Blue Jays’ Top 5 third basemen: Matheson’s take

April 13th, 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 3B in Blue Jays history. Next week: Shortstops.

• Toronto’s All-Time Team: Catcher | First base | Second base

1) , 2015-18
Key fact: Just the second player in franchise history to be named American League MVP (George Bell, 1987)

Donaldson may still rank behind some other franchise icons when we discuss the greatest Blue Jays players of all time, but his three-year peak from 2015-17 represents some of the best baseball ever played in a Blue Jays uniform. He was here for a good time, not a long time, which included a 2015 AL MVP Award, a pair of All-Star Game appearances and back-to-back playoff runs.

There was nothing subtle about Donaldson. He knew that he was the best player on the field and, with his bat or his glove, found a way to ensure that the other team knew that, too.

Donaldson’s 22.2 fWAR over just 462 games is comfortably the most in franchise history among third basemen, which is why Blue Jays fans will always claim the star as “one of their own,” regardless of how much longer he plays or for which team. Like former teammate Jose Bautista, Donaldson’s greatness lay not just in his raw talent, but in the attitude and spectacle that came along with it.

2) , 1982-92
Key fact: Appeared in the eighth-most games (1,115) in club history

Back in 1982, the Blue Jays dealt Triple-A pitcher Phil Huffman to the Royals for infielder Rance Mulliniks. Huffman made just two more appearances in the big leagues, but Mulliniks was a great find for the Blue Jays, with whom he would spend the final decade of his career.

Primarily a third baseman who dabbled in shortstop -- where he had played with the Royals -- Mulliniks didn’t hit for much power, but he kept a steady average and posted an on-base percentage north of .370 in six of his 10 full seasons in Toronto.

Often overshadowed by other stars during the 80s and early 90s, Mulliniks is quietly one of the more underrated players in club history. While awards and accolades never came, there’s no denying Mulliniks’ value to those Blue Jays teams.

3) Kelly Gruber, 1984-92
Key fact: First Blue Jays player to hit for the cycle

After a few seasons of part-time reps, Gruber, who joined the Blue Jays as a Rule 5 Draft pick in 1983, established himself as a full-time starter in ‘87. Over those next six seasons, Gruber earned two All-Star selections.

Gruber’s peak season came in 1990, when he won his first and only Gold Glove and Silver Slugger Awards. He broke out for a career-high 31 home runs that year, good for an .842 OPS, and finished fourth in AL MVP voting behind Roger Clemens, Cecil Fielder and Rickey Henderson.

4) , 2008-09
Key fact: Rolen was traded to the Reds in July 2009 for a package that included Edwin Encarnacion

There are other third basemen with a longer tenure, more WAR value and bigger counting stats than Rolen in Toronto, but no list of the club’s top third basemen is complete without him.

The seven-time All-Star and eight-time Gold Glove Award winner was worth 69.9 career fWAR over his 17-year career. His Hall of Fame voting jumped to 17.2 percent in his second year on the ballot and, while Rolen is still underrated as one of his generation’s most consistent producers and best defenders, the conversation around his candidacy should continue to grow. His time in Toronto was brief but needs to be appreciated.

5) , 2002-06
Key fact: The second player in franchise history to be named Rookie of the Year (Alfredo Griffin, 1979)

Back in 2002, it looked like the Blue Jays had a new franchise cornerstone. Hinske, who Toronto had acquired over the offseason in a deal with the A’s for reliever Billy Koch, was named AL Rookie of the Year. Built like a linebacker, Hinske’s 24 home runs and .845 OPS in his debut season were easy to dream on.

Those would both end up being career highs for Hinske, who still deserves credit for sticking around in the big leagues for 12 years before moving into coaching. Later in his career, Hinske operated mostly as a pinch-hitting specialist for the Braves and D-backs.

Honorable mentions
’s eight seasons with the Blue Jays and his pinch-hit, two-run homer in the 1992 World Series deserve a better fate here, though his 4.8 fWAR ranks him 10th all time among the club’s third basemen and his 88 wRC+ much lower … had a tremendous debut in 2011 and brought the chaotic energy of 10,000 men, but he faded and battled injuries … Roy Howell posted an impressive 8.3 fWAR from 1977-80, including his lone All-Star Game appearance … ’s 41-homer season in 2000 deserves some love … , who eventually turned into Scott Rolen, posted an .856 OPS over his two seasons in Toronto.