* Jose Bautista is the one player that the Blue Jays head into 2015 without a question or concern on how he’ll perform. ….
By Bob Elliott
He’s the best player on the team.
He’s the toughest out in the lineup.
He’s getting close to being as a lead-pipe cinch — in terms of offensive expectations — as Carlos Delgado was.
He fields his position well and has been known to throw out guys at first base.
No, we’re not talking about an infielder.
We’re talking about right fielder Jose Bautista, who threw out Billy Butler and Omar Infante on back-to-back days at the Rogers Centre in May.
Now Butler and Infante play for the Kansas City Royals who are about to clinch a post-season berth for the first since time since 1985, leaving the Jays at 21 seasons as owners of the longest active drought in the majors … but maybe you’re read that before this week.
We’re looking ahead now to opening day April 6 when the Jays open the season at Yankee Stadium (the new schedule is already posted in the Joseph Bednarz’s elevator at the Rogers Centre. Joe turned 88 earlier this month and hopes to see the Jays end their streak.)
Right field is the sole position which has the zero questions about heading into next season.
It’s the one spot general manager Alex Anthopoulos and aides Tony LaCava, Andrew Tinnish, Dana Brown and Perry Minasian, come to and say “OK what’s next.” (LaCava says talk of him heading to the Miami Marlins is not true.)
Delgado had six straight seasons starting in 1998 of 30 or more homers and 100 RBIs, And in 2004 he slumped to 32 homers and 99 RBIs.
Bautista does not have Delgado’s body of work when it comes to consistency yet, but in five seasons as an every day player Bautista has more bold face on his baseball-reference resume.
Delgado won an RBI crown, while Bautista has won two home run titles (54 in 2010 and 43 the next), saw injuries reduce his playing time to 92 games (wrist) and 118 (leg) last year … and now this season he’s the toughest out in the majors with a .409 on-base mark to lead the league.
He has hit 27 doubles, 35 homers, 103 RBIs (third time in five he’s been in triple digits), is batting .290 and owns a .943 OPS. His pitch recognition is Barry Bonds like with 104 walks (11 intentional). Said one executive “how many times this season have we seen him 0-2 and three pitches later it’s 3-2?”
So right field is not a question mark, with Bautista, who turns 34 in October, in the final year of his three-year extension.
As for the rest of the team Buck Martinez and Pat Tabler will be telling you about next season now that they have signed their new Sporstnet deals … the Jays have positions with questions and the other positions and then they have holes.
Last year the Jays entered the off season with question marks behind the plate (J.P. Arencibia), second base (could Ryan Goins hit?) and two spots in the rotation (Brandon Morrow coming off and injury and Drew Hutchison had yet to impress in the Arizona Fall League.)
First base _ Edwin Encarnacion.
The quad injury he suffered means the most games he’ll play this year is 130, the smallest number since he became an every day player.
He’s still not running like he was before being injured in Oakland.
Question: Will he be healthy?
Rotation _ R.A. Dickey, Mark Buehrle, Marcus Stroman, JA Happ, Drew Hutchison and Aaron Sanchez.
We’re assuming Happ’s option is picked up which makes six starters. Dickey gave the Jays 14 wins and 200 innings while “Get him home in a Hurray” Buehrle won 13 and hit 200 for a 14th consecutive season. He told TSN’s Scott (162) MacArthur on Monday “now is the time guys show their true colors” with the Jays out of the race. The lefty pitched 8 1/3 scoreless Wednesday.
Stroman has hit-and-miss stuff and Hutchison was consistent in his first full year after Tommy John surgery. Happ pitched six or more innings in 12 of his final 16 starts and the Jays will pick up his option.
The Jays could put Sanchez in the closer’s role, but he’s a better fit as a starter. What’s so strange is that all we heard about Sanchez was his lack of command. Was his catcher calling too many off speed pitches? All he’s done with basically one high hard one is put up a 1.16 ERA.
Question: Who stays, who goes?
Shortstop: Jose Reyes
As seasons go it was a good one for the lead-off man considering he blooped a ball to centre and pulled a hamstring in his first at-bat opening night and went on the disabled list. He hit well (171 hits, 31 doubles, four triples, nine homers, 49 RBIs), he ran well (30-for-32 stealing, 93 runs scored, twice scoring from second on ground balls to the left side) and his arm has been OK.
Ah, but about the defence.
“He’s growing old right before our eyes, he’s a player, but I’m not sure if he’s a shortstop,” said one scout at the Rogers Centre this month following a visiting contender.
