Jeff Kent: back where it all started

Though it seems like ages ago, Jeff Kent once called the Rogers Centre home. Well, it was the SkyDome then, and Kent was in his first season in the big leagues, having cracked Toronto’s opening day roster out of Spring Training in 1992. Prior to that, he had blistered his way through the Jays’ minor-league system, despite being taken in the 20th round (521st overall) of the 1989 draft.
Kentbio02
With Kelly Gruber seemingly always injured during the ’92 campaign, Kent received more and more playing time, eventually taking over the everyday job in early June. However, it would be short-lived. On August 28, general manager Pat Gillick shipped Kent and outfielder Ryan Thompson to the New York Mets in exchange for David Cone.

Gillick was lauded for the trade. More than anything, it showed his desire to win immediately, which Stephen Brunt noted in his book, ‘Diamond Dreams: 20 Years of Blue Jays Baseball’. “By acquiring Cone, Gillick sent a message to his players,” said Brunt. “Already they had one of the highest payrolls in the majors, but they were willing to spend more if it was necessary to get to a championship.”

Still, what seemed like a one-sided deal at the time certainly ended up benefiting more than just the Toronto Blue Jays. Brunt wrote back in 1996 that Kent “might someday develop into a low-end major league regular,” adding, “There were a hundred guys like Kent and Thompson in and around the American and National Leagues.”

With the advantage of hindsight, we can now say the following: “A low-end regular”, Kent did not turn out to be. In fact, over the last 15 seasons he has established himself as one of the best offensive second basemen of all time. From 1997-2005, Kent managed at least 20 home runs and 100 RBIs in eight of nine seasons, including the 2000 campaign, in which he hit a career-high 33 homers and collected 125 RBIs as a member of the San Francisco Giants. Meanwhile, he batted .334/.424/.596 that season en route to beating out teammate Barry Bonds for the National League MVP award.

What does this mean? Likely, Kent would have put up those numbers as Toronto’s second baseman after Roberto Alomar bolted following the ’95 campaign. Would the Blue Jays have won the World Series without Cone? We’ll never know.

“Cone would pitch very well down the stretch—very well, but not spectacularly, compiling a record of 4-3 with a 2.55 ERA,”
said Brunt of the right-hander’s performance following the trade in ‘92. “But there’s no doubt that his acquisition did provide a confidence boost for the team just at the time when, in other years, they might have been ready to fold.”

For what it’s worth, Cone went 1-1 with a 3.22 ERA (22.1 IP, 8 ER) in four postseason starts, with the Blue Jays winning three of those contests.

Perhaps the biggest thing to take away from this whole scenario is the fact that Kent came out on the losing end. Though he received a World Series ring for his contributions during the ’92 regular season, the opportunity to experience winning a world championship was taken away from him on that fateful August 28.

Now, nearly 15 years later, Kent has still yet to taste victory on the biggest stage, a fact he is not shy to discuss. “I can’t be No. 1 with an MVP trophy,” Kent once stated. “I could be No. 1 with the championship ring and the championship trophy on my fireplace.”

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