Believe it or not, any baseball talk that is heard all across Canada isn’t just about the preservation of young phenom Aaron Sanchez’s arm. It’s also of the Toronto Blue Jays’ beloved and long-tenured 35-year-old superstar right fielder who owns some of the game’s best on-base skills and power. However, to add to these thoughts, he’s also an owner of an expiring contract. The Dominican-born smasher Jose Bautista has been subject to countless, and very interesting trade discussions.
Teammate, fellow pending free agent, and beneficiary of an explosive career revival also, is 1B/DH Edwin Encarnacion. But, the simple truth of it is, both players cannot be re-signed. The case could be made to trade or let Encarnacion walk in the offseason over Bautista, but with Encarnacion being younger and the farm system being less rich at first base, we all need to be honest with ourselves. Edwin is not going anywhere. Not with swings like this for potentially 4-5 more years.
With Joey Bats recently missing 30 games and being an impending free agent, it is time to review the outlook of what life has been like without him for the last month, and what time could be like without him ever on this team again after this year’s trade deadline and/or offseason.
Why it’s not smart to trade
Bautista has been an absolute rock for the Blue Jays’ organization since being acquired from the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2008. A charismatic face and man plastered on the face of the franchise and someone who has stuck it out during the worst times in Blue Jay land. He has endured every negative moment in Toronto up until last season, and believe me, the negative happenings were without a doubt more abundant than the positive. It could definitely be argued that the Jays need Bautista on this team in order to keep their powerful identity.
Yes of course, the Jays have other stars with celebrity-type presences and statures like Encarnacion, Josh Donaldson, Russell Martin, and Troy Tulowitzki, but Bautista is such a big name and face that the loss of him in Toronto could be devastating for things that go way beyond just baseball. Things like team revenue and partnerships, even. Partnerships with Booster Juice and General Mills Canada would even take a hit. The nickname of “Joey Bats” and the powerful image of “The Bat Flip” would be sent off and forgotten.
2. Charisma and Relationships
When you’ve been on a team for as long as Bautista has you grow, develop, and solidify relationships. Not necessarily with teammates as it’s been a revolving door up until Donaldson, Tulowitzki, and Martin were acquired, but with management and believe it or not, the city of Toronto as a whole.
This may come across as irrelevant, but remember how emotionally discharged Tulowitzki took his trade from Colorado to Toronto? It’s true that Tulowitzki was arguably more solidified as a “Colorado man” more than Bautista is known as a “Toronto man,” and not to bash Tulo, but what if other members of the Jays seemingly had the same small emotional threshold when it comes to changes to the team or their lives in general? Yes, Bautista made a trip to the DL, but there was always the underlying thought that he would obviously come off the DL and return to the team and everything would be fine again.
Teammates who view Bautista as a mentor or even a family member could potentially lose focus without his presence felt on the team for the August and September playoff push. You cannot afford to lose focus in the dying months of the season, especially when the Jays are hovering around a playoff spot and are true contenders.
3. Performance as a Blue Jay
From 2010-2015, Bautista has hit the most home runs out of anyone in the majors. He has been voted in the top ten of the AL MVP race four times and is a leader or among the top ten in numerous offensive single-season and career categories in Blue Jays’ franchise history. Since 2010, Bautista has hit at least 27 home runs each year, and in four of those seasons, has hit at least 35 home runs. He has both scored and driven in at least 100 runs, and has drawn at least 100 walks in those seasons, including twice leading the AL. Bautista is approaching 36 years old this October, but there are no reasons why he can’t continue to perform as a Blue Jay if signed into his early 40’s.
After all, this is a player who walked more than he struck out in 2011 and 2015, while swinging as many times to hit 43 HRs, 103 RBIs in 2011, and 40 HRs, 114 RBIs in 2015. That is simply unheard of for someone who swings the bat that much. Could the Rogers Center have helped Bautista’s stats? Maybe, but he did work on his swing non-stop before his breakout season in 2011. Also, the baseball park you’re in has absolutely no correlation to walk rates. For the people out there who say Bautista never gave the Blue Jays a playoff berth until the other elite stars came along, that’s true. But, hey, Alex Rodriguez did win the MVP award on the 2003 Texas Rangers who went 71-91 that season. Single player performance isn’t always related to team success as a whole.
