Montreal Expos Washington Nationals make their first trip to Toronto since 2007 starting Monday. To mark the occasion I thought it would be fun to look at some of the best Blue Jays players that were also Montreal Expos. Not Washington Nationals, just Montreal Expos.
According to BaseballReference.com 55 players have played at least one game for both Toronto and Montreal. That number could grow to 56 soon if Vladimir Guerrero ever gets the call from the big club. From that list of 55 players 23 were pitchers and four of them were Canadian. I’ll list the Canadians later, as to not give away any of the Top 10 early.
One thing that I found difficult when making this list was what parameters to use to fill it. There have been a number of players that were great for Toronto, but either barely played for Montreal or played quite poorly. The vice-versa is also true. Because of that I think making this a stats comparison list is unfair. Instead the aim of this listed will be to try and determine the most memorable Blue Jays that were also Expos. There’s no way my memories are going to be the same as everyone who reads this, but that should make it even more fun. Here we go.
Alex Gonzalez didn’t spend much time in Montreal, so he barely makes the cut on this list. He was a Blue Jays for seven seasons, holding down the starting shortstop job for six of them. Gonzalez was known for his glove in Toronto with pretty good range and a cannon of an arm. His bat seemed to be a work in progress that never really got worked out. Over his seven seasons with the Jays he hit .245 with only a .304 OBP. His best season at the plate in Toronto was likely his last in 2001 when he ht .253 with a .303 OBP, 17 home runs, 76 RBI and 79 runs scored.
Did I say Gonzalez’s time in Montreal was short? I should have said it was really, really short. Gonzalez began the 2004 season with the Chicago Cubs and in July he was part of a four-team trade that sent him to Montreal. That trade also saw Nomar Garciaparra go to the Cubs and Doug Mientkiewicz and Orlando Cabrera go to Boston. Gonzalez finished out the season with the Expos before getting moved again in the offseason, this time to San Diego. In 35 games with the Expos Gonzalez hit .241 with a .289 OBP, four home runs and 16 RBI.
Casual fans may forget that Segui was a Blue Jays for a short time in 1999. He was an Expo first though, stopping in Montreal for three seasons in between stints with the Mets and the Mariners. Montreal acquired Segui in a trade with the Mets for Reid Cornelius. Segui was a productive player during his three seasons in Montreal, hitting .300 with a solid .371 OBP, 43 home runs, 183 RBI and a 3.8 WAR. Those numbers look even better when you consider he never played more than 125 games in a single season while with the Expos. In that season, 1997, he hit .307 with 21 home runs.
Segui’s short stint with the Blue Jays began at the trade deadline in 1999. At the end of July the Blue Jays acquired him from Seattle in exchange for Tom Davey and Steve Sinclair. In the remaining 31 games Segui hit .316 with a .365 OBP and a.892 OPS. He also his five home runs and drove in 13. After the season Segui re-signed with Toronto, but he wouldn’t be around long. Two months after signing his new deal he was sent to Texas as part of a three-team trade that saw the Rangers ship Lee Stevens to Montreal and the Expos send Brad Fullmer to Toronto.
Before he made a name for himself in Toronto Scott Downs got his feet wet in the Majors Leagues in Montreal. The Expos acquired Downs from the Cubs at the trade deadline in 2000. Going the other way was outfielder Rondell White. In 2000 he made only one start for the Expos and he wouldn’t pitch in the Majors again for another three years due to Tommy John Surgery. After spending 2001 on the DL and 2002 in the Minors Downs made another start for the Expos in 2003 but it wasn’t pretty as he was roughed up for five runs in only three innings. He continued to bounce around the Minors, getting into 12 games with Montreal in 2004 before being released. In parts of three seasons with Montreal Downs appeared in only 14 games and posted a 3-7 record, a 5.74 ERA and a 1.71 WHIP.
Toronto took a chance on Downs, picking him up off the scrap heap after Montreal released him. It turned out to be a brilliant move. Downs made 18 starts in his first two seasons with the Jays but found a comfortable place in the bullpen thereafter. In 2007 he started to show great promise with a 2.17 ERA and a 1.22 WHIP. The following year those number got even better as Downs posted a 1.78 ER and a 1.146 WHIP. Downs would leave Toronto via free agency after the 2010 season but not before going 20-18 with a 3.13 ERA and a 1.23 WHIP in six seasons.
