Jose Bautista Rumors
John Farrell inherited a vastly different offense than the one that clubbed a league-leading 257 home runs for Cito Gaston in 2010. Vernon Wells, John Buck and Lyle Overbay are gone and newcomers Rajai Davis (pictured), Corey Patterson and Juan Rivera now have prominent roles on the team. Before the season, the new Blue Jays manager explained his vision of a more complete offense, one that would feature players zipping from base to base instead of waiting for their chance to break into a home run trot.
“I would like us to become a much more aggressive team on the basepaths,” Farrell said in January. “That doesn’t mean we’re going to try to make Jose Molina a base stealer. But it does mean that there are opportunities where we can turn guys loose.”
And turn them loose he did. Even Molina has a pair of steals and Toronto has already stolen more bases than it did during the entire 2010 season. The increase is largely because of Davis, the slumping speedster who has attempted to steal 26 of the 50 times he has been on with an open base ahead of him. Unfortunately for Farrell, Davis has only succeeded 18 times (69%) and his running mate, Patterson, is only 11 for 17 (65%).
As a unit, Blue Jays baserunners are succeeding at a lower rate than they did under Gaston, though they’ve already eclipsed last year’s stolen base total. The team’s success rate has dropped from 74% to 71% in the early going, but the Jays have been successful in another department: taking the extra base. As the table below shows, Blue Jays baserunners have been more aggressive, taking extra bases on plays they showed more caution on under Gaston.
For example, the Blue Jays scored from first on a double 33 times last year. Led by Jose Bautista, who has scored four of the five times he has been on first for a teammate’s two-base hit, the Jays have already scored from first on a double 22 times under Farrell.
But Bautista's success running the bases is mitigated by the fact that he has already been picked off three times. In fact, Farrell's aggressive approach has led to 13 pickoffs so far, just one shy of the team's 2010 total.
Despite the pickoffs, Bautista has been Toronto’s most effective baserunner this year, according to UBR, a stat that measures a player’s impact on the bases (not including attempted steals). Still, Farrell has known all along that home runs are an essential weapon for his right fielder and for his entire offense.
“We’re going to play to that strength,” Farrell said. “But in preparing against this team [as an opponent], it was one that seemed to be one-dimensional and a little predictable.”
The numbers suggest the Blue Jays were among the worst teams baserunning teams in baseball last year. But after placing 27th in MLB with a -11.1 UBR in 2010, they’re fifth in baseball with +4.4 UBR this season. In other words, the Jays are on a pace to add a win on the basepaths this year, after losing a win on the bases last year.
Farrell still finds himself looking for a ‘spark’ and the offense will remain something of a work in progress until Aaron Hill and Travis Snider find their strokes and Brett Lawrie’s wrist is healthy. There’s no denying that the Blue Jays’ offense is sputtering at the moment - they’ve scored only three runs in their past four games - but the group has generally been productive. Only six MLB teams have scored more runs than Toronto this year and the offense is above average thanks in part to Farrell’s aggressive baserunning.
Photo courtesy Icon SMI.
It's early, but baseball's toughest division doesn't appear to be getting any easier. The Red Sox, Yankees, Rays and Blue Jays are all within two games of the AL East lead. Here are the latest links from the division...
- Jonathan Papelbon told Rob Bradford of WEEI.com that he’d like to stay in Boston after the season and break records and win championships with the Red Sox. The prospective free agent says he’ll do what’s best for his family, though there’s more to that than the bottom line. "It's not about the money, it's about going somewhere day in and day out and wanting to be there."
- Jose Bautista reflects on his ascension from hard-throwing college closer to utility player to MLB home run king with MLB.com's Anthony Castrovince.
- Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos told Shi Davidi of Sportsnet.ca that top prospect Brett Lawrie has made the adjustments the Jays asked him to make and is close to Major League-ready (Twitter link). Earlier today, ESPN.com’s Keith Law ranked Lawrie 11th among MLB prospects.
- Orioles utility player Jake Fox told Brittany Ghiroli of MLB.com that his role is unclear and that he has had trouble timing and recognizing pitches without regular at bats.
Today the Brewers claimed Danny Herrera from Cincinnati, the Reds optioned Edinson Volquez to the minors and Josh Hamilton homered in his return from the disabled list. The connection? Back in December of 2007, the Rangers sent Herrera and Volquez to Cincinnati for Hamilton. Here are the latest links from around the league...
