Randy Johnson Almost Traded to the Blue Jays

In 1948, Cleveland Indians owner Bill Veeck said: “Sometimes, the best trades are the ones you never make.”

Midway through the 1948 season, the Indians nearly sent their star player Lou Boudreau to the St. Louis Browns. Due to an uproar by the Indians fans, the team didn’t pull the trigger on the trade and he remained with the club.

Keeping Boudreau would prove to be the right move as the Indians won the 1948 World Series and Lou Boudreau picked up the AL MVP Award.


While it’s true that occasionally the best move is no move, isn’t it fun to wonder what might have happened if certain trades actually took place while others didn’t?

The Fred McGriff and Tony Fernandez for Roberto Alomar and Joe Carter is the prime example of a trade that changed the course of the franchise. Ultimately, it led to the Blue Jays winning two World Series, but what if they didn’t do that trade? Or what if they pulled the trigger on another blockbuster trade?

This all stems from a post I stumbled across over at Cooperstowners in Canada. Kevin tipped me off to a piece by Mike Zeisberger in the Toronto Sun, which revealed arguably the biggest trade in Blue Jays history that never happened:

Randy Johnson to the Toronto Blue Jays for Steve Karsay and Mike Timlin.

It could have been a veritable powder keg that may have altered the Blue Jays timeline entirely, but instead it just fizzled out. Had Seattle Mariners GM Woody Woodward not gone golfing on August 1st 1993, perhaps Randy Johnson would have been a part of the 1993 World Champion squad.

Peter Gammons echoes Mike Zeisberger’s sentiments in this piece centred around last year’s Hall of Fame inductions. Miraculously, the Randy Johnson trade has somehow remained quiet for all these years.

“Gillick had two deals going, one with Oakland for Rickey Henderson (Steve Karsay and a player to be named later), one with Seattle for Randy Johnson (Karsay and Mike Timlin). 

He wanted the Johnson deal, but Pat couldn’t find Woody Woodward (Mariners GM), who was playing golf. Sandy Alderson called and took the Henderson deal. 

Problem was, Rickey being Rickey, he wanted money to waive his rights. While that was being negotiated, Woodward called and said he’d take the Johnson deal. 

Pat Gillick felt he had given his word to Alderson, even if the deal hadn’t been finalized. So he put the Seattle deal on hold.”

Despite losing out on Randy Johnson, the Blue Jays ultimately fared very well in 1993, but one wonders what might have happened had Woody Woodward been at his desk that day to answer the phone when Pat Gillick called.

Ricky Henderson didn’t really do very much in the 1993 ALCS and World Series, but he was more of a rental player to help the Blue Jays solidify their spot on the playoffs, whereas Randy Johnson could have been a new building block for the franchise.

Might the Blue Jays horrible stretch during the mid-90’s have been avoided with Randy Johnson in the starting rotation? Knowing what we know now, obviously trading for Randy Johnson would have been much more lucrative in the long term that getting Ricky Henderson for the home stretch.


But can you imagine what the 1994 Blue Jays rotation would have looked like? Randy Johnson, Dave Stewart, Juan Guzman, Pat Hentgen and Al Leiter.

Or if history played out as it did in the late 90s, how about a 1998 Blue Jays rotation comprised of Randy Johnson, Roger Clemens and Pat Hentgen? It’s mind-boggling to think that could have been a possibility.

Unless we see Doc Brown around these parts with a time machine, that’s one alternate time line that will remain untraveled. But it’s still fun to ponder what could have happened.

Ian Hunter

Ian has been writing about the Toronto Blue Jays since 2007. He enjoyed the tail-end of the Roy Halladay era and vividly remembers the Alex Rodriguez "mine" incident. He'll also retell the story of Game 5 of the 2015 ALDS to his kids for the next 20 years.

8 thoughts on “Randy Johnson Almost Traded to the Blue Jays

  • January 19, 2012 at 5:39 pm

    I feel like this is going to jinx the past by talking about this. Ricky Henderson was on base when Carter hit the home run and was a significant factor in how Mitch Williams was pitching that inning.

    However with Johnson instead of Stewart, the series would have been different. Stewart lost game 2. But I'm not sure the Jays win the world series in 93 if you re-write history.

    It would have been a better rotation for next few years though so maybe they get a chance to go back.

    • January 19, 2012 at 6:13 pm

      I hate to play revisionist, but it's just kind of fun to wonder how things might've played out differently had that trade with Randy Johnson gone down.

      Ultimately, Ricky Henderson did what he was brought in to do: get on base and wreak havoc on the basepaths.

      And even if the team was stellar in 1994, the strike would've derailed that all anyway.

  • January 20, 2012 at 10:16 am

    I did a long piece like this (and honsetly can't remember if i posted it or just for my own amusement) in which I postulated 3 key changes which were affordable on similar budgets, would have produced better results, and made me feel better about the Jays history:

    1. Kept Key his whole career (and passed on Morris)
    2. Kept Cone most of the rest of his career (and passed on Stewart)
    3. Kept Alomar the rest of his career (and not given Carter that last expensive contract)

    I'd not thought, then, about the Johnson deal but that would have been even sweeter.

    From 93-97 Key had a 125 ERA+ and only one off season
    From 93-98 Cone had a 144 and was good ever year

    From 92-98 Johnson was at 147.

    Wouldn't have signed Clemens, wouldn't have needed to. Hentgen would have been the 4th starter almost his entire run through the 90's (with Guzman mostly the #5)

    That and Robbie leading the offense would have made a huge difference.

    throw in a little extra spending and they don't throw away Olerud for nothing…but i was trying to keep this list short.

  • January 20, 2012 at 7:35 pm

    I would love to see what would have happened in 93 had Winfield stayed. I know in hindsight Molitor worked out awesomely, but just makes you wonder.

  • January 20, 2012 at 11:14 pm

    I've heard John Kruk talk about the Phillies turning down a deal in '93 because they didn't want to part w/ top prospect RHP Tyler Green.

    That World Series would have been way different that year, with a much earlier unification of Johnson & Schilling.

  • January 21, 2012 at 9:58 pm

    Definitely gonna boot up a sim game, plug Randy Johnson into the '94 Jays, and see what happens.

  • January 23, 2012 at 3:56 pm

    Tammy, the makeup of this team could've looked a whole lot different had a few things happened (and others didn't). It's fun to postulate if things might have been different, though.

    Anon, good question about Winfield. Gillick made the right play to sign Molitor to DH in 1993 and beyond instead of Winfield. It still blows my mind that he played 26 games in the outfield for the Blue Jays in '92.

    Jay, it kind of makes you wonder why Seattle was so eager to part with Randy Johnson. Maybe they thought he just wouldn't pan out.

    GoSens, let me know how it turns out! I wonder if they would've made it back to the World Series to try to go for the three-peat!

  • January 25, 2012 at 5:55 am

    I remember this rumor. The problem with the 94 Jays was they were old, the AL finally figured out Juan Guzman, and the BP was hurt badly with what turned out to be a career ending injury to Duane Ward as no one could pick up the slack.

    Randy might not have stopped the painful slide in 95-96, but as you pointed out he might have helped the team in 98. Considering how bad the Jays were, I doubt he would have stayed.

    It's a nice what might have been, but then again Gord Ash seemed to me the Tony Reagins of that era and the Jays were doomed to being quite crappy.

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