Jack Of All Trades: Jose Bautista

In my new book, Taking The Field, I have an entire chapter devoted to the July 30, 2004 trade of Scott Kazmir. But fascinatingly, Kazmir may not be the most valuable player the Mets dealt on that day. Jose Bautista also became an ex-Met on the day Victor Zambrano arrived in Queens. Based on wins above replacement (WAR), Bautista is well on his way to passing Kazmir. (That assumes Kazmir doesn't add any more value; he's actually lowered his career WAR the past two seasons.)

It has been a fascinating journey for Bautista to 54 home runs last year and an even better start this year. Bautista was with five organizations before he broke out with the Blue Jays – that's more teams than any other member of the 50 homer club belonged to pre-breakout. Only Luis Gonzalez's pre-50 homer travel itinerary came close; he played for three organizations before Arizona, including Houston twice.

Let's chart Bautista's evolution from organizational hot potato to all-time great slugger. The Pirates drafted Bautista in the 20th round of the 2000 draft, a round that produced just two other major leaguers: Carmen Pignatiello and Fred Lewis. With the exception of a terrific 2002 in the South Atlantic League, Bautista profiled about as he did in his pre-2010 Major League career: a .250 hitter with decent plate discipline and a little power. Still just 23 as 2003 ended, he had a good chance, with a season or two of polish, of becoming valuable – if he stuck at a middle infield position, very valuable.

Then, the scourge of reasonable prospect development struck: the Baltimore Orioles took Bautista in the Rule V Draft in December 2003. Suddenly, Bautista needed to make the transition from Class A pitching to the Major Leagues. Not surprisingly, he didn't. He hit a respectable .273 in 12 plate appearances for the Orioles, but Baltimore put him on waivers that June 3. Tampa Bay picked him up, gave him another 15 plate appearances, then sold him to Kansas City 25 days later. A little over a month after that, with 26 more plate appearances in Kansas City, the Royals traded him to the Mets for catching prospect Justin Huber. And the Mets, that very same day (Kazmir Day), traded Bautista, Ty Wigginton and pitching prospect Matt Peterson to the Pirates for Kris Benson and Jeff Keppinger.

Yes, all that could have been avoided if the Pirates just protected Bautista. Pittsburgh kept him around for another 43 plate appearances, and he didn't hit much back with his first organization, either. His 2004 total line over four organizations (five, including the Mets): .205/.263/.239. Pittsburgh wisely sent him to the minors for more seasoning.

After a strong year at Double-A, and brief promotion to Triple-A, the Pirates called Bautista up as a 24-year-old in 2004, hoping he'd be there to stay. He mostly did, providing value, with the ability to play corner positions (though middle infield was a non-starter) and giving Pittsburgh an OPS+ of about 95 each season. But by August 2008, Bautista was 27, and the chances that he'd become a star seemed nonexistent. So the Pirates, needing a catcher, traded Bautista to Toronto for Robinzon Diaz.

Diaz played one season in Pittsburgh, hit .279/.307/.357, then signed with the Tigers organization. He hasn't played in the Major Leagues since. Bautista provided another of his typical seasons for Toronto in 2009 – .235/.349/.408, good for an OPS+ of 99 – then turned into Jose Bautista as we now know him, baseball super icon.

Let's break down the trade. As of today, Bautista leads Diaz in total home runs hit with his new club, 78-1. However, this is misleading, since Diaz is no longer with the Pirates, and able to add to his total. Diaz does lead Bautista in runners thrown out trying to steal (Diaz had nine; Bautista, not a catcher, has 26 outfield assists with Toronto), and the Pirates undoubtedly lead the Blue Jays in fans shaking their fists angrily at the sky.

Generally, I like to find a moral in these trade paths, but it is hard with this one. Every player in baseball history who profiled like Jose Bautista didn't go on to become a classically great slugger, except for Jose Bautista. Perhaps it is simply a reminder that for all we think we know about how baseball will turn out, it still gloriously has the ability to surprise us – not just on a per-game basis, but on a personal one as well.


