a left-hander starts for the opposing team. At one point, the Jays even tried to replace Green with a then washed-up Ruben Sierra, which ended 3 weeks later as a failed experiment.

I am not sure if it is just coincidental or if the "Gaston factor" really made a difference in Green's performance, but in the year after Gaston was fired as manager, Green broke out and became one of the league's elite hitters. With the confidence of new manager Tim Johnson (a man who won't be appearing on any all-time Blue Jays list, maybe the Hall of Shame), Green became one of the league's few true five-tool player. In 1998, Green became the 22nd major-league player, and first Blue Jay, to gain admittance (there are now 29) into the exclusive 30/30 club (30HR/30SB) by clubbing 35 Home Runs and swiping 35 bags. If we were to create a 35/35 club, including Green, there would only be 13 members. Although Green posted huge numbers in 1998 in comparison to his previous seasons, I believe he could have done it a couple years ago if he was granted 600AB annually. If you take a closer look at his 1998 stats in comparison to his rookie stats, you will see that the two seasons are eerily similar, with only 250 at-bats separating the two:

As you can see, there is only a .009 difference in his OPS between the two seasons. The only real differences between the two seasons are the at-bats and the stolen bases. One can only imagine what Green could have done if he received 600 AB apiece in his first 3 seasons, his first 30HR season might have happened a couple years earlier.

If 1998 was his breakthrough year, than 1999 would be his BREAKTHROUGH year. Unlike 1998, where the biggest difference came from the added playing time, in 1999, he set new career highs in every single offensive category save stolen bases. Green's 1999 season was one of the best single season offensive performances in Blue Jays history. At season's end, Green was rewarded with his first and only Silver Slugger Award and Gold Glove. However, despite his impressive numbers, Green only finished 9th in the MVP voting that year, due to an extraordinary number of extraordinary seasons that year in the AL and in baseball in general, which may or may not have anything to do with the S-word that must not be named.

In the offseason following the 1999 season, the Blue Jays management faced a dilemma. With both Carlos Delgado and Green becoming free agents and demanding huge contracts, the chance of signing both without ruining the Blue Jays' financial flexibility seems improbable, and it is destined that only one will remain a Blue Jay by the end of the offseason. After a couple weeks of negotiating and listening to the wishes of the two free agent stars, Green ultimately decided he wanted to return home and play for the L.A. Dodgers. On November 8th, 1999, Gord Ash granted his wish by sending Green and 2B Jorge Nunez to the Dodgers for disgruntled star Mondesi and reliever Pedro Borbon. Ash was applauded at the time of the traded for being able to obtain a rising superstar in Mondesi for Green, but now it is clear who got the better end of this deal, and it is not Blue Jays.

Green remained one of baseball's premier sluggers over the next couple years for the Dodgers. One of the most notable highlights of his Dodger career is his 4HR performance on May 23rd, 2002 against the Brewers. That evening, he went 6 for 6 with 6 runs scored, 4HR (he is 1 of 15 men to do it) and 19 total bases, which is a major league record; he is also the first man to go 6 for 6 while hitting 4 HR. Over the next couple nights, Green rewrote a couple more records in the baseball record books, including a tie for most HR in 2 games (5), a tie for most total bases in 2 games (25), and set the record for most HR in 3 games (7).

Green's production took a nosedive following his 2002 season. He no longer hits for huge power but remained above average both with his bat and his glove. Following the 2004 season, because of salary reasons, the Dodgers traded Green to the Arizona Diamondbacks for Catcher Dioner Navarro and a trio of minor league pitchers.

Green, now 33, is on the downward slope of his career and will likely never eclipse 30HR again. Although his peak was relatively short in comparison to the other stars of his generation, he will still go down in history as one of the better all-around players of his time. Consider the success rate of even the top prospects, kudos to him for carving himself a long and productive career.

Top 10 Toronto Blue Jays Batting Ranks (min. 2000 PA):