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Jose Bautista, really? Him?

Last month, when word started to leak out that the Jays had managed to move Vernon Wells to Anaheim, I leapt in the air, fist pumping madly, as though I’d thrown the final pitch in a no-hitter.  Then, a week or two later, ESPN’s Keith Law released his organization prospect rankings and placed the Jays fourth.  That fourth place finish is all on Toronto GM Alex Anthopoulos.  When he took over, tasked with the onerous responsibility of trading the best pitcher in baseball, AA inherited a system that was ranked in the bottom third of baseball (KLaw has said that prior to the Halladay trade, he would have ranked the Jays last in 2010).  In his first few months, AA moved Doc for a package that seems as though it will start paying meaningful dividends this season.  He also significantly boosted the Jays scouting operations, and made small signings (John Buck, Miguel Olivo) that paid off with extra picks in this year’s draft.  In short, what I’m saying is that AA was making me weak in the knees and I was thinking about moving to Toronto and holding up one of those signs that read “Marry Me.”

The Jays were a solid team on the field last year, which is nice, but with each of his moves, Anthopoulos has clearly had an eye and a half on the greater prize of building a sustainable organization capable of making a Rays-like ascension to the top of the AL East.  His moves have been nuanced, they’ve been thoguhtful, and they’ve had a clear purpose.  Culminating with the exceptional Wells trade, AA has yet to take a wrong step…

… Until this week that is.  I admit that it’s a tricky situation, Jose Bautista did smack 54 home runs last year.  And yes, he did finish fourth in the MVP voting and Fangraphs did estimate his value last year at 27 million, but before last year he had never had an OBP above .350.  He’d never had a slugging percentage above .420.  He’d never posted a WAR of 2.0.  He’s also 30 years old, so it’s not exactly like he’s a kid just breaking out.

Sure, much has been made about the change he made to his swing, but was the change really a 65 million dollar change?  Because right now, that’s what it amounts to.  Bautista was a fringe player, destined to bounce around once his arbitration years expired.  Instead on Thursday he put his John Hancock on the dotted line of a 13 million per year deal.  On its face, this just seems to be another contract that two years from now the Jays are going to be trying to offload on the White Sox or Angels.  It has Alex Rios written all over it and the initial blow back from pundits has not been kind.

Of course, it’s possible, that given AA’s track record, I’m wrong.  And no less than Dave Cameron is sitting counsel for Alex arguing his case,

While Bautista hit .260/.378/.617 last year, he did it while posting a .233 batting average on balls in play, the third worst mark in the Major Leagues. Now, BABIP for hitters is not like BABIP for pitchers, where the outside factors swamp the player’s ability to control whether his balls in play go for hits or not, and as an extreme fly ball hitter, we’d expect Bautista to post a lower than average BABIP. But even accounting for the fact that most of his hard hit balls went over the wall – and thus were not deemed to be “in play” – a .233 BABIP still seems really low.

Could Bautista have been unlucky last year?

Looking through history, the evidence is pretty clear that Bautista should be expected to take a big step back in home runs next year, but there’s also some evidence that improvement in his non-HR results could serve to cancel out some of the coming regression.

There’s of course more.  Cameron compares Jose to other players, some of them hopeful (Gary Sheffield), some of them not (Andruw Jones), but the point is that Cameron is arguing that despite an inevitable power outage, Bautista should more than justify this deal, even if it isn’t the way we all expect him to do so.  I hope so.  I’m man enough to admit when I’m wrong and I hope that in five years I look back on my reaction to Bautista’s signing and say, “damn, I was wrong AA knocked that one out of the park.”

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