Was Jose Bautista’s unbelievable season this year for the Blue Jays just that, unbelievable?
Whether or not the slugger can continue to perform the way he did in 2010 is something Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos will have to consider when drafting up contracts this off-season.
Bautista is one of 15 Toronto players that are eligible for arbitration this winter.
The process is one not desirable to most teams, and Anthopoulos stated that he hopes to avoid going to any hearing.
For the Blue Jays, the other option would be to sign Bautista to a long-term contract. The outfielder led the majors this season with 54 home runs, and also ranked third with 124 RBIs.
Bautista became only the fourth player in major league history with at least 35 doubles, 50 home runs, 100 walks, 100 runs and 120 RBIs. He also ranked second in the American League with 12 outfield assists, while playing more than 400 innings in the infield.
Though Bautista certainly made a case for himself this year, he has left many wondering if he can produce consistently, including Anthopoulos.
“We can certainly take a wait-and-see approach,” Anthopoulos told the Toronto Sun. “There’s a greater comfort level if the player’s had a chance to do it again. At least you know what you’re paying for.
“You don’t mind paying a player if they’re doing it day in and day out and they’re productive players.”
In Bautista’s previous four seasons, he had a total of 59 home runs and 211 RBIs. Anthopoulos has made it clear that he is in no rush to sign the potential one-year sensation to a multi-year contract.
The GM will also be trying to avoid arbitration this year with several other players, including third baseman Edwin Encarnacion and outfielders DeWayne Wise and Fred Lewis, all of whom shared time at their positions with Bautista.
Encarnacion was inconsistent this season, and was even demoted to Triple-A for a period of time. Though it is unlikely the team would want to bring him back, the only other regular third baseman on the roster is Bautista, and the Blue Jays favour having him in the outfield over the hot corner.
Another third base option they might explore is current second baseman Aaron Hill, who has never played the corner infield spot in his career, but is willing to switch to the position.
Wise is a likely candidate for a bench spot next season, while Lewis might find himself leaving Toronto.
With left-fielder Travis Snider back in the lineup, Lewis saw his playing time reduced late in the year. Snider is a part of the team’s future and is a more important asset to the club.
Shortstop Yunel Escobar, traded mid-season from the Atlanta Braves, is also eligible for arbitration. He should find himself starting at his position next season.
The shortstop of the future, Cuban Adeiny Hechavarria, split his time in 2010 between single A and double AA, and is not likely to get a spot with the big club anytime soon.
Every other Blue Jay that’s eligible for arbitration this year is a part of the pitching staff.
Starters Shaun Marcum, Brandon Morrow, Jesse Litsch, Dustin McGowan and Shawn Hill are all question marks.
The futures of relievers Casey Janssen, Shawn Camp, Brian Tallet, Jeremy Accardo and Taylor Buccholz are also up in the air.
Marcum and Morrow are locks for next year, and might even make up the top two spots. McGowan was out for yet another season with another arm injury, making a full recovery less likely.
Litsch had a season plagued with problems, and may be sidelined for most of the off-season with his latest injury, a hip ailment.
Shawn Hill came to the team as a September call-up, and put on a good performance, perhaps giving him a chance to earn a spot in next year’s starting rotation.
Janssen and Camp are the closest to being sure things in the bullpen. Both had strong years, but the same can’t be said for Tallet and Accardo. Tallet’s return is doubtful, and Accardo spent most of his time this year away from the team in the minors.
Buccholz was a late addition and didn’t see much time on the mound for the Jays.
Anthopoulos also has four free agents to think about in catcher John Buck, left-handed setup man Scott Downs, right-handed reliever Jason Frasor and first baseman Lyle Overbay.
Buck is coming off the first all-star season of his career, but will be looking to be the fulltime man for a team. That could be a problem for the Jays, who have the future of catcher J.P. Arencibia to think about. Toronto has been vocal in wanting to get the young backstop playing time, but might be looking for veteran assistance outside of its third man, Jose Molina.
Downs and Frasor both might be more valuable to other teams, and should the duo leave, the Jays will have to look into extending their options with closer Kevin Gregg.
Overbay might have options via trade or free agency, and for most of the 2010 season, it didn’t look like he would be considered for next year. But with the trade of prospect Brett Wallace by Anthopoulos at the deadline, the Jays narrowed their list of choices at first base.
Adam Lind spent some time at the corner this season, but is likely to come back as a designated hitter next year. Bautista was the only other player to take the field at the position, so Toronto might have some searching to do.