They say there’s no such thing as a bad one-year deal. Even if a contract is exorbitant and a player’s season is atrocious, at least it’s done at the end of the year. Short contracts often go sideways, but there’s plenty of value if a player has a great season.
The Toronto Blue Jays signed plenty of bad one-year deals over the years (remember Jose Bautista’s one-year contract in 2017?), but they also hit the jackpot on quite a few brief contracts.
Before we list the best one-year deals in Blue Jays history, a few caveats; these have to be guaranteed contracts (no minor league deals), and they don’t include contracts with a club, player or mutual option unless that option was declined.
Also, any players who got traded midway through the contract are fair game on this list, and occupy three spots on this list. With those ground rules, these are the best “lightning in a bottle” seasons by Blue Jays players.
9. Bengie Molina – 2006 (0.9 fWAR)
In 2006, Bengie Molina became the first of two Molina brothers to don the catcher’s gear for the Blue Jays. Bengie inked a one-year, $5 million deal with a $7.5 million mutual option for a second season.
Molina received the lion’s share of the games behind the plate, playing 117 games total in 2006 and catching 99 games for the Blue Jays. He had a great year on the offensive side, chipping in 19 home runs and posting an OPS of .785.
The Blue Jays and Molina didn’t activate the option year on the deal, and the backstop entered free agency and landed a three-year, $16 million contract with the San Francisco Giants.
8. Joe Smith – 2017 (1.0 fWAR)
It says something about this list when a reliever who spent two-thirds of the season with the Blue Jays cracked the top 10 list of best one-year deals for the Blue Jays. But side-armer Joe Smith did precisely that.
Toronto signed him to a modest $3 million one-year contract, and Smith provided ample value during his short time with the Blue Jays. Not only did he make 38 appearances for the Blue Jays, they dealt him to Cleveland at the 2017 trade deadline for a pair of prospects.
One of those prospects, Samad Taylor, is still in the Blue Jays farm system and currently playing in Dominican Winter Ball.
7. Jose Canseco – 1998 (1.3 fWAR)
Aside from the recent heartache of the 91-win campaign by the 2021 Blue Jays, the 1998 team was the next-most talented Blue Jays club that didn’t get to taste October.
Despite winning 88 games in 1998, the Blue Jays had to deal with the 114 win Yankees club and a 92 win Boston Red Sox team. The Blue Jays finished four games out of a playoff spot that year.
That team had a litany of All-Stars on the team: Roy Halladay, Carlos Delgado, Jose Canseco, and yes, even Dave Stieb out of the bullpen. It’s easy to forget Canseco had a brief pit stop in Toronto at the tail end of his career.
He led the American League in strikeouts, but Canseco also clubbed 46 round-trippers that year. Making a paltry $2.125 million, the slugger provided more than enough value on the deal for the Blue Jays.
6. Freddy Galvis – 2019 (1.4 fWAR)
He was here for a good time, not a long time. Yet another one-year deal player destined as trade bait, the veteran infielder came to Toronto on a one-year deal for $4 million, with a club option for a second year.
Galvis played some sure-handed shortstop for the Blue Jays, and handled the bat pretty well, which caught the eyes of the Cincinnati Reds. While Galvis was on waivers, the Reds claimed him and picked up the rest of his $4 million for the rest of the season.
5. Frank Catalanotto – 2003 (1.7 fWAR)
After severing ties with the Texas Rangers after the 2002 season, infielder Frank Catalanotto took the Blue Jays for a test drive in 2003. And then the Cat came back the very next year, and the year after that, and the year after that.
Catalanotto inked a one-year $2.2 million contract to play with the Blue Jays in 2003, and he must’ve liked his time in Toronto so much that he re-upped the following season, then re-upped again with a two-year deal.
But his very first season in a Blue Jays uniform was one of the most productive seasons on a temporary deal, as Catalanotto posted 1.7 fWAR in 130 games with the Jays that year.
4. Alex Gonzalez – 2010 (2.5 fWAR)
No, not that Alex Gonzalez, the other Alex Gonzalez. The Venezuelan native took a $2.75 million deal with the Blue Jays to take the starting shortstop gig. He impressed right away, which had the Atlanta Braves calling at the trade deadline.
Gonzalez’ home run total skyrocketed to 17 through his first 84 games of the schedule, which was a torrid pace for him. Only two additional times in his career did Gonzalez clear 17+ home runs in a season, let alone halfway through the schedule.
Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos packaged Gonzalez in trade to fetch shortstop Yunel Escobar and J0-Jo Reyes from the Atlanta Braves at the 2010 trade deadline.
3. Dave Winfield (3.8 fWAR)
Despite winning six Gold Glove awards, five Silver Sluggers, and being named an All-Star in 12 consecutive seasons, one thing eluded Dave Winfield over the first 18 years of his career: a World Series title.
Watching closely what was happening to the upstart franchise in Toronto, Winfield hitched his wagon to the Blue Jays; a team Winfield thought gave him the best chance of capturing that elusive World Series ring.
He signed on the dotted line for $2.5 million on a one-year deal, playing primarily in the DH role for the Blue Jays. It was the perfect marriage as Winfield helped push the Blue Jays over the top to win their World Series title, and Winfield finally captured a championship.
1-2. Robbie Ray – 2021 (3.9 fWAR) and Marcus Semien (6.6 fWAR)
It’s incredibly rare for a team to hit on a one-year free agent deal, but to have two in the same season is practically unheard of.
This past season, the Blue Jays signed Robbie Ray and Marcus Semien for a combined $26 million. According to FanGraphs’ value metric, those two players provided $84.5 million in value to the roster.
Ray captured a Cy Young award, while Semien was named an All-Star, he won a Gold Glove and Silver Slugger award, finished third in AL MVP voting, and was named to the All-MLB team as a second baseman.
Not only did Ray and Semien have the best one-year contracts in Blue Jays history, but they did it during the same season (and the Blue Jays somehow missed the playoffs *ducks*).
Both veteran players bet on themselves by taking one-year pillow contracts and that netted Semien a $175 million payday from the Texas Rangers, and a $115 deal for Ray from the Seattle Mariners. They went from one-year deals worth $26 collectively to 12 years of term worth $290 million.