A distinguished honour for Blue Jays players, the Level of Excellence is a reminder of individual accomplishments both on and off the field, a reminder of players who have shaped the franchise in one way or another, players that fans cheered for every day, or individuals who shaped the way fans saw the team year after year.
As of right now, the Level of Excellence features the likes of Tony Fernandez, Carlos Delgado, Joe Carter, George Bell, Dave Stieb, and Roy Halladay as well as non-players in the form of manager Cito Gaston, executive Paul Beeston, executive Pat Gillick, and broadcaster Tom Cheek. A distinguished group of individuals who shaped the Blue Jays franchise, some with big-time plays like Carter and his World Series winning home run or for holding multiple franchise records like Fernandez and Cheek. Although the Blue Jays recently removed Roberto Alomar from the Level of Excellence last week due to his sexual misconduct allegations and subsequent investigation with his eventual placement on major league baseball’s ineligible list, this distinguished group of individuals is not done growing yet as the franchise keeps moving forward.
Enter Jose Bautista.
Acquired in a trade with the Pittsburgh Pirates, Bautista joined the Blue Jays organization after regular third baseman Scott Rolen went down with an injury, a move to provide no more than additional depth at the position with a player who was bouncing between AAA and the major league roster back in 2008. While the right-hander would have an average 2009 season where he started to shift to being a regular outfielder, it was the 2010 campaign that saw the Dominican native really take off for the organization.
The next six seasons would see Bautista accomplish remarkable things for the Blue Jays, playing in six consecutive all-star games, three silver slugger awards, and leading the league in home runs (2010 and 2011), slugging percentage (2011), walks (2011), and OPS (2011). Not to mention that the slugger also hit arguably the second-biggest home run in franchise history during the 2015 ALDS against the Texas Rangers, a booming left-field home run known as “the bat flip” during a wild seventh inning in a do or die Game 5.
Overall, Bautista would cement himself in the upper echelon of players in franchise history, spending ten years with the organization and crafting a .253/.372/.506 with 288 home runs, 766 RBI, and a .878 OPS in 1235 games. He would spend a significant amount of time in right-field for the Jays and while he wasn’t the most overly flashy defensive player, Bautista was able to make the routine plays and utilize his strong arm to get players out at home and even at first base.
As the Blue Jays organization started to position itself for a rebuild after the 2015 season, the writing was on the wall for Bautista, even though he wanted to remain in Toronto for the fading years of his career. He was looking for a long-term contract with money similar to his previous slugging ways, a notion that wasn’t going to happen given the rebuild the organization was heading into and his declining performance after the 2015 season.
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The 2017 campaign would be his last with Toronto, with the sweet-swinging slugger receiving a standing ovation from the fans when he was pulled in the ninth inning in the last home game of the season. I was personally at the game and can honestly tell you it ranks as one of the loudest events I have ever been to. After the season was over, the Blue Jays would decline their side of the option and Bautista became a free agent.
When Bautista left the field that day, he left leaving his mark on a number of different categories in Blue Jays history. He currently ranks:
- First in bWAR for position players (38.3)
- Second in runs scored (790), home runs (288), and base on balls (803)
- Third in total bases (2210), RBI (766), and extra-base hits (519)
- Fifth in games played (1235) and plate appearances (5272)
- Sixth in at-bats (4364) and hits (1103)
Most Jays’ batting categories feature Bautista at some point in the top ten and he will always be a part of the franchise’s folklore with his home run that sent the Jays to the ALCS in 2016.
While his slash line and average defensive ability could be arguments against putting Bautista into the Level of Excellence, you probably won’t find too many fans who are against putting him into the distinguished group of talented individuals.
From going from a depth option on the roster to a power hitter leading a group of players to the playoffs for a franchise who hadn’t seen the postseason since winning back in 1993, Jose Bautista was a special player, one that got fans excited about baseball in Toronto when the team was struggling to play .500 ball during the 2011-2014 years. He defied the stereotype that a home run hitter needed to be big and powerful in the box; that fast hands and a great eye at the plate can crank out 20+ home runs in a season, a feat he accomplished from 2010 up until his departure in 2017.
Is Jose Bautista the next player to be on the Level of Excellence? It is possible, although other players may beat him to the punch like Vernon Wells, Tom Henke, or Jimmy Key.
Regardless if he is the next name on the 500 level in left field, there will most likely be a spot waiting for him in the near future, a spot he rightfully earned for what he accomplished as one of the top ten players in Blue Jays history.