It appears Jose Bautista’s time with the Toronto Blue Jays could be over. He leaves behind a complicated legacy, with many positives but nearly as many negatives
Let’s assume Jose Bautista leaves the Toronto Blue Jays via free agency this off-season. If that’s the case, it shouldn’t be controversial to say he leaves behind a complicated legacy.
On the one hand, Bautista quickly became the face of the franchise after belting a surprise, MLB-best 54 home runs in 2010. He captured his second home run title the following season with 43 home runs, putting Toronto back on the map of baseball relevance.
The Blue Jays signed Bautista to a five-year, $65-million extension between the 2010 and 2011 seasons, which looked risky at the time but ultimately brought the team long-term offence on the cheap. It would have been hard to add the contracts of Russell Martin and Troy Tulowitzki in 2015 if the Blue Jays hadn’t gotten such a good deal on Bautista in 2011.
With two home run titles, six all-star appearances, and one iconic bat flip, Bautista has left his mark on the recent history of the Blue Jays. It’s hard to imagine the team reaching back-to-back American League Championship Series over the past two seasons without his presence in the lineup.
There was a time when Bautista provided steady defence in right field, too, but as Father Time caught up to the late bloomer, he gradually became a liability in the outfield. If you don’t believe me, ask the Kansas City Royals: opposing teams no longer fear Bautista’s arm, routinely challenging him in the hope of securing an extra base or two.
It’s this gradual decline in Bautista’s physical performance that finally made its way into his offensive game this past season, seeing him bounce between the top of the batting order and reduced to designated hitter duties on many days. Bautista can still draw a walk, but he also saw a drop of 18 home runs between 2015 (40) and 2016 (22), which was exacerbated by repeated visits to the infirmary.
Bautista has missed significant time in three of the past six seasons, and this has only confirmed that he’s a veteran on the decline. There’s still value in Bautista’s bat, but an expiration date has been attached to it: he’ll be 36 years old at the start of next season, hoping to land a new multi-year deal somewhere.
Of course, talk about Bautista’s past successes at the plate and in the field, coupled with mention of his declining performance in both areas, only speaks to part of his legacy in Toronto. The other part, and arguably the more significant part in recent years, is his personality. Bautista is a divisive figure within the Toronto baseball community, which says nothing about how the rest of the world sees him.
(Remember his no-negotiations kickoff to the start of Spring Training? It made many Blue Jays fans feel uneasy at the time, but I’m sure Bautista regrets it in retrospect while Blue Jays fans now feel relieved. Meanwhile, the rest of the baseball world basically laughed off Bautista right away.)
When Bautista was hitting with regular power, it was easy to dismiss his constant squabbling about balls and strikes. You could shrug it off as a fan of the Blue Jays, if not baseball in general: Bautista was an exciting player to watch. As his performance declined, however, the squabbling became less excusable. If Bautista is going to sit on that many fastballs down the middle, he shouldn’t complain about the occasional called strike that falls outside the strike zone. Talk or walk (to first base, or back to the dugout), it’s that simple.
What just transpired in the American League Championship Series went beyond all this, however. In complaining about unspecified “circumstances” and mocking a rookie who would later silence the big bats in the Blue Jays lineup, Bautista embarrassed not only himself, but the team and the fans as well. I don’t want this type of negativity associated with me, as a fan of the Blue Jays, the team, or even the City of Toronto – we’re better than this.
Unfortunately, Bautista is still seen as the “leader” of the Blue Jays, so his childish and inexcusable antics get cast back onto the team as a whole. I can’t blame Cleveland for trolling Bautista during and then after the ALCS – you have to back up all the trash talk with something, but Bautista had nothing to offer. Jason Kipnis best summarized Bautista’s antics after Cleveland clinched the ALCS: “Don’t say dumb shit.”
In the end, Bautista’s positive contributions to the Blue Jays outweigh his negative ones, but it’s also becoming increasingly clear that he’s overstayed his welcome in Toronto. The team is heading in a different, hopefully more positive direction, and he doesn’t fit into that future. That’s why Bautista’s final hit for the Blue Jays – a double in the bottom of the ninth of Game 5 of the ALCS – is so appropriate: the power is no longer quite there, and Bautista was ultimately left stranded at second base, heading nowhere with the Blue Jays.
*FEATURED IMAGE CREDIT: Arturo Pardavila III CC BY-SA 2.0
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