McDonald faces uncertain future in Toronto
Free-agent shortstop reflects on memorable run with Jays
TORONTO -- On Opening Day in Toronto this past season, the loudest cheers during player introductions were understandably reserved for ace Roy Halladay. The reception for veteran infielder John McDonald was a only few decibels behind.
During McDonald's time in a Blue Jays uniform -- spent primarily as a part-time starter or a late-inning defensive replacement -- the affable, soft-spoken shortstop quickly became a favorite of the fans who flocked to Rogers Centre.
This winter, McDonald is eligible for free agency, meaning he might be taking his highlight-reel defense elsewhere. After such a memorable run with Toronto -- a chapter of his career that may or may not continue -- McDonald is entering new territory.
"It's a little different than any other time I've entered the offseason," McDonald said at the end of the season. "I feel like I've performed well in my time here and I'm excited about the future, wherever it takes me."
Blue Jays fans will undoubtedly be upset if McDonald does indeed move on to another big league town. This past season, the 35-year-old infielder was used sparingly, creating even louder cheers and more noticeable ovations whenever his name was announced -- even if he was simply entering as a pinch-runner.
Asked about the warm reception he has received in Toronto over the years, McDonald smiles, though he does not completely understand why fans seem to gravitate to him. McDonald hopes the reason is that the Blue Jays faithful appreciate the way he goes about playing the game and embracing his role.
"I dont know," McDonald said. "I just try to go out and enjoy every moment I'm on the field and try to have as much fun as I possibly can and play as hard as I possibly can. I like to think that's kind of won some fans over over the course of the years."
This year, with the consistently strong play of shortstop Marco Scutaro and second baseman Aaron Hill, Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston rarely found time to insert McDonald into the starting lineup. The 151 at-bats and 35 starts McDonald had in 2009 marked his fewest in one season since he played for Cleveland in 2004.
McDonald -- heralded for his defensive ability rather than his offense -- hit .258 with four home runs and 13 RBIs over 73 games, marking the fewest games he has appeared in since 2005. McDonald made the most of his time on the field, though. His four homers were a career best and he posted a .990 fielding percentage at shortstop.
McDonald played the final 14 games of 2009 after Scutaro was sidelined down the stretch with a heel injury. Back in the lineup as a starter, McDonald hit .300 with two homers, six RBIs, eight runs scored and 15 hits to close out the season. After spending most of the year on the bench, McDonald enjoyed that late-season run.
"It's been a lot of fun playing over the last couple weeks," he said during the Jays' final series. "I've been enjoying that different part of the year. I'll probably think about [my future] more on the flight home and the fact that I don't know what's going to happen over the next couple of months. I don't know what the Blue Jays are going to do."
New general manager Alex Anthopoulos has indicated that the club has an interest in re-signing Scutaro -- a Type A free agent -- depending on the team's direction with payroll.
If Scutaro signs elsewhere, the Jays would receive two compensatory picks in the next First-Year Player Draft. If he re-signs with the Blue Jays, it'd likely mean McDonald would spend another season as a rarely-used utility player. Under that scenario, it seems logical that McDonald would see what other offers might come his way.
Whether or not 2009 was McDonald's last in Toronto -- where he has spent parts of five seasons -- he has nothing but fond memories of his time with the Jays. That includes the way fans have warmed to him over the course of his career.
"It has meant a tremendous amount to not only me, but to my wife," McDonald said. "There's nothing to say that it won't continue. There's just uncertainty there, which makes it hard to figure out what's going to happen in the future.
"The reception I get at the ballpark and just being in Toronto and enjoying the people, the fans, how much Toronto has to offer, it's been a tremendous experience."
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.