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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

27 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 two seasons with Boston, putting up a 3.83 ERA and a 20-18 record in 57 starts. Yeah, it’s still good, but it’s 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 he wasn’t happy with their offers.

The Blue Jays came, offering three years and $24.75 million (which sounds like much less money now).

With the Jays, he returned to the Clemens of old. He went 41-13 in two seasons with a 2.33 ERA in 67 starts and 498.2 innings. He won his 4th and 5th Cy Young awards, giving the Jays their 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 al 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.

He’s easily the best former MLB pitcher not to be elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame, but if the ‘character clause’ is ever used by the Baseball Writers, Clemens is the one.

25 Years Ago

On December 13, 1998, the Jays traded Woody Williams (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 and 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, with 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 with a 3.70 ERA in 41 games. Almanzar would go on 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 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 and 330 starts.

In return, we got Hamilton. Joey did little for us. He was pretty awful. In 1999, he pitched in 22 games, 18 starts, going 7-8 with a 6.52 ERA. How can you 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 ERA, 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, 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 of the bad trades in Blue Jay history.

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

5 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. Usually, he wouldn’t have been Rule 5 eligible for another couple of years — for that matter, some North American players haven’t even been drafted into the professional ranks by his age. However, Major League Rule 5 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 bizarre pick. It seems almost crazy to expect that Luciano could stick with the Jays for a full season, given that he had never even pitched in a full-season league. Or even beyond rookie ball.

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 entire 2019 season. He had a 5.35 ERA in 25 games. Then, 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 2021 but was re-signed about a week later. He pitched in two games for the Fisher Cats in 2022. He signed with the Yomiuri Giants before last season but didn’t pitch for them.