Blue Jays' Top 5 DHs: Matheson's take

May 18th, 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 designated hitters in Blue Jays history. Next week: Right-handed starters.

• Blue Jays' Top 5: C | 1B | 2B | 3B | SS | LF | CF | RF

1) , 2009-10, '11-16
Key fact: Encarnación ranks third in club history with 239 home runs

At the height of Encarnación’s unlikely journey to Toronto (and back again), he, José Bautista and Josh Donaldson formed one of baseball’s most dangerous 1-2-3 punches. They shared more than just talent, though. Each star was a late bloomer, only breaking through in their late 20s at a new position.

For Encarnación, there were so many times this story could have detoured. After he was acquired by the Blue Jays from the Reds in the Scott Rolen deal at the 2009 Trade Deadline, Encarnación played some unsteady third base -- hence the nickname “E5” -- and was lost on waivers to the A’s following the '10 season. Thankfully for the Blue Jays, he was granted free agency soon thereafter and signed back with Toronto.

Encarnación shifted across the diamond to first base, but spent the majority of his Blue Jays tenure at DH, where he has become one of the game’s most consistent power hitters for nearly a decade. In each of the last eight seasons, Encarnación has hit 32 or more home runs with four different teams and owned an OPS of .878 in Toronto.

If anything, Encarnación's time in Toronto is undervalued. A season of, say, 35 home runs and 100 RBIs became expected from the steady slugger. Perhaps we would view him in an even brighter light if his career included a peak season of 50-plus home runs, but his numbers are still undeniable. Encarnación -- along with his parrot -- is an all-time franchise great.

2) , 1993-95
Key fact: Molitor led MLB with 211 hits in '93 -- his first season with the Blue Jays

While Encarnación's time in Toronto came with some twists and turns, Molitor’s was straightforward. The Blue Jays, coming off their first World Series triumph in 1992 with Dave Winfield as their DH, were gearing up to repeat in '93.

In came Molitor, who led the league in hits, got on base at a .402 clip and helped the Blue Jays return to October glory in his first Toronto season. Molitor finished second in American League Most Valuable Player Award voting that season to Chicago's Frank Thomas.

Molitor played out his three-year contract in Toronto, which included two excellent seasons in 1993 and '94, before finishing his Hall of Fame career with the Twins. He certainly made his 405 games in a Blue Jays uniform count, regardless of whether you’re measuring individual or team success.

3) Otto Velez, 1977-82
Key fact: The first DH in club history, Velez went 2-for-4 with a walk and a run scored in Toronto's inaugural game on April 7, 1977

Let’s start at the beginning. The Blue Jays selected Velez from the Yankees in the 1976 Expansion Draft, and, after playing some right field over his first few seasons, he eventually took over the lion's share of the DH at-bats. He was written in at DH on Opening Day 1977, hitting between Doug Ault and Gary Woods.

Over six seasons with the Blue Jays, the Puerto Rico native posted an .834 OPS. He wasn’t the power-hitting DH we’re familiar with today, peaking at 20 home runs in 1980, but his .372 on-base percentage with the Blue Jays matches Bautista’s club mark.

Velez’s standout moment with the Blue Jays came on May 4, 1980, in the first half of a doubleheader against the Indians at Exhibition Stadium. He launched three home runs during the day game, driving in seven, before launching another during the nightcap and plating three more.

4) , 1992
Key fact: Winfield finished fifth in AL MVP voting in his lone season with the Blue Jays

Winfield came, he saw and he conquered. Brought in as a free agent prior to the 1992 season, Winfield’s single campaign with the Blue Jays at age 40 was one of his best as he played a key role in the World Series run.

Winfield’s comments about the quiet crowds at SkyDome in 1992 led to the great phrase, “Winfield Wants Noise,” which is still written on signs and often referenced by nostalgic fans. His two-run double in the top of the 11th inning in Game 6 of the World Series still stands as one of the biggest -- and most underrated -- moments in club history.

5) , 2006-14
Key fact: Lind ranks ninth in club history with 146 home runs

Lind is the lone member on this list who was drafted and developed by the Blue Jays, and he put up some impressive numbers over his nine seasons in Toronto. This was especially true against right-handed pitching, against which the left-handed-hitting Lind posted a career .852 OPS.

Lind’s best season came in 2009 when, at age 25, he hit .305 with a .932 OPS, including career highs with 35 home runs and 114 RBIs.

Honourable mention
Cliff Johnson’s four years in Toronto at the end of his 15-year career were very productive (.837 OPS). Johnson, like Velez, hit for moderate power with an excellent ability to reach base (.372 OBP in Toronto). … Let’s not forget the year (and one month) that bashed baseballs for the Blue Jays, including his 500th career home run. … made his lone season in Toronto (1998) count at age 33, launching a career-high 46 home runs. … Ron Fairly saw plenty of DH reps alongside Velez in the inaugural season as well, and the veteran posted an. .827 OPS with 19 home runs.