Bautista Speaks!: On Motivation and Positional Flexibility

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José Bautista arrived at camp in Dunedin on Thursday, and had his first real scrum with the media since re-signing with the Blue Jays late in the winter, following a spell on the open market characterized by an utter lack of interest from most clubs.

Sporting the jersey of another club whose best players are past it — HEYO! — Bautista strode out from inside the Jays’ training facility in Dunedin to face the microphones and talk about the upcoming season. At least one of Bautista’s answers came off “rather icily,” according to Robert MacLeod of the Globe and Mail, but judging by a Canadian Press video embedded in his piece, it was hardly a tense interaction.

You can probably guess which question caused the frosty reaction. To paraphrase MacLeod (because the moment, unfortunately, doesn’t appear in the video), it was about whether he had something to prove this season, to dispel the notion that he’s injury prone and on the downside of his career.

“I wasn’t aware that was the perception,” Bautista said.

José the fucking best!

And though he most definitely is going to be battling that perception this season — as every 36-year-old coming off an injury-riddled down year will — there’s something in this idea that irks me, too. 

I briefly mentioned this on last night’s podcast, but it bears repeating: the “a motivated José Bautista” narrative is traaaaaaaaaash.

You think he doesn’t always play with a chip on his shoulder? You think he wasn’t motivated in his free agent walk year last season???

And look where that motivation got him.

There are much bigger forces that will determine how Bautista’s 2017 goes: his health, his bat speed, his eye, luck. Talking about chips on shoulders — which, let’s be clear, MacLeod isn’t doing; he’s simply reporting on José’s comments — is straight-up lazy.

Like, oh, so now Bautista is going to play with a chip on his shoulder? LOL

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Bautista had at least one interesting thing to say amid his series of platitudes about it being good to be back, and that was about positional flexibility.

“I’ll do whatever it takes to win. I’ve proven that not only last year, but throughout my career, with trying to do whatever the manager thinks is best, and playing whatever position needs to be played. If things need to be shaken up, I don’t mind being the guy that gets sacrificed and moved around a little bit. So if that plays into what the team believes is out best opportunity to win on any given night, I’m going to continue to do that — because I just like to win. If being a trooper and taking a hit for the guys is something that I need to do from time to time, I don’t mind doing it.”

One maybe wonders how much this is genuine and how much is Bautista being aware of the optics of saying anything else, but you can’t deny that he’s been flexible in the past: He played a handful of innings at first base in 2016; he started 11 times there in 2014, and also made five starts and 12 appearances in centre field (!) that season; and found himself at third base briefly in 2011, 2012, and 2013.

Of course, at this point playing him anywhere but DH means you’re probably not in your optimal defensive alignment. But things certainly could be made better by, say, moving Bautista to left field — i.e. him accepting an honest assessment of the current state of his arm and route-running — or maybe even having him at first base, with Steve Pearce roaming the outfield somewhere (though I’m a bit skeptical of that one: Pearce has graded out astonishingly well at first according to DRS and UZR — as I noted in a piece earlier this month on how he needs to win the 1B job — and I’d worry about his health out there on the turf, seeing as the guy can seemingly never stay healthy).

Annnnyway, what I guess I mean to say is that by Bautista’s own words there’s hope that the Blue Jays can convince him that a move out of right field is the way to go. Now if only they had, y’know, an obvious replacement…