November 19, 2023
By Kevin Glew
Cooperstowners in Canada
Some Canadian baseball news and notes from the past week:
-Just two days after he was acquired from the Milwaukee Brewers by the Oakland A’s, Abraham Toro (Longueuil, Que.) signed a one-year, $1.275-million contract with the A’s. The switch-hitting Canadian has a good shot at regular playing time with the rebuilding club. After going 5-for-15 (.333 batting average) in four games for Canada at the World Baseball Classic, the 26-year-old infielder was impressive in his limited major league action with the Brewers in 2023. In nine games, he went 8-for-18, good for a .444 batting average with two home runs and nine RBIs. He spent the bulk of the campaign with the triple-A Nashville Sounds where he hit .291 with a .374 on-base percentage (OBP) with eight home runs and 58 RBIs in 96 contests. Originally selected in the fifth round of the 2016 MLB draft by the Houston Astros, the ABC Academy alum began his big league career with the Astros before enjoying tenures with the Seattle Mariners and Brewers. In 271 major league games, Toro has hit .211 with 28 home runs.
-According to the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame, when Cleveland Guardians slugger Josh Naylor (Mississauga, Ont.) garnered a 10th place vote in the American League MVP voting on Thursday, he became the 22nd Canadian to receive an MVP vote (either American League or National League). Shohei Ohtani was the unanimous winner of the award. Despite missing more than a month with an oblique injury, Naylor put together his best major league season. He topped all Canadian big leaguers in batting average (.308), slugging percentage (.489), OPS (.843), RBIs (97) and stolen bases (10). In 121 games with the Guardians, he had 139 hits, including 31 doubles. He had the sixth highest batting average in the major leagues of any player who suited up for at least 120 games.
-The Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame has added a game-used glove from Toronto Blue Jays closer and 2022 Tip O’Neill Award winner Jordan Romano (Markham, Ont.) to their collection. Romano will be one of the favorites for the 2023 Tip O’Neill Award, which the Hall presents annually to the top Canuck player. This year’s winner will be announced in early December. Romano cemented his status as one of baseball’s elite closers in 2023. In 59 games, the hard-throwing Canuck recorded a 2.90 ERA and matched his career high with 36 saves, which was the second-most in the American League. Romano also collected five wins and struck out 72 batters in 59 innings and finished the season with a 2.1 WAR. For his efforts, he was selected to the All-Star Game for a second time.
-As Baseball Canada’s Junior National Team shared on their Twitter feed, two of their former pitchers were traded on Friday. First, the Atlanta Braves dealt Michael Soroka (Calgary, Alta.) to the Chicago White Sox (You can read more about the trade here.). Then shortly after noon E.T., the Cleveland Guardians sent Cal Quantrill (Port Hope, Ont.) to the Colorado Rockies in exchange for catching prospect Kody Butt (Read more here). Soroka played for the Junior National Team in 2014 and 2015, while Quantrill toed the rubber for them from 2011 to 2013.
-Speaking of Junior National Team alum: Happy 37th Birthday to former big leaguer Michael Saunders (Victoria, B.C.)! The left-handed hitting outfielder enjoyed his finest major league season with the Blue Jays in 2016 when he belted 24 home runs and played in the All-Star Game. In all, in parts of nine big league seasons with the Seattle Mariners, Blue Jays and Philadelphia Phillies, Saunders hit .232 with 81 home runs. Following his playing career, he joined the Atlanta Braves organization and made his pro managerial debut as the dugout boss of the Braves’ Low-A Augusta GreenJackets in 2021. He has since moved on to a role as organizational outfield and baserunning coordinator.
-On this date 30 years ago, the Montreal Expos traded second baseman Delino Deshields to the Los Angeles Dodgers for a scrawny 22-year-old pitcher named Pedro Martinez. Many Expos fans criticized the deal at the time. Martinez had been used primarily as a reliever for parts of two seasons with the Dodgers and there were questions about his durability. But Martinez credits Expos manager Felipe Alou for changing the course of his career. Early in spring training in 1994, Alou called Martinez into his office and told him he was going to be one of his starters. “And right away my confidence went right up,” said Martinez from the podium at the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame induction ceremonies in 2022. “Felipe welcomed me to the Montreal Expos and gave me the confidence I needed to develop myself into the player I became.” Martinez blossomed into a key member of the Expos’ rotation in 1994 and then registered 14 wins and a 3.51 ERA in 30 starts in 1995. But it was his 1997 season that was one for the ages. In the midst of the steroid era, when offensive numbers were exploding, Martinez posted a 17-8 record and led the league with a 1.90 ERA. He also topped NL pitchers in complete games (13) and WAR (9.0) and his 305 strikeouts set a single-season franchise record. As a result, he became the first and only Expos pitcher to win the National League Cy Young Award.
-This (above) is a great baseball card from the 1993 Conlon Collection series produced by The Sporting News. It showcases Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame inductee and former Pittsburgh Pirates manager George Gibson (London, Ont.) with Pirates legend Honus Wagner. The photo was taken by Charles Conlon in 1933 when Wagner was a coach on Gibson’s staff. The Pirates finished 87-67, and in second place in the National League, that season.
-It was five years ago today that the Seattle Mariners traded left-hander James Paxton (Ladner, B.C.) to the New York Yankees for pitchers Justus Sheffield and Erik Swanson and outfield prospect Dom Thompson-Williams. Paxton proceeded to register a career-high 15 wins for the Yankees in 2019 and strike out 186 in 150 2/3 innings. Swanson is the only player who had sustained success with the Mariners. The right-handed reliever pitched parts of four seasons with the M’s, including posting a 1.68 ERA in 57 appearances in 2022 before being dealt to the Blue Jays. Sheffield, who was centerpiece of the trade for the Mariners, posted a 12-12 record with a 5.40 ERA in 45 games (33 starts) over parts of four seasons with the M’s from 2019 to 2022. Thompson-Williams never played above double-A.
-Looking for the perfect Christmas gift for the Canadian baseball fan in your family? You’ll likely find it in the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame’s annual Holiday Silent Auction, which begins tomorrow. There will be rare bobbleheads, ticket packages and all sorts of autographed memorabilia up for bids. Bid early and bid often here. Here’s a link to the Hall’s site.
-This week’s trivia question: There have been two left-handed pitchers born in British Columbia that have won the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame’s Tip O’Neill Award. Name one of them. Please provide your answer in the “Comments” section below.
-The answer to last week’s trivia question (Canadians Larry Walker (Maple Ridge, B.C.) and Joey Votto (Etobicoke, Ont.) won the National League Most Valuable Player Award in 1997 and 2010 respectively. Who is the only Canadian to win the American League MVP Award?) was Justin Morneau (New Westminster, B.C.). with the Minnesota Twins in 2006.