Blue Jays counting on another big year by Bautista
Perhaps no major leaguer has come as far over the past 12 months
as Jose Bautista.
On opening day 2010 he was a virtual unknown, something of a
journeyman who’d finally found his first full-time job, batting
leadoff for the Toronto Blue Jays.
Fast forward through one incredible 54-homer campaign and he’s
baseball reigning long ball king, owner of a $65 million, five-year
contract and the new face of his team.
But after coming such a long way himself, how far can Bautista
take the Blue Jays?
That’s just one of several questions general manager Alex
Anthopoulos will be asking this season, and the answers will
determine how soon his talented but untested team can contend in
the hyper-competitive AL East.
”It’s going to be interesting. It’s going to be fun to watch,
but there’s no question that there’s a lot of things that will be
answered,” Anthopoulos said.
Bautista was an offensive force in 2010, smashing George Bell’s
club record of 47 homers and more than tripling his previous career
high of 16, set in 2006. His .260 batting average, .378 on-base
percentage, 124 RBIs, 109 runs and 100 walks were all career
Anthopoulos concedes it was a risk to pay big bucks for Bautista
before seeing a repeat performance, but said he’s willing to
tolerate a drop-off.
”He’ll have down months,” Anthopoulos said. ”He might have a
year where he doesn’t perform all that well. But you’re buying into
this for the long term and you have reason to believe he’s going to
”Prince Fielder has hit 50 home runs before,” Anthopoulos
added. ”He had 32 last year but he was still a very good,
Even with Bautista’s booming bat contributing to a major
league-high 257 homers, the Blue Jays went 85-77 last year and
finished a distant fourth in baseball’s toughest division. They
haven’t made the playoffs since 1993.
Toronto’s changes start on the bench, where rookie manager John
Farrell, plucked away from his job as Boston’s pitching coach, took
over from the retired Cito Gaston.
Farrell made three additions to his staff, bringing in former
Seattle manager Don Wakamatsu as bench coach, naming former Blue
Jays starter Pat Hentgen his bullpen coach and hiring a Boston
acquaintance, Triple-A Pawtucket manager Tory Lovullo, as first
base coach. Still, he retained three of Gaston’s coaches: Brian
Butterfield (third base), Bruce Walton (pitching) and Dwayne Murphy
Besides Bautista, Anthopoulos and Farrell will have plenty of
things to keep their eyes on. There’s a rookie catcher behind the
plate in J.P. Arencibia, last year’s Pacific Coast League MVP. At
first base, young slugger Adam Lind is transitioning to a new
position after playing mostly outfield and DH. On the mound,
right-hander Kyle Drabek, the first prospect from the Roy Halladay
trade to reach the majors, has made an opening-day roster for the
”We don’t have a long list of players that have had consistent
performances for three or four years in a row,” Anthopoulos said.
”We do know that it’s an incredibly talented group of players and
the group we think is going to be part of winning a championship in
Toronto. But again, they’re young major league players and still
need to establish themselves. Some of them are already starting
but, from my standpoint, you need to do it for a few years before
you’re truly established.”
The Blue Jays will hope for bounce-back years from Lind and
second baseman Aaron Hill after both had big drops in production
last season. They’ll also hope outfielder Travis Snider, limited to
82 games because of injuries, can blossom into the hitter Toronto
has been waiting for.
The starting five will be anchored by lefties Ricky Romero and
Brett Cecil and right-hander Brandon Morrow, three youngsters who
Anthopoulos says took ”great strides” last season. Morrow will
start the season on the disabled list, bumping Drabek up in the
While he admires Drabek’s fire and work ethic, Anthopoulos says
the son of former NL Cy Young Award winner Doug Drabek is still
learning the mental aspect of pitching.
”He’s ultra-competitive and sometimes he needs to learn to
channel his emotions a little bit and not let adversity on the
mound impact him,” Anthopoulos said.
With so much youth around the diamond, the Blue Jays also like
Bautista as a team leader. He’s become one of the most experienced
veterans on the roster after a pair of offseason trades that sent
right-hander Shaun Marcum, Toronto’s opening-day starter in 2010,
to Milwaukee and outfielder Vernon Wells, the highest-paid player
in franchise history, to the Angels.
”We wholeheartedly believe in Jose Bautista as a person, more
than anything else,” Anthopoulos said when the contract was
signed. ”I’ve seen where (long-term) deals have gone awry, maybe
because the bet on the person wasn’t what was expected. If we can’t
bet on (Bautista), we can’t bet on anybody.”