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Today in Blue Jays history: A bad trade and Clemens signing

Toronto Blue Jays Photo by SPX/Diamond Images via Getty Images

25 Years Ago

The Blue Jays signed Roger Clemens.

Roger had played 13 seasons for the Red Sox. He had a 192-111 record and a 3.06 ERA in 382 starts, won three Cy Young awards, and finished 2nd and 3rd and 6th in the voting other times.

But he wasn’t as terrific in his last couple of seasons with Boston, putting up a 3.83 ERA and a 20-18 record in 57 starts. Yeah, still very good, but kind of a step down in performance. When he hit free agency, the Red Sox didn’t want to give him the money he expected. He talked to the Yankees but wasn’t happy with their offers.

The Blue Jays came, offering three years and $24.75 million (which doesn’t sound like that much money anymore.

With the Jays, he returned to the Clemens of old. In two seasons, he went 41-13 with a 2.33 ERA in 67 starts and 298.2 innings. He won his 4th and 5th Cy Young awards. It was the best back-to-back seasons by a pitcher in team history. His bWAR for the two seasons was a pretty incredible 20.1.

Let’s ignore that PEDs helped him regain his old form.

And he made a rather cute commercial (co-starring a young Dan Shulman and Buck Martinez):

Roger was excellent. The rest of the team wasn’t. We’d finish last in 1997 and a fair more respectable 3rd in 1998.

After the 1998 season, Roger was tired of listening to two National Anthems before each start (or perhaps it was the losing) and asked for a trade. The Jays sent him to the Yankees. We got Homer Bush, Graeme Lloyd and David Wells in return. Not a terrible return.

Clemens would win two more Cy Youngs, pick up a couple of World Series rings and, generally, go on to be a complete and utter jackass.

This year he’s on the Hall of Fame ballot for the tenth time. Yet, despite all his Cy Youngs and 354 career wins, the BBWAA has told him to Clemens off so far.

23 Years Ago

On December 13, 1998, the Jays traded Woody Williams (and Carlos Almarzar and Peter Tucci) to the Padres for Joey Hamilton. Unfortunately, it wasn’t one of our better trades.

The guys we gave up:

  • Tucci never made it to the majors, though he had a pretty good number in the minors. In 1998, playing in A-ball at Dunedin and Double-A Knoxville, he hit .318/.376/.602 with 32 home runs, 112 RBI in 130 games. He was a corner outfielder.
  • Almanzar was a right-handed reliever. For the Padres, he pitched in 28 games in 1999, posting a 7.47 ERA, but was far better in 2000, a 4.39 ERA, in 62 games, 69 innings, 25 walks, 56 strikeouts, but 12 home runs allowed. After that season, the Padres traded Carlos to the Yankees for David Lee, another reliever, who pitched one season with the Padres, 3.70 ERA in 41 games. Almanzar would go one to play for the Yankees, Reds and Rangers. He played in 8 seasons, pitched in 210 games and had a 4.82 ERA.
  • Woody Williams went on to have a pretty good career. He pitched for the Padres for the next 2.5 seasons, going 30-28 in 79 starts with a 4.35 ERA. In August of 2001, the Padres traded Woody to the Cardinals for Ray Lankford. He would play 15 seasons in the majors, with a 132-116 record with a 4.19 ERA in 424 games, 330 starts.

In return, we got Hamilton. Joey didn’t do all that much for us. He was pretty awful. In 1999 he pitched in 22 games, 18 starts, going 7-8 with a 6.52 ERA. I’m not sure how you can get 7 wins with an ERA over 6 and a half. The Jays started him in Triple-A the following season, and he missed some time with injuries. He finally got six MLB starts at the end of the season, posting a 3.55 ERA. In 2001 Joey started the season in our rotation and made 22 starts, with a 5.89, before we finally released him in early August.

Why did it take so long before we released him? Gord Ash signed him to a three-year, $16.5 million contract, a fair bit of money for a 14-17 record, 5.83 ERA and 0 WAR.

Gord traded for him and signed him to the big contract on the recommendation of Dave Stewart, who we hired as assistant GM after his playing days were over. Stewart had played with Joey and saw something in his eyes or some stupid thing like that and figured he would be a star.

This one would rank near the top on the list of top bad trades in Blue Jay history. But then, Joey averaged over 200 innings per season in the four seasons with the Padres before the deal with a 55-44 record with a 3.83 ERA.

On the other hand, the season before the trade, Joey led the NL in walks, and he never did strike out many. Ash should have seen that a pitcher with a 1.39 strikeout to walk ratio didn’t suggest someone who would do well in the AL East.

3 Years Ago

The Blue Jays took Elvis Luciano from the Royals in the Rule 5 draft. It was, well, a weird pick. As Matt explained:

Elvis Luciano is just 18 (19 in February), and was only signed two years ago. Normally, he wouldn’t have been Rule 5 eligible for another couple years — for that matter, some North American players haven’t even been drafted into the professional ranks by his age. Major League Rule 5 (pursuant to which the draft is conducted) has language about players becoming eligible earlier under certain circumstances, and apparently Luciano had his contract renegotiated which qualifies.

On the surface, it’s a very weird pick. It seems almost crazy to expect that Luciano could stick with the Jays next year, given that he’s never even pitched in a full season league. Or even beyond rookie ball — just last July, he was shelled by Bluefield pitching opposite Eric Pardinho (was a bigwig in for that and Luciano caught his eye?).

But Luciano had potential, a fastball that topped out at 96 MPH, a good curve, and a changeup that was a work in process.

The cost was that Elvis had to stay on the Jays 25 man roster for the full 2019 season. He had a 5.35 ERA in 25 games. He went on the DL with a right elbow strain, which, conveniently kept him out of the lineup until rosters expanded in September.

He was released by the Jays in August of this year but was re-signed about a week later.

Elvis will be 22 in February. Some of the prospect shine has worn off. His control hasn’t been as good as we might have hoped.