Photo credit: Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports
Jose Bautista is amazing. We all know that, obviously. Or, at least, it seems now we can all finally acknowledge that — even those who were all too ready to buy the silly media talk of recent years that he was somehow bad for the team because of his attitude or his too frequent protestations to umpires, and that he should be run out of town *COUGH*.
But I think even the most adoring fans who think they already know his story — and I’ll admit, I was pretty sure that I did — will find a bunch of nuggets in Tom Verducci’s new profile of the Jays slugger for Sports Illustrated. For example: perhaps the only reason he’s even in Toronto is because of the way he bristled at a new rule about socks back when his strange and amazing baseball journey had only taken him as far as the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Of course, it’s not his past that’s been paramount in the minds of many Jays fans since the beginning of this, the final year of his contract with the club, but his future. Bautista thinks about it, too, and as his comments to Verducci show, it’s with a keen uncommon to most ballplayers — perfectly typical, since Bautista is anything but…
SI teased some of these comments yesterday, as I noted in a Daily Duce, but the full statement is much more impressive, I think:
“I will explore every single option, whether it happens or not with the new regime, to continue to try to stay here,” he says. “That being said, I think teams utilize that a lot against players, [seeking] a discount or bargain price, and I think that’s extremely unfair, especially to have your biggest contributors on the field and try to take advantage of the fact that they like it there and negotiate a tougher deal.
“Going back to being an asset, we generate revenue. How much of that does a team want to share with a player? And for a player like me, I’m also in a unique position where I truly believe that’s not going to stop when I take the uniform off. I see what happens with Joe Carter, Roy Halladay, Vernon Wells and Robbie Alomar. I don’t mean to sound like I’m bragging, but I don’t think I’m in a different position. I’m there in all the offensive record categories for the team, and I like to think I’m one of those players who’s not just intellectually but also baseball savvy and can bring something to the table post-career. Having all those things in perspective, I just don’t see how our organization would not see me as an attractive piece.”
A couple things about this. First off, surely Bautista must have noticed that all those guys finished their careers elsewhere. I get the point he’s making, but I’m not sure it’s going to be terribly compelling to the organization. Is he going to be a brand ambassador for the Pirates? I suspect not.
But I still like the way he’s thinking — and like the way that he’s maybe zeroing in on some of the new age-y stuff that Mark Shapiro and his robot force get off on. There are few better in all of baseball to speak to the importance of nutrition and conditioning, perseverance, tenacity, work ethic, and even to the importance of being receptive to coaching and understanding you can’t always do it all yourself — after all, Bautista toiled as a utility man until Cito Gaston, Dwayne Murphy, and Vernon Wells helped unlock the change that transformed his career.
He’s a guy who thinks about it like a business, who wants to get paid — and who has and will get paid. If you’re a young player, how do you not listen to what he has to say? And if you’re in a front office, how do you not want him to be an example going forward?
But there’s another side of those comments to Verducci, too — a side that speaks to the fans, and their nostalgia, and their love of the franchise, and Bautista’s importance to it. I don’t think it’s quite as cynical as all this, but maybe he believes that public pressure to keep him compels the club to be more competitive in trying to retain him — or that it helps to push his final number higher, regardless of who ends up caving to it.
I’m not sure that’s going to help him much either — the new regime quite clearly showed from day one that their intent is to be ruthless in pursuit of their own vision, in terms of on-field product, not the fans’ — but it certainly can’t hurt.
Ultimately, next winter one team is going to see just a little more value in paying Bautista than all his other suitors. If something like this edges the Jays in that direction, that’s good for everybody.
Pay him all the dollars!