- The Brewers optioned Herrera to Triple-A Nashville and moved left-hander Manny Parra to the 60-day DL, according to Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel (on Twitter).
- One Blue Jays person told Danny Knobler of CBSSports that Jose Bautista is “our Derek Jeter.” Bautista hit homer #19 today as the Blue Jays defeated Jeter’s Yankees.
- Mike Axisa of River Ave. Blues points out that recently-designated southpaw Jerry Blevins could be an appealing option for the Yankees if they're looking for more upside than Randy Flores offers.
- Earlier today, MLBTR's Tim Dierkes suggested that the Yankees are one of many contenders that could look for lefty relief.
On this date two years ago, right-hander Andy Sonnanstine hit third against the Indians after Joe Maddon made an error in filling out his lineup card. Sonnanstine had an RBI double and the Rays won. Here's a round of links from the AL East...
- Alex Speier of WEEI.com tells the story of 2006 draft pick Kris Johnson, whom the Red Sox released recently. Boston selected Johnson before Brett Anderson, Trevor Cahill and others, though Speier points out that the draft is an imperfect science and notes that the Red Sox had their reasons for selecting the left-hander at the time.
- Blue Jays slugger Jose Bautista tells Jon Paul Morosi of FOX Sports that he doesn't put himself in the same category as Albert Pujols because the Cardinals first baseman has succeeded for a decade. It's becoming clear that Bautista is the best hitter in the game - at least in 2011.
- As ESPN.com's Buster Olney notes, the AL East will be a summer-long grind, as the Yankees deal with age, the Red Sox deal with issues at the back of their rotation and the Rays try to keep winning without financial flexibility (Twitter link).
- Roch Kubatko of MASNsports.com previews some Orioles roster moves: Brandon Snyder and Troy Patton will likely take the places of the injured Derrek Lee and Cesar Izturis.
Perhaps no player has exploded from relative obscurity into superstardom like Jose Bautista has over the past year. It's been just under three months since the Blue Jays took a bold step by locking up last year's home run champ for five years and $65MM, but it certainly looks like it's going to pay off.
At the time, MLBTR readers agreed decisively that the contract was too great a risk: 72.42% of the 12,535 polled said they wouldn't have offered Bautista a deal of that magnitude.
Yet here we are three months later, and Bautista has hit his 14th, 15th, and 16th home runs of the season in just his 32nd game played. Entering play today, Fangraphs rated Bautista's value at a whopping 3.5 wins above replacement, primarily thanks to his video game-esque line of .358/.517/.798 (and that's prior to belting three more homers today). Over his past 192 games, he's hit .276/.402/.646., good enough for Dave Cameron of Fangraphs to question whether or not Bautista is the American League's best hitter.
Had Bautista reached free agency following this season, as he was projected to, he could have conceivably tried to exceed the seven-year contracts signed by Jayson Werth ($126MM) and Carl Crawford ($142MM) this past offseason. After all, he and agent Bean Stringfellow could point out that Werth only had three strong seasons prior to inking his deal. Bautista also doesn't have Werth's injury history, and offers the versatility of appearing at third base or in the outfield. And, assuming a 50 HR campaign for Bautista this year, they could argue that he hit as many homers from 2010-11 as Crawford had in his whole career when he signed his contract. At the bare minimum, he'd have commanded $20MM or more per season for five years or more.
Bautista's annual salary of $14MM from 2012 on is less than that of fellow outfielders Torii Hunter, Vernon Wells, Jason Bay, and Alfonso Soriano (to name a few). The total value of his deal exceeds Aaron Rowand's contract by just $4MM over the same number of guaranteed years.
Hindsight is always 20/20, but to this point, it looks like credit has to be given to Toronto GM Alex Anthopoulos and his staff for not only assessing that Bautista's 2010 was real and locking him up at a tremendous discount, but also moving Vernon Wells and his contract in order to free up payroll and make such an extension more feasible. Whether or not he's already the AL's best hitter, owning Bautista at such a discount will be a huge factor in the coming years as Toronto continues its quest to take their first AL East title since 1993.
Photo courtesy of Icon SMI.
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.
Ten years ago today, Marlins starter A.J. Burnett pitched a no-hitter against the Padres despite walking nine batters. Now a member of the Yankees' rotation, Burnett is off to a strong start after a disappointing 2010 season. Here's the latest on the Yankees' division rivals...
