Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Boiled Frogs

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There was always a chance it would end this way. There is no small amount of risk surrounding a 36-year old dead red pull hitter, no matter how well they performed in recent years or how willing you are to wave away injuries and odometer miles piling up.

The free market had its suspicions. The Blue Jays brain trust had their suspicions. Sometimes you spring a leak, sometimes the dam breaks.

As was too often the case too many times in his career, Jose Bautista is slightly out of phase. Ahead of his time but slightly behind the curve.

Sometimes your bat gets just slow enough that you have to cheat on fastballs, which would be okay in a world with human pitchers, not a world in which everybody throws 97 mph while also flipping in breaking balls at unprecedented rates.

Even the most conservative of projections couldn’t foresee a drop-off of this significance. PECOTA’s 10th percentile projection, the gloomiest segment among thousands of simulations based on aging curves and past performance, pegged Bautista as a .225/.336/.435 hitter with 26 homers. That’s a full 75 points better than his OPS sits right now. Looking up at the bottom of the barrel is no way to live.

A “meets his average projections” Bautista could mean three full wins of increased production for his team, to say nothing of the timing of such events. To say nothing of how this season, and this player, are remembered.

If you’re not comfortable with declaring this the end of Bautista’s time in Toronto, that’s okay. If he gets one last shot at a big league job, there remains a chance for the “dead cat bounce.” I don’t know which idea is worse: the idea that his playing days are over or the idea that he comes back to contribute in another uniform.

His next uniform to bear his would be the sixth of his career. But really, just the third. The first was a generic “MLB chattel” jersey worn by players on the fringes of a major league roster, grist for the player development mill. The second is Blue Jays blue, as represented by the countless kid-sized shirseys and chinatown knockoffs and commemorative All Star game collectibles shoved into collector’s closets from coast to coast.

We’ll only remember the second act, unlikely as it was. Timing is everything, in both Bautista’s vicious swing and his career writ large. His career earnings impacted by the forces of risk versus reward, and the swing unlocked by raised eyebrows and technical know-how of a few old friends.

It’s cruel and ironic that this late-blooming player's career took off only after being urged to start early.

Realistically speaking, there is no Jose Bautista analog. While Justin Smoak has suddenly become the cause célèbre of the next iteration, there is nothing quite like Bautista’s path to franchise immortality. Not here, not anywhere. Unsigned as an amatuer, he took a route accessible to only a select few of his countrymen. In keeping with his defiant nature, Bautista did what was once considered impossible for Dominican ballplayers - he walked off the island.

He headed stateside as a college ballplayer, drafted and eventually Rule Fived to the big leagues before his talent and mental preparation were calibrated for success. The circuitous path is familiar to many churned up by baseball, the industry. His story has been told many times and, hopefully, it gets retold over and again by baseball, the parable for all lives big and small.   

One of my favourite traits of Bautista’s time in Toronto is its matter of fact nature. He was an expendable veteran with a few years of control until he wasn’t. He was a 54 home run flash in the pan until he wasn’t. He was a good player on a bad team until he wasn’t. He was in the right place at the wrong time until he wasn’t.


He was a non-tender candidate and then he’s on the shortlist for best players to ever wear the uniform. He’s a lightning rod for criticism until this too changes.

Time has a way of healing wounds that seek treatment. Indelible moments, arms held high as foes are vanquished, they scrub acrimonious exits and literal -- not figurative --  spitting in the face of authority.

The eventual level of excellence ceremony (assured) and bat flip statue unveiling (god willing) will leave a lot of today’s vocal critics swearing their support of the capricious superstar was steadfast. Number 19’s sizzle reel is a crowd pleaser, if nothing else. As the highlights crowd out ump barking and snippiness, the adulation will rush in. 


It is my sincere hope that Bautista’s 2017 season ends with a series of serenades and standing ovations. He earned it, and we should delight in providing it. Sadly, nothing is ever so simple for Jose Bautista. It’s always a matter of timing.

7 comments:

  1. i'm going to hope for one last kick at the can as a part time dh/utility player/lefty masher for Jose. obv this could only happen if morales and/or pearce were jettisoned. what my eyes told me this spring was that the bat speed played again at a high level. then the wbc neck/back/shoulder injury and because of the games played clause in his contract, he was not fully healed and played hurt and run down. at least i'd like to think that. regardless, it's been a blast watching him for the past 9 seasons.

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  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  3. Should prob DFA him before they return from the roadtrip to avoid any awkwardness

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  4. Best thing I've read in a long time.

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  5. Wonderful piece on our Jose! He's been a joy to watch and I wish he were coming back as a Jay. Whatever the future holds for Jose, I wish him all the best and thank him for all that he's given to Toronto and the Jays. Signed, a Jose fan forever 💙

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