Gregory Owen Zaun | C | 2004 - 2008
Greg Zaun was born April 14, 1971 in Glendale, California. He is the nephew of former major league catcher Rick Dempsey. He was drafted by Baltimore in the 17th round of the1989 draft.
Zaun made it to the majors with the Orioles in 1995. He was traded to the Marlins in August 1996. From there he was traded to the Rangers in 1998. The Rangers included him in a 9-player trade to the Tigers in 1999. Going to the Tigers were Zaun, Juan Gonzalez and Danny Patterson. The Rangers got Frank Catalanotto, Frank Francisco, Bill Haselman, Gabe Kapler, Justin Thompson and Alan Webb. The Tigers traded him to Kansas City in spring of 2000. After the 2000 season he signed with the Astros as a free agent. He played for Houston until August of 2003, when they released him, then he signed with the Rockies. In the off-season before the 2004 season, the Expos signed then released Gregg. He's been everywhere.
Finally, on April 9th of 2004, Gregg signed with the Blue Jays. Kevin Cash started the season as the full-time catcher, with Greg Myers as a backup. The plan was for Zaun to be a backup in Triple-A and to help out Guillermo Quiroz, who was thought to be the catcher of the future (how many times have we been wrong about who the catcher of the future would be?). Myers and Cash each got hurt and Zaun, took over the starting job, by the start of May. Zaun appeared in 107 games that year, the most he had played in a season to that point. He did quite well, hitting .269/.367/.393 with 6 home runs and 36 RBI. It didn't hurt that he hit a home run in his first game and hit .429 in May. Making a good first impression is always a good idea.
In 2005 Zaun played a career high 133 games. Of course with Ken Huckaby as backup, you'd want Zaun out there every day too. He set his career highs in a lot of things that year, plate appearances (512), runs (61), hits (109), RBI (61) and walks (73) to list a few. His 73 walks also led the team. He hit .251/.355/.373 with 11 home runs. It was likely his best season in the majors, despite hitting the DL with a concussion in May. Fangraphs credited him with a 2.0 WAR, but then they didn't like his defense, so that cost him. He turned into a 'Moneyball' type player for the Jays, taking walks and getting on base, while not costing the team much in salary.
Before the 2006 season, the Jays signed Bengie Molina to be the starting catcher, but Gregg still got into 99 games (15 as a DH) and had another good season with the bat, hitting .2702/.363/.462 and setting his career high in homers with 12. Molina hit .284 himself (though he didn't like to walk) so we got pretty good offense out of our catchers.
In 2007 Zaun was back to being the full-time catcher. He played 110 games and hit ..242/.341/.411 with 10 home runs and 52 RBI. He spent time in the DL with a hand injury.
In 2008 the Jays signed Rod Barajas to be the starting catcher, but Barajas didn't hit right-handers well and manager John Gibbons started platooning, giving Zaun the bulk of the playing time, since, as a switch-hitter, he hit right-handers pretty good. Unfortunately for Gregg (but happily for the team) Gibbons was fired and Cito Gaston hired to manage. Around the same time, Zaun was injured and Barajas went on a little hot streak at the plate and Cito kept Barajas as the starting catcher when Gregg came off the DL. I'm not a big fan of a player losing his job because of an injury but when there has been a manager change, and Rod was hitting the ball well, you can understand it. Zaun wasn't too happy with losing the job and asked to be traded but the Jays didn't work anything out.
Most of us will remember that Gregg hit a walk-off grand slam against the Rays and closer Troy Percival with 2 outs in the 13th inning, September 6th of that year. That hit pretty much ended Percival's time as closer for the Rays. On September 13th he hit homers from both sides of the plate in a game against the Mariners.
After the 2008 season Zaun signed with the Orioles to back up rookie Matt Wieters. In August of that year he was traded to the Rays. You likely remember the home run he hit off Roy Halladay as a member of the Rays. After the season he signed with the Brewers, as a free agent and played 20 games with them. He signed with the Padres before the 2011 season but retired early in spring training.
Behind the plate, Gregg didn't have the strongest of arms, he was often near the top of the league in stolen bases allowed but his other defensive skills were good, he seemed to handle pitchers well and he was great at blocking the plate.
Zaun's name came up in the Mitchell report into PED. He was accused of buying steroids on a couple of occasions and a signed cheque from Zaun, apparently for steroids, was included in the report. Gregg also had a bit of a drinking problem, when he was younger, but by the time he joined the Jays he had it beat.
We have made a fair bit of fun of Gregg for his, terribly understated, website (turn your speakers down before hitting the link), but he does do a lot of charity work. He and his wife, Jamie (no not Campbell) support Right To Play and Gregg does a lot of work for the Toronto Children's Hospital (but I could do without the Zaunbie Nation stuff).
That I have Zaun as the second best catcher in Jays history says more about the franchise's lack of success at finding guys to play the position but Craig did a pretty good job for the team. The Jays gave him his first (and only) chance at being a starting catcher and he made it pay off for them. He must have a heck of a collection of jerseys after playing with so many teams. He's always been a favorite of mine, in part because he was able to overcome the 'backup catcher tag and because I always felt he was underrated, finding a catcher that is willing to take a walk, that can get on base isn't easy.
Gregg Zaun's place among Jays batting leaders:
Batting Average (>1500 PA): 37th, .255.
On Base Average (>1500 PA) 11th, .354.
Slugging Average (>1500 PA) 35th, .399.
Games played: 36th, 535.
Plate Appearances: 37th, 1922.
Runs: 37th, 218.
Hits: 41st, 417.
Doubles: 34th, 97.
Home runs: 40th, 45.
RBI: 38th, 219.
Walks: 23rd, 250.