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Blue Jays Birthdays: Donaldson, Wells, Johnson, Drabek

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New York Yankees v Toronto Blue Jays Photo by Abelimages/Getty Images

We have a mess of former Blue Jays having birthdays today.

Josh Donaldson turns 35 today.

I don’t think I need to tell you anything about Josh. In 4 seasons, he hit .281/.383/.548 with 116 home runs. He’s 15th on our all-time list for home runs (Justin Smoak finished his time with the Jays with 1 more).

He had 3 terrific seasons and one injury-filled season with the Blue Jays. The less said about the circumstances of his trade, the better. In the three seasons since he’s played for Cleveland, Atlanta, and Minnesota.

Happy Birthday Josh, I hope it is a good one.

Vernon Wells turns 42 today.

For some reason, I figured he would be older. Vernon’s father, Vernon Wells Sr. was a football player, a receiver, who played in the CFL with the Calgary Stampeders and the Ottawa Rough Riders. Our Vernon was the Jays first round of the 1997 draft, 5th pick overall.

He rose quickly through the minors; in 1999 played in four levels, starting the season in A-Ball and finishing in the Majors, getting called up to the Jays at the end of August. He got 88 at-bats. In 2000 he was a September call-up, and again in 2001 he spent most of the season in Triple-A with a couple of call-ups. He was considered the Jays’ top prospect and took part in the MLB Futures game a couple of times.

2002 was Vernon’s first full season with the Jays. He played 159 games, mostly in center. Vernon had a pretty good season, batting .275 with 23 homers and 100 RBI. He’s the youngest Jay to drive in 100 runs at 23. Vlad still has a chance to beat that.

In 2003 Wells had his best season. He played in 161 games, hit .317/.359/.550, and led the league with 215 hits, 49 doubles, and 373 total bases. He was in 3rd runs scored with 118 and RBI with 117. The 215 hits set a Jays team record. He made the All-Star team, won the Silver Slugger award, and was 8th in MVP voting (Jay Carlos Delgado was 2nd to Alex Rodriguez that year, another Jay outfielder Shannon Stewart in 4th, but we traded him in mid-season). He also had a 20 game hitting streak and became only the 3rd center fielder in major league history to drive in 100 runs his first 2 full seasons in the majors. The others were Joe DiMaggio and Al Simmons so he’s in pretty good company.

Vernon’s numbers dropped off some in 2004. He hit .272/.337/.472 with 23 homers and 67 RBI. He missed a month with a strained calf muscle, so he only got into 134 games. He did win his first Gold Glove that year. 2005 was a similar season with the bat, hitting .269/.320/.463 with 28 home runs and 97 RBI. He got in a full season that year, playing 156 games. Not a bad season, 28 homers is nothing to sneeze at, and he won his second Gold Glove.

Wells had another terrific season in 2006. He hit .303/.357/.542 with 32 homers and 106 RBI, and 40 doubles. He was 9th in the AL in hits (185) and 5th in total bases (331). He won his 3rd Gold Glove, got into his second All-Star game, and got a couple of MVP votes. He became just the 3rd Jay to have 20+ homers in 5 consecutive seasons. 8 of his 32 homers came against the Red Sox. He also had a career-high 17 stolen bases.

Vernon cashed in on his good year big time after the season, signing a 7 year $126 million contract. Yeah, it wasn’t a smart move.

2007 was a terrible season for Wells; he hit just .245/.304/.402 and had less than 20 home runs for the first time in a full season with 16. A shoulder problem that he had surgery for in September helped along the poor season.

Vernon had another injury-filled season in 2008. He missed time with a fractured wrist and later with a hamstring strain. Wells still led the Jays in homers with 20 and RBI with 78 even though he only played 108 games. When he played, he hit pretty well, 300/.343/.496.

2009 was another down year. Wells had a bounce-back 2010 season hitting .273/.331/.515 with 31 home runs and 17 steals (tying his career-high).

Amazingly, after the 2010 season, Alex Anthopoulos was able to trade the untradable contract. The Angels were willing to take him off our hands. We received Juan Rivera and Mike Napoli (who was flipped for Frank Francisco) in return (and we didn’t send much money along with Vernon).

The Angels didn’t get the best out of Wells (.222/.258/.409 with 36 home runs over 2 seasons). After the 2012 season, they traded him to the Yankees, where he hit .233/.282/.349 over 130 games, and that was the end of his career.

