(Free?) Agents?

With the Blue Jays expected to have a salary budget of around $90-million for 2008, it’s not likely that the club will be able to afford any of the top free agents this offseason. This, of course, is a change from the past two winters, where J.P. Ricciardi parlayed an increased budget into a handful of key free agent signings.

Ricciardi and the Blue Jays brass stole the show at Major League Baseball’s annual winter meetings in Dallas, TX in 2005, signing the top two pitchers on the market — A.J. Burnett and B.J. Ryan. The club also added catcher Bengie Molina and reliever Scott Schoeneweis via free agency. Last winter, Ricciardi was busy again, this time getting slugger Frank Thomas to sign on the dotted line.

Heading into the 2007 offseason, the Blue Jays had signed a total of 80 players via free agency during the team’s 30-year history. Here are some memorable ones …

1992 — Jack Morris & Dave Winfield

Pat Gillick & Company managed to grab the best free agent pitcher available following the 1991 season, signing World Series hero Jack Morris to a two-year deal (plus an option) worth a total of $10.85 million. Morris, who became the first Blue Jay to win 20 games in a season, played a major role in getting Toronto to the postseason again. Meanwhile, the Blue Jays also brought in veteran Dave Winfield to be the club’s designated hitter in ’92. At 40 years of age, Winfield batted .290 with 26 home runs and 108 RBIs. Of course, he also drove in what turned out to be the winning run during Game 6 of the World Series against the Atlanta Braves, giving Toronto its first ever championship.

1993 — Dave Stewart & Paul Molitor

Former nemesis Dave Stewart joined the Blue Jays prior to the 1993 campaign, signing a two-year deal worth $8.5 million. After posting a very average 12-8 record and 4.44 ERA, the man with the menacing stare was lights out in the ALCS, going 2-0 with a 2.03 ERA against the White Sox. Stewart also made the start in Game 6 of the World Series against the Phillies. He settled for a no-decision in that contest, and watched from the bench as Joe Carter delivered the Series-winning homer in the ninth. Paul Molitor, meanwhile, was brought in to replace Winfield as the designated hitter for the ’93 campaign. In 160 games, Molitor batted .332 with 22 homers and 111 RBIs, finishing second — to teammate John Olerud — in the American League in hitting. As an encore, the 37-year-old took home World Series MVP honours, batting .500 (12-for-24) with a pair of home runs and eight RBIs for the series.

1997 — Roger Clemens

The Rocket landed in Toronto prior to the 1997 season, signing a two-year deal worth $17 million. Though the Jays failed to contend in either campaign, Clemens certainly held his end of the bargain, winning the American League Cy Young award during both seasons. He also earned the unofficial ‘pitcher’s triple crown’, leading the league in wins, strikeouts and ERA in back-to-back campaigns.

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