July 31st is in the rearview mirror, and the Toronto Blue Jays look a little bit different than they did a few days ago. Gone are Francisco Liriano and Joe Smith. Nori Aoki is here, although whatever that means remains to be seen. However, the biggest story of the deadline for the Blue Jays wasn’t the trades that were made or the prospects they were able to coax out of them. For me, it was who remained in Toronto, namely Marco Estrada and Jose Bautista.
The Blue Jays went into July open and willing to trade their pending free agents, but enter August with half of them still on the team. That’s telling, and provides the Blue Jays with some questions that they must try to answer over the next two months or in the off-season.
The first question mark deals with Estrada and where he will be in 2018. The Blue Jays decided to keep Estrada on Monday because they weren’t offered anything of value for him leading up to the deadline. Deals presented themselves in many different iterations, but all of them provided little to no substance returning to the Blue Jays for two months of Estrada’s services. In the end, Ross Atkins and his team decided that instead of getting a low level minor league player or some international slot money, they would rather keep Estrada for the next two months. As we reported on Monday night, both sides are interested in an extension, but it remains to be seen whether talks will start now, or will wait until after the season.
But how much should the Blue Jays be willing to pay Estrada given how poorly he has performed in 2017? I don’t think there is any easy answer to that question. Estrada’s agent will surely point to this fantastic 2015 and 2016 seasons and make the case that this year is the outlier, but is it? Estrada’s stuff is unquestionably better in 2017, but the results aren’t showing up. His velocity is higher than it has been in years and his movement is almost the same. Yet it is August 2nd and Estrada has had two good performances in the past two months, one of those coming against the second worst offensive team in the American League. Something is wrong, and the Blue Jays have to be very sure they can fix that before committing millions of dollars to a 34-year-old.
Then there is Jose Bautista, a franchise icon who has started a rapid decline phase in his career, with a TAv that has sunk from .332 in 2014 to .248 this season. Other teams weren’t oblivious to that fact, and like Estrada, no good deals were offered that would have made the Blue Jays braintrust go to Bautista to ask him to waive his 10/5 rights that he has accrued as a long time member of the club. However, Bautista told club officials that he wants to be here, so even if a good deal did present itself, he may not have accepted.
With Bautista still in the fold, the club will also need to decide what to do with him. The decision makers on this team believe that the Blue Jays are a better team with Bautista on it than without him and they still have a “slight glimmer of hope” in his future performance according to a source with the club. That said, they still plan on declining their end of Bautista’s mutual option when the time comes in a few months and then deciding what to do with him.
It’s clear to me that if the team wants to contend, Bautista can’t be an everyday player anymore. His defense has been below average for years, but as he approaches the last few years of his 30’s, it is getting to the point of being unplayable. That would be fine if he could make up for it with his bat, but that is so obviously not the case anymore. His walk rate has fallen at the same time his strikeout rate has jumped. His power numbers have nosedived and the ball has left his bat almost four mph slower this season than it did in 2015. Those four points may not be scary individually, but taken together they make up the perfect recipe for a player who isn’t very good anymore.
But Bautista is the Blue Jays and the Blue Jays are Bautista. Until he decides to retire, he should be with this team. However, the trades yesterday indicate that the Blue Jays are going to try to contend in 2018, and if that is the case, Bautista’s only role on that team should be off of the bench.
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