The annual Baseball Winter Meetings will take place in Nashville this week, giving J.P. Ricciardi and the Blue Jays’ front office the chance to meet face-to-face with the league’s other general managers. Toronto won’t be looking to make a big splash at this year’s event, but will instead attempt to plug a few holes in the roster; namely, at backup catcher.
Aside from the usual ‘wheelings and dealings’, the winter meetings also feature the Rule 5 Draft. In 2006, the Blue Jays selected infielder Jason Smith, who managed to hit just .212 in 27 games before being released by the Blue Jays in May. Though Smith didn’t pan out, the Blue Jays — historically speaking — have had great success in the Rule 5 Draft. Here’s a look at some of those success stories …
Willie Upshaw — The first ever Rule 5 pick by the Blue Jays, Upshaw made his Toronto debut as a 20-year-old in 1978, batting .237 in 95 games. Upshaw, who played nine seasons in Toronto, had his greatest success in 1983, batting .306 (.373 OBP) with a career-high 27 home runs and 104 RBIs.
George Bell — Plucked from the Phillies in the 1980 Rule 5 Draft, Bell earned a starting role in the Blue Jay outfield in 1984, finishing with a .292 average, 26 home runs and 87 RBIs. In 1987, Bell compiled 47 homers and 134 RBIs en route to becoming the first Toronto player to win the American League MVP Award.
Kelly Gruber — The Blue Jays nabbed Gruber from the Indians in 1983. After spending two straight seasons on the bench, Gruber managed to enjoy seven productive years with the Blue Jays, including a career-best 1990 campaign in which he hit 31 homers and drove in 118 runs. The third baseman also earned a World Series ring in 1992.
Manuel Lee — In 1984, Toronto picked Manny Lee in the Rule 5 Draft from the Astros organization. Lee spent eight seasons with the Blue Jays, splitting time between second base and shortstop. He was the everyday shortstop in 1992, posting a career-high .343 on-base percentage during Toronto’s first World Series-winning campaign.