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Where the Jays Stand – Right Field

Posted By Ben Fisher On Dec 5 2011 @ 1:42 pm In Toronto Blue Jays | 1 Comment

As the Winter meetings get going in Dallas, our weekly look at how the Jays are set up around the diamond zones in on one of the team’s central selling points to free agents: the opportunity to play alongside Jose Bautista. Before we get to that, I’ll try to separate myth from fact and look at what is real amidst all the speculation coming out of Dallas:

What Would Make the Winter Meetings a Success?

Up to this point in the free agent process, Toronto has primarily been used as a pawn in agents’ attempts to stir interest in the players they represent by fabricating interest from clubs like the Jays, who seem to be on the periphery of a big splash. Players linked to Toronto have included Albert Pujols, Jose Reyes, Mark Buerhle, every closer under the sun and, most recently, Prince Fielder. A big Fielder advocate myself, I admittedly got suckered into some of yesterday’s talk about Toronto leading the race for the services of the soon-to-be-former Brewer until Alex Anthopoulos asserted that he had no plans to tie up big money into one player.

So if the big-ticket guys like Pujols and Fielder are off Toronto’s radar and there’s no guarantee that any moves get done this week, then what would constitute a successful trip for Anthopoulos and co.?

For one thing, it’s time to zero in on those in which they do have interest and establish themselves as serious bidders. The primary needs – closer, second baseman, starting pitcher – are still clear, so it’s time to figure out how to maximize value in filling each need.

At closer, Ryan Madson and Francisco Cordero remain in line for significant money (although Cordero might come down a bit), leaving a decidedly smaller secondary market of, basically, Francisco Rodriguez, Frank Francisco, Matt Capps and Brad Lidge. If none of those options appeal to Toronto, then Anthopoulos needs to know exactly what it would take to pry Andrew Bailey away from Oakland and determine whether a move is worthwhile.

Likewise, at second, it’s time to figure out just what the market’s at for Kelly Johnson, as well as monitoring the status on Brandon Phillips’ contract extension talks with the Reds. If Johnson is being overvalued and Phillips doesn’t look as though he’s coming available, then Anthopoulos has to scour the trade market to determine who is legitimately available for the right price (Gordon Beckham? Maicer Izturis? Martin Prado?) – and what that price is.

As for the starting pitching market, free agency appears to be out of whack at the moment with top-line guys CJ Wilson, Mark Buerhle and Edwin Jackson asking for crazy money. Don’t look for Anthopoulos to do much before they are off the board and the value of mid- to late-rotation guys like Paul Maholm and Rich Harden. The team might also be looking to save money on their rotation as they prepare to offer Brandon Morrow’s looming contract extension.

The 2011 Guy(s)

Starter: Jose Bautista

Back-Ups: Corey Patterson, Rajai Davis, Eric Thames

Waiting in the Wings: Moises Sierra, Darin Mastroianni

How Did The Jays Fare?

If 2010 was the star-making season for Bautista, 2011 was the star-confirming season.

You could have (and I have had) a spirited argument about which campaign was better for the Jays’ franchise player. 2010 represented the year of his unthinkable 54 home runs, 124 RBI and a .617 slugging percentage, while 2011 saw him drop to 43 homers (still led both leagues) but also boost his batting average (.302), OBP (.447) and OPS (1.056), as well as a league-leading 132 walks that symbolized the respect he had earned throughout the majors. For what it counts, he also jumped a spot in MVP voting, from fourth in 2010 to No. 3 this past season.

Whether you favour his 2010 or 2011 campaign, the take-away is that Bautista wasn’t just a one-season wonder waiting to be figured out by major league pitchers and is now making that five-year, $64 million contract look pretty good (considering that Pujols might be his best comp and is about to sign for north of $200 million).

Where Are They Headed?

This is Bautista’s team and will continue to be so even in the unlikely event that another franchise-calibre guy comes aboard. While we have previously discussed a given player’s odds on maintaining his spot, talking about the future with regards to Joey Bats has more to do with how he can help propel them into becoming both a contender and coveted free agent landing spot.

Perhaps the best indication that Bautista’s stardom is anything but fleeting comes in the respect that his fellow peers have for him. To watch the 2011 All-Star Game (I know, painful) was to witness a Jose Bautista love-in that clearly showed the affection and admiration other players have for the Jays RF, whose exemplary character and leadership qualities have shone throughout his rise to stardom. Listen to speculation about guys like David Ortiz and Fielder coming to Toronto and it seemingly always centers on the positive relationship which Star X has with Bautista.

Even if he doesn’t help lure in a single player, the presence of Bautista is being felt – obviously on the field, but also in the locker room and the community. Bautista is part of a core unit of Jays – Ricky Romero, J.P. Arencibia and Brett Lawrie among them – that is spending much of the off-season training and hanging out together (some have even forged a cross-sport bond with some Leafs players). In the community, Bautista was front and centre in the introduction of the new Jays logo and has stepped into the role of charity mainstay that was vacated when former face of the franchise Roy Halladay left town.

Would still love a Twitter follow: @RealBenFisher. Also, my thoughts on the Mathis deal:

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