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91 Comments on "Jack Of All Trades: Jose Bautista"


pirateswillwinin2013
4 years 3 months ago

Thats awesome how he became something after going through so much. Exactly though we don’t know who will turn out or fade out. But Thank God Bautista ended up with Toronto with hitting coach Dwayne Murphy, it made his career. If he would of stayed with the Pirates he probably never would have changed his swing and be a bench player or even out of baseball we don’t know. But Congrats to him, Im happy he’s succeeded when no one ever thought he would.

diehardmets
4 years 3 months ago

Why am I a Met fan?

4 years 3 months ago

Only you can tell us that, so why are you? 

Lunchbox45
4 years 3 months ago

Perhaps it is simply a reminder that for all we think we know about how baseball will turn out, it still gloriously has the ability to surprise us – not just on a per-game basis, but on a personal one as well  

nailed it

Bombastic_Dave
4 years 3 months ago

Would we all love baseball so much if there weren’t surprises like these?

Not me.

4 years 3 months ago

Great article. Can’t believe how he came out of nowhere.

Lunchbox45
4 years 3 months ago

I think this is in line with the ‘change of scenery argument for certain players’

not that a new ballpark or jersey colour envokes something..

With players with talent, sometimes it just takes a tweak to mechanics to bring out your full potential. The change of scenery is really the another approach or set of eyes to help you figure things out. Which is exactly this situation.

Mick_In_Ithaca
4 years 3 months ago

During the off-season, there were plenty of people on this blog and others who considered Bautista’s 2010 a fluke. When he signed the extension, there were many more who claimed it was a foolish deal on the part of the Jays. Perhaps they haven’t changed their views, but it’s pretty obvious, even this early in the season, that the brain trusts on the opposite side of the diamond regard Bautista as the real deal; I haven’t seen anybody pitched around so openly and often since — that Bonds guy. He has improved his game over last year in many ways, and maybe those improvements won’t stick, but right now he is by far the best offensive player in the game.

Excellent article.

ellisburks
4 years 3 months ago

I have no problem with the money they gave him. I am just concerned with the length of the contract. They will be paying him until he is 36. By then he will not be hitting as well. 

phoenix2042
4 years 3 months ago

It must have been incredibly stressful to change organizations five times in one season. Just not knowing where you should show up the next day, who’s paying you, where in the country you have to fly next… no wonder his performance suffered. I don’t think that people appreciate how being traded to a new team can be extremely stressful: having to move yourself and maybe your family to a new part of the country, having to live in a hotel because you need to be there tomorrow, all new staff, teammates, coaches, etc, not to mention the pressure to make a good impression on the field for your new team.  I picture it as if my college traded me to another school across the country, and I had to try to settle into a new community that I didn’t choose or even have much experience with besides on the field, and just trying to be comfortable living there.  Kudos to Jose for making through that and becoming a better player for it!

Encarnacion's Parrot
4 years 3 months ago

..and the Pirates undoubtedly lead the Blue Jays in fans shaking their fists angrily at the sky.

I’m sure Pirates fans collectively acted out Planet Of The Apes when they saw Jose break out.

“YOU MANIACS! YOU BLEEEEW IT UP! DAAAAMN YOU! DAAAAMN YOU ALL TO HELL!!”

Lunchbox45
4 years 3 months ago

sorry to rain on the parade, but the assistant GM at the time did the deal for Bautista. JPR himself said he knew little of it..

Encarnacion's Parrot
4 years 3 months ago

I honestly did not know that.  Every time the trade is mentioned, it always comes back to JPR.  Still though, I didn’t like him then and I don’t like him now.  Thanks for the tidbit of info though.

Lunchbox45
4 years 3 months ago

I was amazed when I read that, apparently AA had sent a scout over and then scouted  Bautista himself.. They weren’t high on Diaz so when the pirates called JPR let Alex handle it .

No wonder Alex was a little generous (at the time) with the extension, this was his guy.