The man that made the final out of the 1992 World Series also donned the uniform of both of Canada’s teams. Nixon was an Expo first, playing in Montreal for three seasons before heading to Atlanta. The Expos signed Nixon heading into the 1988 season after stints with the Yankees and Cleveland. The slap-hitter didn’t post a high average with Montreal, but he had speed to burn on the base paths stealing 46 bases in only 90 games in 1988. The following year he swiped 37 bags and followed that up with 50 steals in 1990. His numbers in his three seasons in Montreal included a .237 average, a .317 OBP, 133 steals and 134 runs scored in 335 games. After the 1990 season Nixon was traded to the Braves along with Boi Rodriguez for Jimmy Kremers and Keith Morrison.
Nixon arrived in Toronto as a free agent before the 2006 season. In his first year in Toronto Nixon could still run like the wind. In 125 games that season he hit .286 with a career-high .377 OBP. He also stole 54 bases and scored 87 runs. The following season Nixon stole 47 bags in 103 games before getting traded to the Dodgers for Bobby Cripps. He’ll still always be remembered in Toronto for bunting against Mike Timlin. Thanks Otis!
Lilly was almost involved in as many trades with the Expos as he was starts on the mound. Lilly was drafted by the Dodgers in 1996 but before making his Los Angeles debut he was shipped to Montreal in July, 1998 with Jonathan Tucker, Peter Bergeron and Wilton Guerrero for Mark Grudzielanek, Carlos Perez and Hiram Bocachica. The next season Lilly appeared in nine games for the Expos, which included three starts. They weren’t pretty though, as he posted a 7.61 ERA after getting roughed up for 20 runs in 23 2-3 innings, which included seven home runs. After the season Montreal sent Lilly to the Yankees to complete an earlier deal that saw Jake Westbrook and a player to be named later head to the Bronx for Hideki Irabu.
Lilly joined Toronto during the offseason before the 2004 season. He was traded from Oakland for Bobby Kielty in a very good trade for Toronto. In his very first season with Toronto Lilly was an All-Star after posting a 12-10 record, a 4.06 ERA and a 1.318 WHIP. He also had a 4.0 WAR that season. In three seasons with Toronto Lilly was 37-34 with a 4.52 ERA and a 1.411 WHIP. Lilly was a reliable southpaw with the Jays, but he’s probably best remembered for his dugout scuffle with manager John Gibbons one night after he thought was got an early hook from the Jays skipper.
Fullmer was part of a rare trade between the two Canadian clubs. Long before that he was drafted by Montreal in the second round of the 1993 Draft. He made his debut in 1997, appearing in only 19 games that season, hitting .300 with three home runs. In his first full season with Montreal the following year he finished fifth in Rookie of the Year voting after hitting .273 with a .327 OBP, 13 home runs and 73 RBI. Injuries limited him him to only 100 games the following season and in March he was part of a three-team deal that sent him to Toronto and Lee Stevens to Montreal.
Fullmer’s first season in Toronto (2000) would prove to be his best as a Blue Jays. In 133 games that season Fullmer hit .295 and set career highs in home runs with 32, RBI with 104 and runs scored with 76. He also posted a career-best .898 OPS, but only a 1.4 WAR. Fullmer’s numbers quickly dropped the following season. Despite playing in 13 more games his home run total fell to 18 and his RBI total dropped to 83. Following the 2002 season Fullmer was traded to the Angels for Brian Cooper. That year he would be part of the Angels squad that won the World Series.
Batista and his wonky batting stance came to Toronto midway through the 1999 season to fill the void left by an injured Alex Gonzalez. With Gonzalez lost for the season the Blue Jays acquired Batista from Arizona along with John Frascatore for reliever Dan Plesac. Batista’s bat made an immediate impact as he hit 26 home runs and drove in 79 runs in 98 games. The following season his power stroke remained intact as he launched 41 home runs and had 114 RBI. That was the peak for Batista in Toronto. The following season his home run numbers dropped and his average plummeted to .207. In the middle of the season he was put on waivers and claimed by Baltimore.
After three seasons in Baltimore Batista signed with Montreal as a free agent in 2004. That season he found the seats a lot once again, hitting 32 home runs to go along with 110 RBI. Batista’s other numbers remained low though with his average at .241. Despite the power display Batista couldn’t find a job with a Major League team and ended up playing in Japan in 2005.
