Milwaukee, WI, USA; Toronto Blue Jays right fielder Jose Bautista watches his three-run home run against the Milwaukee Brewers at Miller Park. Credit: Benny Sieu-US PRESSWIRE
Jose Bautista is one of the great hitters in Major League Baseball. That wasn't a given for a lot of us until recently, but the epiphany was well-timed for the Blue Jays.
Pretend you have 100 pieces of black licorice in front of you. Your goal is to eat them until you feel full. Maybe you get full around 10 or 20 or 80 … but at some point, you feel full. If you had eaten one fewer piece, would you still feel full? Probably. What about two fewer pieces? Dunno. Maybe not. So the tipping point of full is between those two pieces. Cut it in half. And that in half. And that in half. Cut off tiny specks from the corners. Where is the true demarcation of full? Is it a single atom of black licorice?
Also, now you're violently retching in your backyard because you had to eat black licorice. Sorry about that. It was for science.
Jose Bautista is now a reliable force of baseball nature. For the first year of his breakout, the regression police were in full riot gear. For the second year, there was still doubters, though his April and May tear wiped them out like some sort of ecological disaster. But with his (relative) September slide and his slow start this year, zoologists started to see a rebound in the population of doubters. Don't ask what the zoologists found about the mating habits of the doubter. I never thought that "dour and cynical" could be used as adjectives before descriptions of mating, but … look at us, all off track.
At some point, "Jose Bautista, question mark" became "Jose Bautista, hitter you just expect to be wildly productive." Just like the difference between hungry and full, you can't really trace it to a single event. It wasn't a lone home run or walk that made you think, gee, this guy's going to stay this good. The transition was seamless, and you didn't notice it.
You can't possibly still doubt Jose Bautista, can you? We're 1698 plate appearances into the New Jose Bautista Era, and his OPS is exactly 1.000 over that stretch. He's led the world in home runs for the past two years, and he's leading it again this season. He finished fourth in the 2010 MVP voting and third in 2011 MVP voting. If this trend holds, he'll eventually win the AL MVP next season, both NL and AL MVPs in 2014, and a Cy Young in 2015. And it wouldn't surprise you because he's Jose Bautista.
But think back to that first breakout season. Think of the names that were bandied about. There was Brady Anderson. Norm Cash. Rich Aurilia. Bautista was almost 30, and he had a season that was completely out of line with anything else he'd done in his career. It wasn't unusual to be skeptical -- it was expected. If you had any interest in serious baseball analysis, you had to be skeptical.
The Blue Jays did something amazing, then. They extended Jose Bautista. Alex Anthopoulos convinced the owners that Bautista was for real-- that the reward outweighed the risk. He convinced Bautista and his agent this proposed payday was worth giving up the potential for a lucrative contract after the 2011 season. It was an unlikely response to an unlikely season. The easiest thing to do would have been to wait and see if he did it again.
That would have cost the Blue Jays, what, $40 million? More? What wacky contract would Bautista have received if he were a free agent after last season? Because as a reminder, here's what Bautista is making:
2012: $14 million
2013: $14 million
2014: $14 million
2015: $14 million
2016: $14 million (team option)
That last one gets me. In the event that Bautista stops drawing power from the Earth's yellow sun, the Blue Jays have a team option. It's not the perfect contract, but it's one of the better ones in the game.
And it wasn't a given at the time. Heck, it was widely derided. In some corners -- most corners? -- it was a joke of a contract. Yet here we are in 2012, completely comfortable with the idea of Jose Bautista as a special player making good-player money.
It's not like Anthoupolos flipped a coin, or just said the hell with it, as if he were facing a huge re-raise with a pair of fives. I'm guessing there was a Manhattan Project of player evaluation that went on before the Jays committed that much money. There was statistical analysis, historical analysis, scouting analysis after scouting analysis … it had to be a huge decision for a franchise that usually isn't in the top half of total payrolls in MLB. And they absolutely nailed it.
In case you missed it, Bautista is the odds-on favorite to win the 2012 Home Run Derby. Giancarlo Stanton is the new flavor of the month when it comes to prodigious dingering, but the people who set odds for a living have more faith in Jose Bautista. That's because Bautista is a known quantity now, something that seemingly happened overnight. But now that we're used to it, we can really appreciate the risk the Blue Jays took, and how it's paid off handsomely so far.