Blue Jays’ Top 5 shortstops: Matheson’s take

April 20th, 2020

No one loves a good debate quite like baseball fans, and with that in mind, we asked each of our beat reporters to rank the top five players by position in the history of their franchise, based on their career while playing for that club. These rankings are for fun and debate purposes only … if you don’t agree with the order, participate in the Twitter poll to vote for your favourite at this position.

Here is Keegan Matheson’s ranking of the top five shortstops in Blue Jays history. Next week: Left field.

• Blue Jays' Top 5: Catchers | First basemen | Second basemen | Third basemen

1) Tony Fernandez, 1983-90, '93, '98-99, 2001
Key fact: 35.1 fWAR ranks Fernandez second all-time among Blue Jays’ position players, behind only José Bautista.

Fernandez stands alone as the greatest shortstop in Blue Jays history. With four stints in Toronto, beginning in 1983 and ending in 2001, Fernandez is tied to the nostalgia of Blue Jays fans in multiple eras, and he stands as one of the organization’s most beloved figures.

Known best for his unique defensive style that’s often imitated but rarely duplicated, Fernandez was the master of sidearm or cross-body throws as he ranged deep into the hole. He still stands as the club’s all-time leader in games played (1,450), hits (1,583) and triples (72).

Fernandez died this year on Feb. 16 at the age of 57 after suffering a stroke while battling kidney issues.

“Tony Fernandez was one of the finest people I've ever met in baseball,” said Buck Martinez, the Blue Jays broadcaster who played with Fernandez and later managed him. “He was a terrific person, first and foremost, a great father, a great husband and a great teammate, a hell of a player. I’ll always remember how much joy he had when he played the game. He loved to play the game.”

2) Troy Tulowitzki, 2015-17
Key fact: Valued at 3.0 fWAR in his lone full season (2016) in Toronto

"I started this as a shortstop, and I'll finish it as a shortstop." -- Tulowitzki, August 2017

If one can “live the shortstop life,” Tulowitzki certainly did. He was adamant throughout his career that he would stick with the position, and while the latter years of his career pale in comparison to his 20s, Tulowitzki will still be remembered as one of the great infielders of his generation.

Tulowitzki’s time in Toronto is difficult to measure. On one hand, he posted a .727 OPS and was continuously battling injuries. On the other, his arrival in Toronto -- along with David Price in July 2015 -- marked an undeniable turning point for the franchise that year. If there’s any player on this list whose intangibles demand consideration, it’s Tulowitzki.

3) Marco Scutaro, 2008-09
Key fact: Posted a .379 on-base percentage in his second season with the Blue Jays

Scutaro quietly had a very nice 13-year career, and his two seasons in Toronto deserve more love than they’ve gotten, in retrospect. Appearing in 145 and 144 games those two seasons, Scutaro posted fWAR values of 3.0 and 4.3.

With a .362 on-base percentage while with Toronto, Scutaro provided some value at the plate and even set a career high with 14 stolen bases in 2009. There wasn’t much team success to lean on, as a strong American League East kept the Blue Jays in fourth despite an 86-76 record in '08, but Scutaro’s individual numbers earn him this spot.

4) Alex Gonzalez, 1994-2001
Key fact: Hit double-digit home runs in six of his final seven seasons in Toronto

For most of eight seasons stretching through the late 1990s, Gonzalez was the man at shortstop for the Blue Jays. That was a difficult ask, with memories of Fernandez still fresh (and Fernandez's third and fourth stints with Toronto coming), but Gonzalez held his own, averaging about 1.0 fWAR per season.

Much of Gonzalez’s value came from the glove, as he hit .245 with just a .304 on-base percentage. He offered a little pop, though, totaling 83 home runs over 890 games with Toronto.

5) José Reyes, 2013-15
Key fact: Stole 30 bases in 2014, his eighth 30-steal season in the Majors

Part of the trade from the Marlins that was perceived to be, but never quite was, franchise-altering, Reyes played parts of three seasons for the Blue Jays.

Then in his early 30s, Reyes couldn’t match what he’d done in his 20s with the Mets, but he hit .289 with a .738 OPS and 61 stolen bases over 305 games in a Blue Jays uniform.

Honorable mentions
John McDonald was worth 1.7 fWAR over 549 games and, along with his defensive mastery, his Father’s Day home run in 2010 is one of the great moments in club history. … Yunel Escobar was worth 5.8 fWAR over 338 games. … Manuel Lee played plenty of games at short, but he was ranked as our No. 5 second baseman in Blue Jays history. … Bo Bichette’s 1.7 fWAR in just 46 games last year puts him on the fast track to No. 2 on this list. … Alfredo Griffin played a ton of shortstop for the Blue Jays in the early 1980s and came back for the '92 and '93 runs, but his career -3.2 fWAR with Toronto ranks him last among all position players in club history.