Ex-Files: How former Blue Jays are faring to start 2021 season

Dan Shulman and Pat Tabler speak after the Toronto Blue Jays loss to the Oakland Athletics about how effective Trent Thornton has been and what has led to his improvement.

The 2021 MLB season is already a month old and the Toronto Blue Jays have managed a .500 record despite a plethora of injuries to key players.

Vladimir Guerrero Jr. looks like one of the best hitters in baseball, Randal Grichuk has been a consistent presence in the lineup, and the bullpen has been dominant despite missing Kirby Yates, Julian Merryweather and others.

So while the current iteration of the Blue Jays is holding its own, it’s always fun to check in and see how past players are performing. Here’s a look at how some notable exes are faring one month into the 2021 campaign.

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Josh Donaldson, Minnesota Twins

17 GP | 2 HR | 7 RBI | .268/.354/.446

Donaldson’s first year with the Twins after signing a $92-million contract was reduced to just 28 games due to calf problems. He gave Minnesota fans a scare when he pulled up with a hamstring strain on opening day but he was able to return less than two weeks later. At age 35, his MVP-calibre days are likely behind him, but he still possesses an elite bat. There will always be a chance of rain in the forecast whenever he suits up.

Marcus Stroman, New York Mets

5 GP | 1.86 ERA | 29 innings | 23 strikeouts | 6 walks

After opting out of the shortened 2020 season, Stroman is back pitching for the Mets on a one-year qualifying offer. He’s certainly setting himself up for a hefty contract in free agency this time around, looking like the all-star version of himself. The New York native has allowed one earned run or fewer in four of his five starts this year while displaying his typical passion and flare on the mound.

Aaron Sanchez, San Francisco Giants

6 GP | 3.18 ERA | 28.1 innings | 24 strikeouts | 10 walks

Sanchez did not play in the majors in 2020 and decided to join the Giants on a one-year, $4 million pact this off-season as he looks to rebuild his value. So far, so good for the former American League ERA champ, who has revamped his approach this year. He sits in just the 14th percentile in fastball velocity, so he’s relied on his curveball more than any other pitch in 2021. The next step for Sanchez is to make it deeper into ball games as he hasn’t logged more than five innings in a start yet.

Kevin Pillar, New York Mets

16 GP | 2 HR | 3 RBI | 1 SB | .229/.270/.400

Pillar has gotten off to several hot starts over his career, but that hasn’t been the case in 2021. He’s more of a fourth outfielder and late-inning defensive replacement at this stage of his career. He hasn’t done enough with the bat to warrant a greater role, but he does have home runs in back-to-back games. We’ll see if he can keep the momentum going.

David Price, Los Angeles Dodgers

7 GP | 5.59 ERA | 9.2 innings | 11 strikeouts | 4 walks

The Dodgers’ starting rotation was so deep to start the year that Price was in the bullpen. The former Cy Young winner struggled in his transition to a relief role, then landed on the injured list with a hamstring issue that is expected to sideline him for several weeks.

Taijuan Walker, New York Mets

5 GP | 3.00 ERA | 27 innings | 27 strikeouts | 15 walks

Walker only made six starts with the Blue Jays, but he helped stabilize the rotation down the stretch in 2020. He signed a reasonable two-year contract with the Mets in the off-season, and New York must be loving the early returns. The walks are a bit concerning, but you’ll sign up for a 3.00 ERA and 3.37 FIP any day of the week. The Mets haven’t quite lived up to their potential yet this season but the rotation remains lethal and will only look scarier with Carlos Carrasco and Noah Syndergaard getting closer to returning. We’ll hope Jacob deGrom’s lat injury doesn’t lead to an extended absence so we can see this pitching staff at full strength.

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Matt Shoemaker, Minnesota Twins

5 GP | 7.83 ERA | 23 innings | 14 strikeouts | 8 walks

The Blue Jays never got to see what Shoemaker could have contributed over a full season as bad injury luck continued to plague him. Now 34, the right-hander is hoping to finally put together a healthy campaign. Things are off to a rough start for him in Minnesota, as evidenced by the bloated ERA. He was shelled for nine runs in his last appearance and called it “the worst start of his career.” J.A. Happ and Michael Pineda are off to strong starts alongside stars Kenta Maeda and Jose Berrios, so Shoemaker could be in danger of losing his rotation spot if he doesn’t turn things around quickly.

Justin Smoak, Yomiuri Giants (Nippon Professional Baseball)

13 GP | 1 HR | 7 RBI | .366/.447/.463

Smoak put together an all-star campaign for Toronto in 2017 but that season was an anomaly in an otherwise underwhelming MLB career for the former first-round pick. After struggling in 2019 and ’20, Smoak decided to try his luck in Japan with the Yomiuri Giants. He’s been raking through 13 games this season, posting an OPS over .900 including this moonshot home run.

Anthony Bass, Miami Marlins

12 GP | 6.52 ERA | 9.2 innings | 7 strikeouts | 3 walks

Bass earned Miami’s closer job coming out of spring training but promptly coughed it up by blowing his first two save opportunities. He’s settled down recently, surrendering just one total run in his past nine outings. Yimi Garcia has thrived in the closer’s role since taking over, but Bass is doing his part to pitch his way back into the conversation if Garcia hits a rough patch or suffers an injury.

Billy McKinney, Milwaukee Brewers

28 GP | 3 HR | 5 RBI | .229/.280/.414

McKinney was very much a spare part in the Blue Jays’ outfield, but he’s suited up in all but two games for Milwaukee so far in 2021. He’ll surely lose playing time once Christian Yelich is healthy, but the star just landed on the injured list again on Tuesday with a lingering back issue. McKinney doesn’t offer much at the plate, but he has flashed occasional pop.

Kendall Graveman, Seattle Mariners

11 GP | 0.00 ERA | 13.1 innings | 3 SV | 13 strikeouts | 3 walks

Graveman was one of the pieces moved in the Donaldson blockbuster of 2014. He produced a middling ERA around 4.00 as a starter from 2015-17, but the Mariners have reaped the rewards of moving him to a full-time relief role. The 30-year-old hasn’t allowed a run this season and is being counted on in the highest of leverage. He’s a free agent at the end of the year, so he’ll set himself up for a nice payday if he continues to dominate.


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