For the past week one of the trending topics in the hot stove world that is the MLB offseason was the rumour that the Blue Jays were shopping the face of their franchise and perennial all star; Jose Bautista. It is no secret that the Blue Jays are currently on the hunt for quality starting pitching (not to mention a starting second basemen and catcher) and Bautista would be the most coveted of all the current Blue Jays. The case for moving Bautista is pretty simple: He’s the Jays best trading chip and in theory should yield them the best haul in return. The case for keeping him is also pretty straight forward: He’s the Blue Jay’s best player (when healthy). Like a U2 song, the question at hand is whether the Blue Jays have a better chance winning with Joey Bats or without him?
When healthy, Bautista is among the elite players in the game today. He’s one of the best power hitting right handed batters, and is an above average defender whom is capable of playing multiple positions. Unfortunately for Joey Bats, remaining healthy has been easier said than done for the past two seasons. In 2012, Bautista missed 70 games with an injury to his left wrist. Bautista had originally been placed on the 15 day DL with what was described as a wrist strain/inflammation on July 17th. Bautista injured his wrist in the 8th inning after fouling off a pitch. Upon following through, Bautista grabbed his wrist in pain and crumpled in a heap at home plate.
After undergoing multiple MRI’s on his wrist, he was activated prior to a weekend series with the Orioles in Baltimore on August 24th. On the 26th, two days after coming off the DL, Bautista would be removed from the game after he re-aggravated his wrist. This time the extent of the injury was far more severe. Bautista had to have season ending surgery to repair a tendon sheath in his left wrist. Following a six month rehab, Bautista hit the field ready to redeem himself in 2013. Luckily for both the Blue Jays and Bautista, his wrist came back stronger than before and he did not experience any setbacks from the surgery. Unfortunately for both parties, Bautista would have his season cut short again after he was shut down on September 4th, with what was called a hip bone bruise.
Now you can’t blame the injuries on Bautista, and you can’t fault a guy who plays hard day in and day out. The problem is that the MLB season is long and arduous, and it does exact a physical toll on the bodies of those involved. The hard thing for those players though is that they get slapped with labels like “soft” and “injury prone,” when in fact it’s neither of those. What are equally hard is the decisions a front office and GM are faced with regarding these players with an “injury history.” Bautista is a player who has the unfortunate task of playing half of his games on the unforgiving playing surface that is the Rogers Center’s turf outfield; and that’s not even factoring in the nine games or so that he plays on the equally as dismal surface at Tampa Bay’s Tropicana Field.
Sure the easy call is to have Bautista DH more of those game and thus limit the wear and tear on his legs. The downfall to that is by doing so you would remove one of the Blue Jays better defenders and there is the fact that he still has to run on the surface to run the base paths. When it comes to the health risk that is associated with Joey Bats you have to assume the risk of an injury is DEFINITELY worth the reward of a potential full, healthy season. Put it this way, do you think any other team’s GM would hesitate in making a call to Toronto if they knew it was open season on Jose Bautista?
One of the bigger concerns with Jose in the past few seasons besides the health concerns has been his role as a leader in the clubhouse, or maybe lack of it. With the Jays wrapping up another dismal season in 2012, Omar Vizquel came under fire for critical comments he made about the “relaxed” environment in the Blue Jays clubhouse. These comments turned heads because of a) the source (Vizquel) was a very respected member of the baseball community and b) they came in the wake of the Yunel Escobar Eye Black affair and the Brett Lawrie helmet tossing incident. Clearly the Blue Jays had an internal issue on their hands. The front office did it’s part by shipping Escobar out of town in the Marlins mega deal and focused on bringing in character players (Mark DeRosa) who could help control the young Blue Jays. Unfortunately, despite the veteran signings, the clubhouse still lacked a distinct voice; a true leader.
