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Blue Jays Birthdays: Donaldson, Wells, Johnson, Drabek

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim v Toronto Blue Jays

We have four former Blue Jays having birthdays today.

Josh Donaldson turns 38 today.

We picked up Josh in trade from the A’s for what turned out to be a handful of magic beans.

In his four seasons with the Jays, he hit .281/.383/.548 with 116 home runs in 462 games. He won an AL MVP award and finished 4th and 22nd in voting the next two seasons. By bWAR, he had the 7th and 8th best seasons ever for a Jays position player.

He’s number 13 on our all-time list for bWAR and 16th in home runs.

The less said about the circumstances of his trade, the better. After leaving Toronto, Josh has played for Cleveland, Atlanta, Minnesota, Yankees and Brewers.

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

Vernon Wells turns 45 today.

For some reason, I figured he would be older. Vernon’s father, Vernon Wells Sr., was a football player, and 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, he played in four levels, starting the season in A-Ball, finishing in the Majors, and 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 twice participated in the MLB Futures game.

2002 was Vernon’s first full season with the Jays. He played 159 games, mostly in center. Vernon had a good season, batting .275 with 23 home runs and 100 RBIs. He was the youngest Jay to drive in 100 runs at 23. Vlad beat him out.

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 (teammate 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 third center fielder in major league history to drive in 100 runs in the majors’ first two full seasons. The others were Joe DiMaggio and Al Simmons, putting Vernon in good company.

Vernon’s numbers dropped off some in 2004. He hit .272/.337/.472 with 23 home runs and 67 RBIs. Unfortunately, he missed a month with a strained calf muscle and 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 an entire season that year, playing 156 games. It was not a bad season; 28 homers are 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 home runs, 106 RBIs, 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 some MVP votes. Vernon became just the 3rd Jay to have 20+ homers in 5 consecutive seasons. Better yet, 8 of his 32 homers came against the Red Sox. He also had a career-high 17 stolen bases.

After the season, Vernon cashed in on his big year, 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. In September, a shoulder problem helped along the poor season.

Vernon had another injury-filled season in 2008. First, he missed time with a fractured wrist and later with a hamstring strain. However, 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 300/.343/.496.

2009 was another down year. However, 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 two seasons). After the 2012 season, they traded him to the Yankees, where he hit .233/.282/.349 over 130 games, which was the end of his career.

Vernon was one of those all-out-the-time types of players. He’s one of the few guys I’ve seen who always ran hard down the line and went full speed. I admired him for that, but Vernon may have been better off picking his moments. He had a fair number of leg problems in his career.

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

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

Reed Johnson turns 47 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. But, of course, 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 favourite 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 and only walked 20 times, but his 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.

2004 Reed continued in the LF platoon with Cat and filled in at CF and RF. In 141 games, he hit in every spot in the order during the season. However, 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. However, 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 home runs. He also led the AL by being hit by pitch 21 times. Then, after starting the season in his usual platoon, he became a full-timer in July.

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

Before the 2008 season, the Jays signed David Eckstein, a player similar to 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 am still trying to understand 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 three outfield spots very well, while Stewart could only LF and very poorly.

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

I liked him far more than I really should. Reed wasn’t the perfect leadoff man. It would be better if he had taken some more walks, 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 36 today.

You might remember that Drabek was the big piece in the Roy Halladay trade. But, unfortunately, he didn’t turn out to be the pitcher we hoped he’d be. In 2011, Kyle was number 1 on our Top 40 Prospect List.

Kyle got into 39 games (30 starts) spread over five seasons with the Blue Jays. He had a 5.26 ERA. In 179.2 innings, he allowed 188 hits and 117 walks, with 123 strikeouts. The strikeout-to-walk rate differs from 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.