The White Sox lost five players in the American League expansion draft, with third baseman Bill Stein going fifth overall to the Seattle Mariners. Seattle also nabbed pitcher Roy Thomas (No. 31 overall). The Toronto Blue Jays took pitchers Pete Vuckovich (No. 19) and Jesse Jefferson (No. 47), and outfielder Sam Ewing (No. 57).
Stein was coming off of a 0.6 rWAR season with the White Sox, and was Seattle’s Opening Day third baseman in 1977. He produced 2.1 total WAR for Seattle in mostly a starting role in 1977 and 1978. Thomas never played for the White Sox, but spent 1976 in Triple-A Iowa after coming over in trade from the Phillies.
Vuckovich was arguably the best pick of the entire expansion draft, ready to blossom into a star; every season from 1977-82 he earned at least 2.0 WAR, culminating in a fourth-place Cy Young finish for the Brewers in 1981 and taking the award outright in 1982. Jefferson had an awful year with the 1976 White Sox (-2.4 WAR) but rebounded with strong seasons for the Blue Jays in 1977 (2.0 WAR) and 1978 (2.3).
Yes, two of the five best Blue Jays pitchers in 1977 came from the White Sox. Think Vuckovich and Jefferson would have helped the South Side Hit Men push for a division title?
Ewing was the least impactful of all the players the White Sox lost, both before and after the draft. He played just 137 games for the Blue Jays in 1977 and 1978, and never again played in the majors.
The draft itself was driven by Seattle’s loss of the Pilots after the last round of expansion, in 1969. By 1970, the Pilots had moved to Milwaukee to become the Brewers. When anticipated relocations of the White Sox, Twins and Giants to Seattle all fell through in the early-mid 1970s, baseball expanded again in the American League. Joining Seattle were the Blue Jays (who beat out Washington D.C.) to keep the schedule even.
Toronto, placed in the AL East, finished in last place in 1977, 45 1⁄2 games out of first; at 54-107, the Blue Jays were 12 1⁄2 games behind sixth-place Milwaukee. Seattle fared better, finishing in sixth place in the AL West at 64-98, a half-game better than basement-dwelling Oakland.