Ron Fairly was one of the first players to suit up for both the Blue Jays and the Expos. His first journey through Canada was with the Expos in 1969. He was a veteran at that point, having already played 13 seasons before joining Montreal when he was traded from the Dodgers with Paul Popovich for Manny Mota and Maury Wills. The rest of the season in 70 games he hit .289 with 12 home runs and 39 RBI. Fairly’s best season in Montreal was in 1973 when he made the All-Star team after hitting.298 with a .422 OBP, 17 home runs, 49 RBI and a 4.4 WAR. In six seasons with Montreal Fairly hit .276 with a .381 OBP and a .821 OPS. He also cracked 86 home runs, had 331 RBI and a 16.7 WAR. Following the 1974 season Fairly was traded to the Cardinals for minor leaguers Ed Kurpiel and Rudy Kinard.
Fairly was one of the original Blue Jays in 1977 after he was traded to Toronto from Oakland for Mike Weathers in February. In his only season in Toronto Fairly appeared in 132 games and hit .279 with a .362 OBP, 19 home runs and 64 RBI to be Toronto’s lone All-Star game representative. After the season the Jays sent Fairly to the Angels for Butch Alberts and Pat Kelly.
Fletcher become an Expo in 1992 after a trade from the Phillies for Barry Jones. He got off to a slow start in his first season, hitting .243 with a .289 OBP, two home runs and 26 RBI in 83 games. In the strike-shortened season of ’94 he was an All-Star and when the season was suspended he was hitting .260 with 10 home runs and 57 RBI in 94 games. His best season in Montreal came in 1997 when he hit .277 with 17 home runs and 55 RBI. He was a free agent following that season and headed west, signing with Toronto.
With the Jays Fletcher reached new heights at the plate, starting in 1999 when he hit .291 with a .339 OBP, 18 home runs and a career-high 80 RBI. He surpassed many of those number the following season when hit over .300 for the first time at .320 with a .355 OBP and a .869 OPS. He also hit a career-best 20 home runs and posted a WAR of 2.1. After the 2000 season Fletcher’s numbers at the plate declined quickly and quite dramatically. After a 2002 season plagued by injuries and a prolonged slump Fletcher retired as a Blue Jay.
Arguably the best Canadian player to play for both the Blue Jays and the Expos has to top the list. Stairs made it to the Majors thanks to the Expos who signed him as an amateur free agent in 1992. Stairs feasted on Minor League pitching during his short tenure in the Expos organization but saw very little time in the lineup for Montreal. Stairs actually appeared in only 19 games with the Expos, hitting .211 with a .326 OBP and seven RBI while hitting no home runs. After the 1993 season Stairs was purchased from Montreal by the Red Sox. Over the next 14 seasons Stairs would bounce around the Majors making stops in Boston, Oakland, Chicago with the Cubs, Milwaukee, Pittsburgh, Kansas City, Texas and Detroit before heading north again.
Stairs returned to Canada for the 2008 season to play with Toronto. Injuries to regulars and the fact that he was one of the most consistent hitters on the team earned Stairs much more playing time than he was initially expected to get. Playing in 125 games split between first base, the outfield and DH Stairs hit .289 with a .368 OBP and a .917 OPS. He hit 21 home runs, knocked in 64 runs and posted a WAR of 2.2, the second best of his career. Stairs’ numbers curtailed a bit the following season but his potent bat was in high demand and he was traded to the Phillies late in the season for Fabio Castro. With the Phillies Stairs won his first championship and during the postseason delivered a key pinch-hit home run off Jonathan Broxton in Game 4 of the NLCS. The bomb and Stairs knack for delivering off the bench led to the awesome and very appropriate t-shirt slogan “In Case of Emergency, Use Stairs.”
Unless Vladimir Guerreron makes it to Toronto the number of players that were both Blue Jays and Expos may hold at 55. The number of players remaining in the league that were once Expos is a small number that keeps getting smaller each season. The total of former Expos players may be diminishing, but strangely the number of Expos hats and gear you see around seems to be increasing. Am I the only one that thinks they see more Expos hats now than you did when they still played in Montreal? If you’ve got some Expos gear wearing to Rogers Center this week when the Nats come to town.
Other Canadians that were Blue Jays and Expos
Other notable players that were Blue Jays and Expos:
Kenny Williams (current White Sox GM)