Another scout stuck up for Reyes saying he’s worn down after the long season on the turf. Last month Reyes played 19 innings against the Detroit Tigers, flew to Seattle and was not pleased when manager John Gibbons gave him the night off.
There has been some internal discussions about moving Reyes to left field, but would he accept a move? There are some big-market teams with a need for a shortstop … a name shortstop.
We’ve heard from reliable sources that Derek Jeter will retire. Can you hear the Bleacher Creatures yelling “Bren-dan Ryan! Bren-dan Ryan!” next season. Ryan made 13 starts for the Yankees this year.
“I’m staying here,” said Reyes, “I’m here for three more years.”
Reyes earns $22 million each of the next three seasons.
Will the Mets stick with Ruben Tejada (four homers, 31 RBIs, .229 average, .632 OPS in 100 starts) and Wilmer Flores (six homers, 28 RBIs, .244, .652 OPS in 50 starts)? Will GM Sandy Alderson be interested or would that be admitting he made a mistake in letting Reyes get away?
Reyes is ranked 18th amongst major-league 22 shortstops in fielding according to Fangraphs, behind Jean Segura, ahead of Jeter and Adeiny Hechavarria.
Question: Does he field well enough for a contender?
Catcher: Dioner Navarro.
Navarro started 100 games — the most since 2009. Replacing Arencibia he had more walks (32-10), doubles (22-12), RBIs (74-55), OPS (.720-.592) and swiped more bases (3-0). With the Texas Rangers Arencibia had more homers (21-12).
Some wonder if the bump if playing time affected Navarro’s playing time during the second half as he has caught 889 1/3 innings. Some scouts see Navarro as an ideal platoon partner.
That’s a no-go as the Jays need Josh Thole to catch Dickey. Carrying three catchers when the Jays have such a short bench is difficult.
Navarro was actually better against lefties (.361, six, 10) than righties (.279, seven homers, 24 RBIs) last year compared to .274, eight homers, 54 RBIs against right-handers this year and .283, four, 15 against lefties.
Question: Can he dominate against lefties as he did in 2013?
Second/third base _ Brett Lawrie.
The Jays are set with Lawrie and his damn-the-torpedos, raging-bull-in-an-antique-shoppe approach. They just don’t know whether he’ll play second base or third. This year he made 44 starts at third and 26 at second. Lawrie can play either spot but it was unfair to flip flop him: second against right-handers with Juan Francisco at third and playing third against lefties.
“He’ll learn to slow down the game as he gets older,” said one scout of Lawrie, who turns 25 in January.
Two injuries this year limited Lawrie to 70 games. In three full seasons with the Jays Lawrie has started 343 of a possible 486 (70.6%).
Question: Can he stay healthy for a whole season, never playing in more than 125 games.
Third/second base _ Where ever Lawrie does not play the Jays need help. Unless they try the smooth-fielding Goins again at second. Asdrubal Cabrera or Gordon Beckham are options.
Left field _ Melky Cabrera is a free agent. The Jays will make an offer and the Cabrera camp appears interested. Will he sign to play on the this carpet or head elsewhere? And a better question is will Rogers outspend others? If the Mariners non tender Michael Saunders, scheduled to make $3 million next year, is he an option?
Centre field _ Colby Rasmus is a free agent and won’t be back. Would a platoon of Anthony Gose and Kevin Pillar work? Could Dalton Pompey be an option? As Kawasaki told Pompey the other night “Pompey you play here … you a hero every night.”
DH _ Adam Lind, if the Jays pick up his option. Lind had the highest OPS vs right-handers of anyone including Mike Trout, Miguel Cabrera and Bautista. Either John Mayberry or Danny Valencia either could be a platoon partner for Lind.
We’ve heard people knock this platoon concept. The bet Jays team ever in terms of win — 99 wins under Bobby Cox in 1985 — had platoons behind the plate with Ernie Whitt and Martinez; Rance Mulliniks and Garth Iorg at third as well as Al Oliver and Cliff Johnson sharing DH duties.
Closer _ Will Casey Janssen be back? He’s a free agent.
Sanchez is an option, as is lefty Cecil.
Bullpen _ Brett Cecil and Aaron Loup have the Jays covered from the left side. They could give Cecil a shot to close.
The Jays have options on Brandon Morrow and Dustin McGowan. Todd Redmond and Chad Jenkins are options from the right side, while Steve Delabar, an all-star in 2013, hopes to return from Buffalo.
In other words a busy winter lies ahead.