Jose Bautista is having a monster career season for the Blue Jays in 2010. After blasting two more homeruns he is currently leading the league with 30 HRs. While his batting average has been held down by a low .239 BABIP (career .274) his triple slash line of 254/364/580 is pretty remarkable. In 100 games Bautista has 22 2Bs, 30 HRs, 75 RBIs, 13.6 BB% and 21.4 K% good for a Blue Jays team leading .402 wOBA. Quite simply, Jose Bautista is enjoying one of the best Blue Jays seasons in recent memory.
Surely there will be some regression in the power stroke (20% HR/FB in 2010, career 12.4%) and he probably won’t continue to hit as many fly-balls period (53.4% in 2010, career 44.7%) but by most standards it appears Bautista has potentially turned a corner in his career after being given the chance to showcase his skill set full-time by the Toronto Blue Jays. Most of his peripherals look almost identical if you look at BB%, K%, O-swing%, contact %, the one that sticks out his he has absolutely destroyed the fastball in 2010. His wFB/c (runs above average per 100 pitches) on the fastball is at 2.28 (for comparison Vernon Wells in 2010 -0.55) and for his career Albert Pujols checks in around 2.6.
However this piece isn’t meant to argue to merits of Jose Bautista but rather take a look at why the Blue Jays might be better off to keep a veteran player like Bautista. There is a common misconception when a team is rebuilding that the path to success (or the playoffs) is linear with a near exact timeline. The truth is rebuilding teams often arrive suddenly and without much warning – see the Tampa Bay Rays in 2008.
Sure we knew the Rays had been stockpiling talent for years with the plethora of high and talented draft picks (David Price, Evan Longoria, BJ Upton, Jeff Niemann, Carl Crawford etc) but we did not foresee such a monumental rise in 2008, at least I didn’t and I doubt most people did. Everything came together for that young and supposedly rebuilding team and it appears as long as the bank doesn’t totally dry up they will be highly competitive for the next decade.
Now most people feel it was the young talent all arriving at the same time, developing like crops in the minor leagues, finally ready for harvest. But baseball does not work that way, Carl Crawford was established and steady, Evan Longoria was a rookie sensation like no other, BJ Upton was showing signs of regression, Jeff Niemann didn’t contribute much and David Price was only ready to help out of the bullpen.
The young talent was there, and it was real. But without their own Jose Bautista in Carlos Pena (who was 30 during the 2008 season) who led the team in HRs (31) and RBIs (by a wide margin at 102) where would this team have been? The Rays also had solid production from two other veteran players in Cliff Floyd, Eric Hinske and Jason Bartlett during the heat of a pennant race and the presence of a few players with a bit of veteran savvy couldn’t have hurt.
My point is who is to say the Jays couldn’t be in a similar position next season in 2011? The likely return of a couple borderline prospects are not likely to produce anywhere near Bautista in the next 2-3 years, or ever. The starting rotation is starting to look impressive if not deep with Ricky Romero (ranked #48 on Fangraphs prestigious top 50 trade value series) Shaun Marcum, Brandon Morrow, Brett Cecil and potentially youngsters like Kyle Drabek or Marc Rzcepcynski.
Two of the Jays best hitters from 2009 are having relatively miserable seasons in Adam Lind and Aaron Hill, one of their top hitting prospects (Travis Snider) has been derailed by injuries all season but seems primed for a breakout year, while there incumbent CFer Vernon Wells is finally hitting back around his career levels. They recently stole Yunel Escobar (seriously did you see that play last night?) from Atlanta for a journeyman middle infielder (A.Gonzalez) and when Lyle Overbay and his $7 million depart they can either buy a stopgap to fill the need or give the highly touted Brett Wallace every opportunity to win the job.
They could have depth at catcher if they keep Buck/ Molina and JP Arencibia appears prime to burst onto the scene with his power bat (expect a low avg, high strikeout guy). Third base is a bit bare but again there will be veteran options available or they could try Jose Bautista there fulltime in 2011. AA and Paul Beeston have both been on record stating Rogers Corp has informed them they are willing and able to spend on the same level as the Red Sox, Cubbies and Dodgers if the team looks to be near annual contender status.
Projected 2011 line-up:
SS Yunel Escobar-DH Adam Lind-CF Vernon Wells-3B Jose Bautista-RF Travis Snider-2B Aaron Hill-LF Fred Lewis-1B Brett Wallace-C John Buck/JP Arencibia.
Add that to a very solid starting rotation/deep bullpen and depending on how AA spends a little extra cash the Jays might have in the off-season this would appear to be a team nearly ready to contend. Carlos Pena was 30 years old in 2008 when the Rays went on a magical run to win the AL East, Jose Bautista will be 30 years old during the 2011 season. There is no correlation of course but I’m just saying sometimes the Jose Bautista’s of the world can help turn a “good young team” into a contending team.
On the flip side, if a team wants to trade 2 or 3 of its best (and cost controlled) prospects our way for Bautista, we’d be crazy to turn them down, but I just see that type of return as highly unlikely.