Jose Bautista is supposed to be that leader. The Blue Jays are supposed to be his team. Unfortunately for the Blue Jays, Bautista has a tendency to act like a toddler in the midst of a temper tantrum whenever something does not go his way. Last season it appeared that the Blue Jays were getting squeezed at home plate and receiving more unfavourable calls against them. Anybody who watched more than five Blue Jays games last year could tell you that the main reason for this was Bautista. Jose has a TERRIBLE habit of arguing, complaining, and whining to the umpires whenever he feels he has been wronged… and trust me he feels wronged A LOT. The problem isn’t that he argues, it’s with HOW he argues and HOW OFTEN he does it. A bigger problem seems to be how the other, younger, more influential Blue Jays have also started to follow in Jose’s path of pouting.
Take the Brett Lawrie helmet incident of 2012. Lawrie gets two low strike calls against him, the second being a called strike three. In response, Lawrie slams his helmet down in frustration which bounces up and hits home plate umpire Bill Miller. Lawrie gets immediately ejected and slapped with a four game suspension.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dpIk0gqv4DI (Lawrie throwing his hemet)
Now ponder this… does Lawrie still act out like that if there is a stronger, more positive role model in that clubhouse? Well, probably not because he’ll be all hyped up on Red Bull. But in all seriousness, you have to believe that the younger players would be less inclined to challenge the umpires and other positions of authority if they didn’t see their so-called captain do it so often.
Sadly you can’t fault Bautista for not being the voice of reason and natural leader, maybe that’s not the type of person he is. He is a fiery personality, but that does not always translate into a great leader. You have to believe that Bautista would be able to curb his emotional outbreaks if he had a better supporting staff to help him vent his displeasure in a positive manner. Look at David Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia in Boston. Big Papi freaks out at a bad call and smashes a dugout phone and who is the first person to get in his face… that’s right all 5’9 of Pedroia. Maybe some more natural leaders in the clubhouse and Jose tantrum time will be a thing of the past.
Trading Bautista is a lot easier said than done. It’s not easy to justify trading the face of your franchise just because he gets a bit banged up and has a bit of an attitude problem. In fact some of those surly guys tend to make great ball players (see Bonds, Barry). It’s not easy to trade a guy who when healthy is among the league leaders in run production and has 50 and 40 home run seasons on his resume. One of the most appealing things about Bautista, and the one thing that could ultimately lead to him getting moved sooner rather than later is his contract.
Bautista and the Blue Jays negotiated a 5 year/$64 million dollar contract before the 2011 season. A smart move in hindsight seeing as Joey Bats had his best all around season in 2011 to the tune of .302/43/103. This year will see Jose earn $14 million followed by another $14 million paycheck in 2015, and a $14 million club option in 2016. As ridiculous as this statement sounds, Jose is a STEAL at that price; he’s practically underpaid by MLB standards. Remember, the MLB is a world where Jayson Werth is making $7 million more a season than Jose. JAYSON WERTH!!!
The only problematic thing about Jose being underpaid, is that Jose is also well aware of what his “worth” is and word has it has already made more than one comment to GM Alex Anthopolous regarding the state of his contract. The one thing the Blue Jays do not need heading into the 2014 season is a disgruntled Bautista. As appealing as his contract is to the Blue Jays it is also VERY attractive to other teams who would love to add the services of the Dominican born Bautista.
So where does that leave us? Well seeing as the only viable trade rumour thus far was the appalling Dominic Brown for Bautista one that was circulating last weekend. I would have to safely assume that it is safe to say that Jose will be donning Blue Jays blue come opening day. However, if that trade were adjusted to include a top line starter, say Cliff Lee… well than it would be getting harder to say no.
Personally, as much as I love Bautista, I would definitely be open to the idea of trading him if it netted a solid return. The Jays currently lack the starting pitching depth to even think of making a playoff push. Throw that in the fact with that Edwin Encarnacion has filled in more than admirably for Bautista the past two years and it is becoming a lot more easier to say yes to a trade for Jose. Are you telling me that a trade with the Texas Rangers for Ian Kinsler and Derek Holland wouldn’t start the conversation? For now I say that we go to war with Joey Bats… well that, or until the right package comes along.