Encarnacion's Parrot
4 years 3 months ago

@Lunchbox45

You know, this reminds me when people were criticizing Ricciardi for cheaping out by trying to find that diamond in the rough when they acquired Bautista.  I hope their crow was delicious.

4 years 3 months ago

the cynic in me suspects some kind of performance enhancement…

the optimist in me is enjoying the great story. Hope he can keep it up and have a great career.

4 years 3 months ago

I was under the impression that Bautista got alot of help from the hitting coach and it really helped him big time. Plus add a little success and confidence and we have the modern day Bautista.

I do admit I didn’t think he would duplicate what he did last season. I wouldn’t go higher than $18 in my fantasy draft and am now full of regret.

Tools_of_Ignorance
4 years 3 months ago

As a Jays die-hard, we don’t have much to cheer about.

But goddamn, Bautista is fun to watch. 

YourBase
4 years 3 months ago

 Are you kidding? The Jays are looking good. Your minor league system is great, you unloaded that Wells contract, you have Bautista, fine pitching, etc. I don’t think that the wait will be long.

Lunchbox45
4 years 3 months ago

pitching has been a bit of a let down so far.. hopefully cecil romero and morrow can find some consistancy

Farrell has been tough to deal with as well 

ellisburks
4 years 3 months ago

The pitching has been a let down but I think the Jays will be fine. I see 2011 as another growing year but 2012 will be a good year I think. As for Farrell, he is learning how to manage on the fly and having him there to guide your young staff can only be a bonus. Maybe 2012 is when you win the Wild Card.

Lunchbox45
4 years 3 months ago

I just feel like 2 important pieces took a step back this year (cecil,snider) Morrow, Romero too early to tell, and could this be the end of aaron hill as a jay?

Farrell is trying to hard to win instead of focusing on young player development.

In terms of farm system and the future, I’m still extremely optimistic. So far anyone with a contract for next year on this team has been good to great.. just a lot of dead weight and holes to fill, more then most people thought.

Ian_Smell
4 years 3 months ago

I really miss him as a Pirate fan, but I know that if he would have stayed he wouldn’t have been as good as he is now, so I’m glad that he’s finally having success, I just wish he had it here. 

FunkyTime
4 years 3 months ago

All-time great slugger?  Did “all-time” start in 2010?

Lunchbox45
4 years 3 months ago

you know you made it when you got haters!

4 years 3 months ago

 Does that include Frenchie?

Lunchbox45
4 years 3 months ago

lol i just spit out my drink

Sniderlover
4 years 3 months ago

If I remember correctly, weren’t there Jays fans who wanted Bautista
non-tendered and gone after the 09 season even with those 10 or so
homeruns in September. Can’t say I would have unhappy with the move at that time.

Aubrey Lustig
4 years 3 months ago

Who needed him when you had the great Randy Ruiz

Lunchbox45
4 years 3 months ago

 lol

i honestly thought he was going to hit 40 hr’s last year

Mick_In_Ithaca
4 years 3 months ago

Players who are on PEDs, esp. HGH, don’t miss 5 games because their neck is sore from having slept on it funny (ask Clemens if you don’t believe me). Especially not when they’re carrying the team offensively.

Bautista has always had power. The guy who drafted him thought he’d be an elite power hitter. He didn’t always have playing time, and he didn’t always have exceptional plate discipline. He didn’t always have the ability to put his A1 swing on the ball once he decided to swing. He used to, with some regularity, put a weak swing on a ball low and outside, and either strike out or ground out to second. He hardly made one of those swings at all last season, and I haven’t seen him do it this season. Now, when he loads, he can put a monster swing on a ball if he decides to swing, or hold off if he doesn’t like the pitch. Even his few ground ball outs this season have been sharply hit.

