Another year of Major League Baseball Hall of Fame voting has come and gone. As usual, many fans are disappointed by the results.
Blue Jays fans will be interested in the next round of voting as former star player Jose Bautista will be eligible for the first time.
While he’s not a typical candidate, he has a chance to earn induction into Cooperstown. Here’s a closer look at his case.
Blue Jays: Which Way Jose?
There may not be a Hall of Famer with the unique career path that Bautista traveled and that’s part of what makes his case compelling.
After being drafted in the 20th round by the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2000, “Joey Bats” toiled in the minors for a few years without debuting for the team that drafted him. So it was that he was available in the Rule 5 draft following the 2003 season.
This began a frustrating and winding path for Jose as he was picked up by the Baltimore Orioles only to be dumped after just 16 appearances with the club. He then went to Tampa Bay and then Kansas City before being a Met for about the same amount of time as that last sentence took me to compose.
The Mets dealt Bautista back to the team that drafted him, the Pirates where he enjoyed some stability for the first time in his career.
Bautista got his first real chance with Pittsburgh in 2006 and did…okay. A .235 batting average, 16 home runs, and, perhaps most importantly, 400 at-bats! That was more than triple the amount of plate time he received in his first two pro seasons. He continued to receive regular playing time and he continued to be a below-average major leaguer. For his career as a Buc, Jose batted .241 with 43 homers, 159 RBI, and a combined WAR of -2.0.
For the first eight years of his career, Bautista was good enough to be on an MLB roster but didn’t show enough for teams to invest much in him.
Jose Finds a Way
After the Pirates gave up on Bautista and traded him to the Blue Jays, the early results weren’t any better. Through 258 at-bats in 2009, he was hitting .227 with just three home runs.
His lack of production led to an adjustment at the plate after a conversation with teammate Vernon Wells. He encouraged Bautista to start earlier on his swings and the adjustment led to a 10-homer September to finish off 2009.
That led to a six-year stretch where Bautista was one of the best players in baseball. He led the AL in home runs in both 2010 and 2011, he led the league in total bases in 2010, as well as walks and OPS+ in 2011. He also finished top-5 in MVP voting both years.
Although he missed time with injuries over the next two seasons, his place as one of the game’s premier power hitters remained secure. Bautista hit 55 total homers despite registering just 784 at-bats.
After his breakout 2010 season, the Jays were faced with a difficult choice. Sign and build around Bautista, who was 29 at the time and past the typical start of the “prime years”, or trade him to the highest bidder. Although it seems like a no-brainer with 20/20 hindsight, the five-year, $65 contract Bautista signed prior to the 2011 season was an extremely risky deal at the time.
By the time 2015 rolled around, the narrative had changed. The team was close to contention and Bautista, behind two more strong showings in 2013 and 2014, had outperformed the value of his contract.
After a trading spree that saw the Blue Jays land Troy Tulowitzki and David Price, among others, it was prime time for a playoff push that set the stage for one of the most iconic moments in franchise history.
The Jays got back to the postseason again in 2016 despite Bautista’s regression to a barely-above-replacement level season. He stuck around for the lousy 2017 campaign as well and played in 157 games even though he recorded a WAR of -1.0.
Bautista finished off his career by playing for a trio of teams and hitting 13 homers in 2018.
More Articles About Blue Jays Hall of Famers:
No Way Jose?
Jose Bautista may not be a typical Hall of Fame candidate, but that doesn’t mean he has no chance. He’s the model example of a late-developing player, who when given the right opportunity, can achieve great things.
The Blue Jays took a chance on him after his breakout season and they built a team around him that came very close to a World Series. He gives hope to those toiling in the minors in their mid-20’s that they can still reach the big leagues, make some good money and leave a legacy.
He may not have the traditional numbers voters are looking for. He finished just shy of 1500 hits, 344 home runs, and a .247 batting average. He did make six All-Star teams, was a three-time Silver Slugger award winner, and captured the Hank Aaron award twice. He’s one of the most inspirational ballplayers to come along in some time.
Perhaps Bautista’s best hope is for a strong first vote and momentum carrying him towards the 75% threshold by his tenth year of eligibility.
The BBWAA is known for being a tough group. I would argue that making it into the Hall of Fame is harder in baseball than in any other sport. Lately, we’ve seen football players whose star shone brightly, but not for long, get enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Gayle Sayers and Terrell Davis come to mind.
Maybe baseball can take a page out of that playbook and honour a great player who was a little late to the party, but still made a lasting impression.