Vernon was one of those all out all the time type players. He’s one of the few guys I’ve seen who always ran hard down the line, always went full speed all the time. I admired him for that, but maybe he would have been better off to choose his moments. He had a far number of leg problems in his career.

Vernon is number 4 on our all-time home run list and 5th on our list for bWAR among position players.

Happy Birthday, Vernon. I hope it is a good one.

Reed Johnson turns 44 today.

The Jays drafted Reed in the 17th round of the 1999 amateur draft out of Cal State Fullerton, where he was named an Academic All-American and played baseball and soccer. When you are a 17th rounder, you have to work harder to make it to the majors, and Reed worked as hard as any major leaguer. His high socks, great defense, hustle, and willingness to take one for the team made him a fan favorite in Toronto.

Reed made the Jays coming out of spring training in 2003 and started the season as part of a platoon in RF with Frank Catalanotto. On July 16th the Jays traded Shannon Stewart to the Minnesota Twins for Bobby Kielty. The Johnson/Catalanotto platoon moved to LF with Kielty in RF. That first season Reed hit .294/.353/.427 scoring 79 runs and driving in 52. He hit 10 home runs, only walked 20 times, but his on base percentage was helped by being hit by pitch 20 times, second in the league. Reed made turning into a pitch an art form. Twice as a Jay, he tied the major league record by being hit by pitch 3 times in a game. He also had a 20 game hit streak that season. He was named AL Rookie of the Month for September.

In 2004 Reed continued in the LF platoon with Cat and filled in at CF and RF when needed. In 141 games, he hit in every spot in the order during the season. He didn’t have as good a season offensively, batting .270/.320/.380, scoring 68 runs, driving in 61 with 10 home runs.

In 2005 Johnson was still in the platoon. He played a little less, coming into more games as a defensive replacement. He hit .269/.332/.412 with 8 home runs, 55 runs, 58 RBI and was hit by pitch 16 times.

Johnson had his career season, with the Jays, in 2006. He was everything you could want in a leadoff man hitting .319/.390/.479 scoring 86 runs and driving in 49 with 12 homers. He also led the AL by being hit by pitch 21 times. After starting the season in his usual platoon, he became a full-timer in July.

Early in the 2007 season, he hurt his back and had surgery on a herniated disk. He came back to the team in early July but wasn’t 100%. He finished with his worse stats for a season hitting only .236/.305/.320 with career lows of 31 runs, 14 RBI, and 2 home runs.

In the off-season before the 2008 season, the Jays signed David Eckstein, a similar player as Reed, to play shortstop and leadoff. With Matt Stairs expected to play in LF, Reed looked to be back in a platoon role. Then inexplicably, at least to me, the Jays signed Shannon Stewart and released Johnson. I still have no idea why you would release Johnson, a year removed from a career season, to play Shannon Stewart, who was several years removed from his last decent season. Add into the equation that Johnson could play all 3 outfield spots very well, while Stewart could only LF and very poorly.

Of course, Stewart played awful for the Jays and was released during the season, while Johnson hit .303/.358/.420 in 109 games with the Cubs. Thanks, JP.

I know I liked him far more than I really should. Reed wasn’t the perfect leadoff man. It’d be better if he would have taken some more walks, maybe cut down on his strikeouts, and he didn’t steal many bases. But his hustle, defense, arm in the outfield, and willingness to take one for the team made him a great fourth outfielder type.

After leaving the Jays, Reed played for the Cubs, Dodgers, Cubs again, Braves, Marlins, and Nationals. In 13 seasons, he hit .279/.335/.405.

Happy Birthday, Reed, I hope it is a good one.

Kyle Drabek turns 33 today.

You might remember that Drabek was the big piece in the Roy Halladay trade. He didn’t turn out to be what we hoped. Back in 2011, Kyle was number 1 on our Top 40 Prospect List.

A couple of weeks ago, I asked, “Which player in Blue Jays history did you have the highest hopes for, but didn’t live up to your expectations?” Kyle is a good pick for that ‘honor’.

Kyle got into 39 games (30 starts) spread over 5 seasons with the Blue Jays. He had a 5.26 ERA. In 179.2 innings, he allowed 188 hits, 117 walks, with 123 strikeouts. The strikeout to walk rate isn’t exactly what you look for in a starting pitcher.

Back in 2015, the White Sox relieved us of him. Since then, the Diamondbacks and Giants have tried to see if they could get his ability to match his potential. In 2018 he pitched for an independent league team. He’s out of baseball now.

He’s an example of TINSTAAPP.

Happy Birthday, Kyle. I hope it is a good one.