His at bat against Nathan tonight was typical. He takes a strike and is down 0-2 after a foul. He fouls off pitch after pitch, taking balls away, till he gets the count to 3-2. Fouls off another and then when Nathan throws him a strike down the middle, he plants it in the 2nd deck. Admittedly, Nathan coming off TJ isn’t the pitcher he once was, but it was like Bautista was just waiting for a mistake, would’ve waited all night, and when it came, he crushed it. Nathan should’ve just put him on.

Bautista’s performance last year is all the more remarkable in that he had 2 kind of lousy months. This is probably the case with most players most seasons, no matter how good a season they have. But this year Bautista has hardly wasted an at bat. He’s intimidating pitchers, and that’s made him even better. I won’t be in the least surprised if he outstrips last year’s BA and OPS numbers. And who knows: maybe he’ll hit 50 again. If he doesn’t, he’ll come close.

TrueYankeeFanNYC
4 years 3 months ago

Bautista is the best we know already. Sure he will produce his 8 mill this season but next year when it jumps to 14 million hopefully he doesn’t go back to that his 07 08 09 slash lines.

Nredning
4 years 3 months ago

That the hope TrueFan, that he doesn’t go back to those numbers.  But as AA stated, if you can’t gamble on a player like Bautista, who can you gamble on.  For Jays fans, it was just nice to see that Bautista was given what he was worth, and not play out his contract in Toronto.  Watching him performing like this in a Yankee’s or Red Sox uniform would have been very painful.  

Lunchbox45
4 years 3 months ago

so far this year.. Bautista has a .969 OPS, with 2 strikes.

no HGH, steroids, magic potion, beard enhancer, etc could make that happen to a player. 

Drew Tweedie
4 years 3 months ago

Let’s not get ahead of ourselves on that last one. 

Drew Tweedie
4 years 3 months ago

 I think we can boil down Bautista’s ridiculous power growth to a binary choice: do you want to know the terrifying truth, or do you want to see him sock a few dingers?

On a semi-related note, saw the Blue Jays play the Padres last year during interleague. The right field lower levels were heckling him the entire game (still not entirely sure why). Following the Blue Jays win, Bautista waved at the fans with the most coy expression on his face. I’ve been a fan ever since.

j6takish
4 years 3 months ago

 Boom, Simpsons quoted

Braydon Gervais
4 years 3 months ago

To all the steroid allegations….look at his swing before September 2009 then look at his swing after September 2009. Nuff said.

stonepie
4 years 3 months ago

steroids? maybe so, maybe not. he sure did change his swing but who’s to say he didnt take something as well? personally, im open to the idea that ANY player in baseball could be on some form of PED’s right now. of course i have nothing to base this on..just my feelings.

Guest
4 years 3 months ago

 all ive been trying to say this whole conversation. but the homers don’t want to believe its possible. at all.

4 years 3 months ago

He isn’t on anything that no one else in ball isn’t on.  Therefore, I agree that it is not even worth talking about unless there is more to it than just your suspiciousness.

Lunchbox45
4 years 3 months ago

Who said it wasnt possible???

Of course anything is possible but is it reasonable to assume or discuss after 4 negative drug tests and a well documented swing adjustment.

So far jose bautista has proven that he is not on juice a heck of a lot more than you have proven his is.

Guest
4 years 3 months ago

 i’m not out to prove he is on steroids. i’m out to prove that negative PED tests do not mean you have not used PEDs.

4 years 3 months ago

i’m not sure how manny got busted twice in the last year by the ‘joke’ tests you mention, when, after all, he’s got (or at least had) man(n)y more millions of dollars to invest in not getting caught.

 of course you can’t rule out that bautista MIGHT be on something unless you have blind faith in him/athletes/mlb – or unless you don’t understand what falsifiability has to do with science. but with that said, the main reason people suspect bautista is that he drastically improved ‘later’ in his career. drafting “toolsy” or “high upside” guys is betting that the ‘light goes on’ at some point, usually in their early 20s…bautista was 28 when he ‘figured it out’…compare that to Halladay who had all the attention of a top draft pick and HE didn’t figure it out himself until his age 25 season.