Blue Jays' Top 5 right fielders: Matheson's take

May 11th, 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 right fielders in Blue Jays history. Next week: Designated hitter.

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

1) , 2008-17
Key fact: Ranks second all time in Blue Jays home runs (288)

In August 2008, the Blue Jays acquired Bautista, a third baseman who had dabbled in the outfield, for a player to be named later. Bautista had been worth -1.5 fWAR over his first four professional seasons. Even though he played regularly for Pittsburgh in '08 with a .729 OPS, not much was expected.

Oh, how wrong we were.

After an average 2009 season, Bautista erupted in '10. Suddenly he was must-see TV, one of the game’s most feared hitters at 29 years old after seasons of bouncing around the league. Given Bautista’s unique journey to Toronto, and a chip on his shoulder that could be seen from outer space, Blue Jays fans immediately embraced him as the face of the franchise. After so many years spent looking up at the rest of the American League East, Bautista’s arrival gave Toronto a specific type of talent that the rest of baseball didn’t have.

Along with his eventual teammates, Edwin Encarnación and Josh Donaldson, the Blue Jays' lineup coincidentally became a home for late-blooming superstars.

Bautista’s standout moments, from that 54-homer season in 2010 to the iconic bat flip in '15, represent some of the organization’s highs over the past decade. He left his name all over the record books as well, ranking second in franchise history in home runs (288), third in RBIs (766) and fourth in OPS (.878).

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2) Jesse Barfield, 1981-89
Key fact: Ranks seventh in club history with 179 home runs

Drafted and developed by the Blue Jays, Barfield became a centerpiece of the club’s talented teams throughout the 1980s. With Lloyd Moseby in center and George Bell in left, he was a part of one of the best outfields Toronto has seen.

Barfield’s career deserves far more accolades than a single All-Star Game appearance and one Silver Slugger Award, both of which came in his massive 1986 season. That year, at age 26, Barfield launched 40 home runs and drove in 108 runs -- both career highs -- while posting a career-best .927 OPS. He also won a Gold Glove Award that season, his first of two consecutive.

One advantage that Barfield has over most Blue Jays right fielders -- or most Blue Jays players, for that matter -- is his defensive value. As one of just 11 position players to appear in more than 1,000 games for the Blue Jays, Barfield ranks fourth all time in positional fWAR (29.6) behind only Carlos Delgado, Tony Fernandez and Bautista.

3) , 1991-97
Key fact: Ranks fifth in club history with 203 home runs

“Touch ‘em all, Joe, you’ll never hit a bigger home run in your life!”

Tom Cheek’s famous call of Joe Carter’s walk-off home run in Game 6 of the 1993 World Series stands as the most iconic moment in club history. That moment alone solidifies Carter as an all-time Blue Jays great, and his time in Toronto offers a great example of how, while we should always consider modern metrics when we look back on careers, they aren’t the definitive ruling.

Carter was worth 7.4 fWAR over his time in Toronto, less than Otto Velez, who posted 8.7 fWAR over nearly half as many games. But Carter’s value was never supposed come from his glove, which is what drags his WAR value down. The veteran slugger was brought in to live in the middle of Toronto’s lineup and drive runners home. And that’s exactly what he did, no matter how big the moment.

4) , 1993-99
Key fact: Received a World Series ring in 1993 despite appearing in just three regular-season games as a 20-year-old

While making this list, the “greatness” of respective players' careers does take into consideration, to an extent, their major moments or connection to team success. That’s why Green falls to No. 4 behind Carter here, a criminally low ranking for a player who, at his best, played some of the greatest baseball seen in Toronto.

Green’s 1999 season was his last with the Blue Jays -- but his best. He hit .309 with a .972 OPS, including 42 home runs, 45 doubles and 123 RBIs. Tack on 20 stolen bases, and it was one of the best single-season performances in Blue Jays history. His four full seasons prior to that weren’t too shabby, either.

Green was dealt to the Dodgers, where he would spend his prime years, after the 1999 season, but his early days in Toronto deserve far more respect than they have received. Had he played out the next chapter of his career with the Blue Jays, he may have been mentioned among the all-time franchise greats.

5) , 2004-09
Key fact: Ranks 15th in Blue Jays position player fWAR (18.0)

There’s a wide gap between the narrative of Rios’ time in Toronto and the reality, because the narrative, as it always should, factors in expectations. Ranked as Baseball America’s No. 6 prospect prior to the 2004 season, Rios was expected to be a cornerstone for the Blue Jays.

That potential lived very close to the surface, too. Rios had excellent seasons in 2006 and '07 before coming back down to earth the following years. Relative to expectations, that was a disappointment, but Rios was still worth 18.0 fWAR in Toronto, including two consecutive seasons north of 5.0.

Honorable mentions
This has to start at the beginning with the Blue Jays’ first selection in the 1976 MLB Expansion Draft, Bob Bailor. … Otto Velez was there from the start in '77, too, and posted an 8.7 fWAR over just 522 games in Toronto along with an impressive .834 OPS. … Barry Bonnell manned right for four seasons from '80-83, posting an .838 OPS in his final season. … ’s time in Toronto was short, but he launched 66 home runs in 320 games.