Why it is smart to trade
1. Team Performance in his recent DL Stint
Let’s face it, the Blue Jays haven’t missed a beat with Bautista out of the lineup since June 16th with a toe injury. A 17-13 record without him in the lineup isn’t exactly amazing, but it’s also definitely not bad. Of course, this exact type of pace would be a stretch to assume it would happen for the rest of the season if he was traded for let’s say, pitching. But out of the Jays remaining 60 games you could undoubtedly count on them for 35 or more wins. That would be good enough for 91 wins and more than likely a playoff spot. This is a small sample size, but 30 games is honestly large enough.
Think about what happened during those 13 games lost by the Blue Jays in Bautista’s absence. Could the eventual pitchers in return that the Jays get out of Bautista – which is made up of a good starter and a couple of relief pitchers – be the difference in winning more games? Am I suggesting to you the Jays would win more games at the expense of Bautista’s absence with a group of arm(s) coming back to the roster for a playoff push, plus the assets of Melvin Upton and Ezequiel Carrera manning parts of the outfield? You be the judge. Another outfielder could come back when Bautista returns, and who knows, maybe Dalton Pompey finally shows up?
2. Pending Free Agency
After this season, the fate of the remainder of Bautista’s career is completely in his own hands. For the rest of this season, the Jays can use him for a playoff run and let him walk, or trade him now and get something in return. I choose the latter in this conundrum.
I know you’re probably saying: if Bautista walks, the Jays get a first round draft pick from the team that signs him as compensation. This is true, but for as long as time has existed, baseball prospects that come from the draft haven’t always been pinpointed with 100% accuracy. The MLB draft is never known as the main source of bringing in players, and more often than not every pick is virtually a risk. Baseball prospects are just weird, and tough to predict, plain and simple. There’s a reason why the NFL, NBA, and NHL drafts hold a higher hierarchy. It’s 2016 and the first ever 1st overall pick Ken Griffey. Jr was just inducted to the Hall of Fame, it speaks for itself.
It makes sense for Toronto management to sit back and reflect on what the Jays can do without Bautista in the lineup to replenish the farm system in some way. They should not let Bautista walk for nothing, especially when they proved over the last month that they could hold their own as a team without him. The clock is ticking for the Jays to win a World Series, and the return for Bautista could be enormous if contenders like the rumored Dodgers and Nationals are serious about acquiring him. Yes, Bautista is a great piece for the Blue Jays lineup, but they do also have two other feared hitters in Encarnacion and Donaldson who post incredibly elite numbers and could handle the offense by themselves with their supporting cast.
3. Age, Trade Return and Toronto’s Championship Window
This is definitely a big one. Of course baseball is a sport where age doesn’t really matter in the sense that an older age means less production, just look at David Ortiz this season obviously, but the Jays are not willing to spend $25M+ on a player who enters the 2017 season at 36 years old. Some GMs will, but let’s be real, Bautista will sign in the American League after this season for the rest of his career simply because of the DH spot. However, there is a still a chance he could play the finals months of this season in the NL, of course. The Dodgers come to mind as one of the league’s contenders who could afford him and could make good use of another outfielder. The Nationals have also stepped up and stated that they have inquired about the Dominican-star.
As we have assumed for some time now, the championship window for Toronto gets smaller and smaller every year with huge chunks being paid out to Donaldson, Tulowitzki, Encarnacion and Russell Martin in an attempt to be re-signed. The Blue Jays front office will do everything in their power to line up a World Series contender and make the team better sooner rather than later. They could go the route of adding some cheap, highly effective pieces that have contracts locked-up in a return for Bautista, or, go a slightly different way and stock up the farm system. With either of these choices, the Jays can still contend.
The Blue Jays are probably in one of the weirdest and more unique spots out of any team ever. What other teams can say they have the ability to sell their best player, but still contend for a World Series in the same year? Trading stars for prospects is a move a non-contender would make. The truth of it is, they do have the lineup potency to potentially trade their best player and still contend. This is a Jays lineup that produces other men that are locks for 30 HR/100 RBI seasons. They can afford to lose the bat of Bautista if it keeps the championship window open longer, and if it improves the rotation. Toronto needs to trade Bautista to stay farm-system relevant, and gain more stellar pitching arms that would balance out the roster. Especially for when Aaron Sanchez makes his anticipated return to the bullpen after holding a four-month stint in the rotation, and if an arm like R.A. Dickey becomes unusable down the stretch.