TORONTO – When this season, which is all but certain to end with the ball club missing the playoffs for a 20th consecutive time, is over, it will be time for the Toronto Blue Jays to consider trading Jose Bautista.
Before we break down the reasons why, it's important to clear up potential confusion and dispel the possibility of misinterpretation.
This is not about Bautista's crucial sixth-inning ejection from Sunday's loss to Tampa Bay, a defeat which involved Bautista's replacement in right field, Nolan Reimold, misplaying a routine flyball in the 10th, leading to the Rays' go-ahead run, and then striking out in the afternoon's final at-bat.
This is not about Bautista's on-field production or his daily preparation and work ethic. These areas, if not impossible, are difficult to criticize.
This, certainly, is not about Bautista's leadership. It's not about whether Bautista is a leader or is not a leader and it's not about whether or not leadership matters in baseball. Re-read the previous paragraph; Bautista produces, prepares and works hard.
What this is about is the direction in which the franchise is headed and whether keeping its superstar player, who will be 34 years old on October 19, is in the club's best interest.
With Sunday's incident serving as the framework for the conversation, Bautista held court before Monday's tilt with the Red Sox and had this exchange with Richard Griffin of the Toronto Star.
Question: "Do you and Alex (Anthopoulos) have an understanding and a special relationship that doesn't need constant conversation to understand each other?
Bautista: "I think so."
Question: "And it's all about winning?"
Bautista:"To who? To me, yes. To him, you'd have to ask him that."
Question: "Has your perception of his dedication to winning changed in the last year?"
Bautista: "No. I think he wants to win. I think he's fully committed to winning."
Question: "Has your perception of the organization's dedication to winning changed?"
Bautista: "I don't have enough information to answer that question."
There remains a contingent of players in the clubhouse who are less than enthused with the organization's relatively quiet approach to the non-waiver trade deadline. The lack of activity didn't jibe with the message delivered by team president Paul Beeston at the annual end of spring training banquet, when players were told if they were a winning, contending outfit in July, the payroll budget would accommodate player additions.
Bautista and Casey Janssen were two veterans who, on July 31 in Houston, publicly voiced their displeasure.
Janssen likely is gone.
Bautista is still under contract for two more seasons. He's guaranteed $14-million next year. There's a club option, at the same dollar figure, for 2016.
What that means is Bautista is an attractive chip on the market. His .284/.399/.500 line is elite – that .399 on-base percentage continues to be the best mark in baseball among qualified hitters.
Why does it make sense to deal Bautista?
The Blue Jays' starting rotation is turning a youthful corner. Soon it will be made up of Marcus Stroman, Aaron Sanchez, Drew Hutchison and Daniel Norris.
The positional roster is built to win now. You could argue the positional roster is beyond its ability to win, past its prime. Centrefielder Dalton Pompey is the only positional prospect of consequence playing higher than Single-A. He's currently at Triple-A Buffalo.
It's time for the Jays to supplement the young pitchers with a more youthful positional corps. The way to do that is to take the best asset, Bautista, and use his prodigious productivity and cheap contract to secure a haul.
Not that the player's interest is considered in these matters, but Bautista is deserving of an opportunity to play playoff baseball before Father Time catches up to him.
With the rotation projected to be so young next year, the opportunity isn't going to come here.
To be clear, Anthopoulos shouldn't trade Bautista for the sake of trading Bautista. If the right deal comes along, Anthopoulos absolutely should pull the trigger.
This team, this core, has had two shots at making it work. It hasn't worked.
This offseason, the time will come to be open-minded about trading the Blue Jays' best player.