- Josh Rupe cleared waivers and was outrighted to Triple-A, according to Jeff Zrebiec of the Baltimore Sun. The Orioles designated the reliever for assignment on Tuesday.
- John Tomase of the Boston Herald notes that the Red Sox inquired about Jose Bautista during the offseason, only to hear that the Blue Jays weren't interested in moving him. Talks never went anywhere, as the Blue Jays were in the process of trading Vernon Wells and extending Bautista (on a deal that’s looking shrewd in the early going).
- John Lackey is in a major rut and he knows it, as Tomase writes. “Everything went wrong that could go wrong,” Lackey said of his start against the Blue Jays last night. “It’s pretty much the story of the whole damn year.”
- Don Connolly of the Baltimore Sun looks back at the 2008 trade that sent Erik Bedard to Seattle for Adam Jones, Chris Tillman and others and concludes that it was one of the top five deals in Orioles history, but not quite as good as it seemed a year or two ago.
- James Shields has re-emerged as a top pitcher and is pitching with a sense of purpose, according to ESPN.com's Jerry Crasnick, who spoke to the Rays right-hander about his 2011 success.
- In today's Insider-only blog post, ESPN's Buster Olney notes that Rays ace David Price is relying heavily on his fastball. Price threw 103 fastballs out of 112 pitches yesterday, though he averaged a season-high 95.3 mph with the pitch and threw it to both sides of the plate.
The depth of the Indians’ rotation is their biggest question, writes Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports. Now that Carlos Carrasco and Mitch Talbot are on the disabled list, the Tribe’s other options are being tested. Here’s Rosenthal’s latest from around the league:
- The Mariners have the resources to bring in additional veterans when they want to, according to Rosenthal.
- Jose Bautista, one of the top players in the game right now, is impressing just about everyone, including his own skipper. “His game awareness is as good as you’re going to get,” manager John Farrell told Rosenthal. “His ability in that regard takes him to another level."
- A scout told Rosenthal that Manny Machado “looks like a man playing with little boys.” The Orioles selected the 18-year-old shortstop prospect with the third overall pick in last year’s draft and he has a 1.090 OPS in Class A.
- The Rays may need to upgrade over Casey Kotchman at first base, but a definitive improvement may be difficult to find. The Brewers are likely to keep Prince Fielder, as Rosenthal points out.
Links for Friday on the 25th anniversary of Roger Clemens' first 20 strikeout game...
- MLB officials say Jim Crane is still on track to buy the Astros from Drayton McLane, according to Richard Justice of the Houston Chronicle. Justice argues that Crane should bring Lance Berkman, Andy Pettitte and former GM Gerry Hunsicker back to Houston if he does take over.
- Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports argues that manager Charlie Manuel needs to be cautious with his rotation, because it’s “by far the Phillies' biggest strength.”
- Former Blue Jays GM J.P. Ricciardi told Tom Verducci of SI.com that he liked Jose Bautista enough to trade for him, but wasn’t expecting historic production from the former utility player. “If you told me he would hit 20 home runs, I would have believed it because you could see the power,” Ricciardi said. “But no way could you see 50.”
- D'Backs GM Kevin Towers was on hand to watch high schooler Bubba Starling play yesterday, according to ESPN.com's Keith Law (on Twitter). A two sport athlete, Starling is arguably the top high school position player in the 2011 draft.
Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos told Jon Heyman of SI.com that he thought carefully before locking up Jose Bautista to a $65MM extension. "When you spend that kind of money, I don't think you can ever be completely comfortable," Anthopoulos said. "And I am one to agonize over everything, anyway,'' Both Anthopoulos and Bautista acknowledged that a second 54-homer season is unlikely, but that doesn't mean the former utility player can't produce. Here are the rest of Heyman's rumors...
- Boston's front office has not seriously considered cutting Tim Wakefield.
- Dennys Reyes, who can opt out of his contract Friday, will likely make the team as well, according to Heyman.
- Two scouts say Marlins third baseman Matt Dominguez isn't ready to hit in the major leagues. However, he's an above-average defender.
- Though manager Joe Girardi won't say as much, Ivan Nova has locked up the Yankees' No. 4 starter job, according to Heyman.
- It appears that Oliver Perez will find a job. The Yankees and Brewers aren't interested.
- Scouts tell Heyman that Twins pitching prospect Kyle Gibson isn't far from the majors.