05/09/2008 8:10 PM ET
Blue Jays pick up pair of outfielders
Club signs free agent Wilkerson, trades for Mench
By Jordan Bastian / MLB.com
CLEVELAND -- The Blue Jays finally reeled in a pair of long-term targets Friday. Toronto had sought the services of Brad Wilkerson and Kevin Mench for a few years now, but the club wasn't able to land the outfielders until now.
Wilkerson and Mench are each a handful of seasons removed from their best campaigns, but they are both still in a position to provide a much-needed lift to Toronto's struggling offense. They're being given that opportunity right away, considering both were in the Jays' starting lineup against the Indians in the series opener.
"Hopefully they can help us a little bit," Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said. "Who knows? They're two guys we've always liked since I've been here."
Wilkerson signed as a free agent with the Jays, who are only required to pay him a prorated salary based on the league minimum of $390,000. Toronto acquired Mench from Texas in exchange for cash considerations and the Jays assume the remainder of the $600,000 salary he was owed this year from the Rangers.
To clear room on the active roster for Wilkerson and Mench, the Blue Jays optioned infielder Joe Inglett to Triple-A Syracuse. Toronto had to further adjust its 40-man roster, opting to designate left-hander Gustavo Chacin and infielder Sergio Santos for assignment.
The Jays added Wilkerson and Mench one day after being forced to place shortstops David Eckstein (strained right hip flexor) and John McDonald (sprained right ankle) on the 15-day disabled list. Wilkerson and Mench can provide help off the bench, while Marco Scutaro -- also a backup outfielder -- fills in at short.
Wilkerson, who started in left field Friday, can play all three outfield spots and figures to split the playing time in left with Shannon Stewart. Wilkerson can also man first base, spelling Lyle Overbay on occasion and allowing the Jays to no longer rely on catcher Rod Barajas as a backup at the position.
Like Wilkerson, Mench can play outfield and also serve as an occasional designated hitter to give Matt Stairs a day off here and there. One trait that both players share is a sound ability to handle left-handed pitching -- a trait that Gibbons believes can create some felxibility with the lineup.
"They'll both play, particularly against left-handers," Gibbons said. "Mench has always been tough on left-handers, so he'll get a lot of that. The same thing with Wilkerson, too, in a lot of ways."
The 30-year-old Wilkerson, who bats from the left side, has hit slightly better in his career against lefties (.265 average) than righties (.245). Mench, 30, has posted a .305 average against left-handed pitchers. As a team, Toronto's .219 average against southpaws this season ranked 13th in the American League entering Friday.
Going forward with Wilkerson and Mench doesn't come without an element of risk, though.
Wilkerson, who signed a one-year contract worth $3 million with Seattle in January, got off to a slow start at the plate and was designated for assignment by the Mariners on April 30. In 19 games with Seattle, Wilkerson -- a veteran of eight big league seasons -- hit .232 with no home runs and five RBIs.
"It was frustrating, the way things ended [with Seattle]," Wilkerson said. "That's the way the business is sometimes. You can't control sometimes what happens. But I've got a new life here with a good team and I'm here to help this team win ballgames, no matter where I'm going to play and where I'm going to hit."
Wilkerson said he injured his left shoulder on a dive attempt near the end of Spring Training and his offense suffered as a result. He said the minor ailment isn't an issue any longer and added that he's felt better at the plate in recent weeks. Wilkerson's best showing came in 2004, when he launched 32 homers for the Rangers.
A year later, Toronto tried to acquire him via trade.
"It seems like the Blue Jays have been trying to hunt me down for a while now," Wilkerson said. "To finally get here, it's going to, hopefully, be an exciting situation for me and the team. Hopefully, I get off to a good start here and go with it."
Mench spent the beginning of this season with Oklahoma City, the Rangers' Triple-A affiliate, hitting .282 with three homers and 18 RBIs in 29 games. After playing a doubleheader Thursday, Mench received the news that he was joining the Jays at around 3 a.m. CT Friday morning.
"It's been a whirlwind tour for the last 24 hours," he said with a smile. "Any opportunity you get is a good one. I know that Toronto's been interested for a few years, but things just hadn't worked out to get over here. They say everything happens for a reason."
Mench addmitted being surprised and upset that Texas sent him to the Minors to open the season.
"I dont know what it was," Mench said. "Somebody didn't like me? That's just the way this business goes sometimes. Any time when you go out and you do what you're capable of doing and you do it and you get sent down, it's always a shock.
"For the first few weeks I was kind of still upset about it," he added. "But I got over it and it's just back to the everyday grind of playing baseball."
Mench's best seasons to date came in 2004-05, when he clubbed 51 homers and drove in 144 runs over a two-year span with the Rangers. Blue Jays fans might remember Mench more for what transpired on July 9, 2005.
On that fateful day, Mench drilled a pitch from Toronto ace Roy Halladay back up the middle, breaking the pitcher's left shin and ending his season. As it turned out, when Mench arrived at Progressive Field in Cleveland on Friday, his locker was situated next to Halladay's stall.
"They just stuck me in here," he said with a laugh.
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.