Trade away Bautista?

Jose Bautista has always had the ability to hit the long ball, but not until this year has he...

Jose Bautista has always had the ability to hit the long ball, but not until this year has he finally been given the opportunity. (QMI Agency/Greg Henkenhaf)

CHRIS TOMAN, Sports Network

, Last Updated: 4:57 PM ET

TORONTO -- It's safe to say Toronto Blue Jays General Manager Alex Anthopoulos had no idea heading into this year that he would have to make an important mid-season decision involving Jose Bautista. With the July 31st non-waiver trade deadline just days away, Anthopoulos will be tempted by many teams to surrender his breakout star.

Prior to this season, few would have pegged Bautista to be an All-Star and lead the majors in home runs. After taking Brad Bergesen of the Baltimore Orioles deep in Monday night's 9-5 victory, Bautista increased his major league-leading homer total to 28, and he also ranks in the top 10 in the American League in RBI (70), walks (56), slugging (.558) and OPS (.915).

He's hitting just .245, but don't lump him into the category of a one-dimensional slugger. Bautista's arm is one of the game's best, not to mention that he's a good fielder at both third base and right field. His seven assists from right are tied with three others for the second-most in the majors, despite playing fewer games at the position than everyone else in the top 10. So why would the Blue Jays trade arguably their best player on the team when he doesn't become a free-agent until after the 2011 season?

There are two ways this question can be answered. The first is obvious; if the Blue Jays get blown away with a trade proposal, likely centred on polished or high-ceiling prospects, then management will strongly consider making a deal. Bautista could help out a number of teams with his bat in the middle of the order, and his versatility at both third base and right field increase his stock even further.

Secondly, Bautista, who is earning a modest $2.4 million this year, will be seeking a big pay raise in arbitration during the off-season. Depending on what direction the franchise chooses to go with respect to payroll, they may not feel inclined to offer Bautista a significant raise, one that could likely net him an extra $5 million on top of his current salary.

The Jays cut payroll nearly $20 million this season, yet have been competitive throughout the entire year and have established important building blocks for the immediate future.

The only real sense in trading Bautista would be if the Jays could receive multiple top-notch prospects from another organization in return for his services, which they won't for a number of reasons. No team is going to overpay for a 29-year-old enjoying a breakout year after being a career .239/.334/.424 hitter.

That said, who made up the rule that players can't begin their prime at age 29?

Bautista has always had the ability to hit the long ball, but not until this year has he finally been given the opportunity to go out and prove it. He doesn't have to worry about whether he will get at bats the next day after a bad game; he knows they'll be there, which is allowing him to continue to find his comfort zone at the plate.

Bautista is better than his career averages indicate. He's just hitting his stride later in his career, and is capable of sustaining it for a couple of more seasons. The Jays can be good enough with him; they don't need to try to get good enough by trading him. If the organization is willing to bring payroll back up to last year's mark (roughly $80 million), the Jays can afford to pay Bautista's pay hike in arbitration and also explore a marquee free agent. While Anthopoulos continues building from within through the likes of the draft and trading for young prospects, he can also go after a prized possession on the market, because the team is strong enough to make a push soon.

Don't fool yourselves, the Jays are not that many years off from competing to the point where a postseason appearance is realistic, if not expected.

In all probability, the 2011 Jays opening day roster will include the likes of top prospects Kyle Drabek (SP), Brett Wallace (1B) and catcher J.P Arencibia, who are all having terrific seasons in the minor leagues. All three were All- Stars, and Arencibia is tied for the minor league-lead with 29 homers.

If Bautista were to play right field for the Jays beyond this year, which he should based on his arm, the only real question mark the team would have for the future would come at third base. Providing Bautista is a piece moving forward, a Blue Jays lineup as early as next year could read like this:

Arencibia (C), Wallace (1B), Aaron Hill (2B), Yunel Escobar (SS), Travis Snider (LF), Vernon Wells (CF), Bautista (RF) and Adam Lind (DH). That leaves the Jays with one hole coming at the hot corner, where Edwin Encarnacion is currently part of the mix, and Jarrett Hoffpauir (Triple-A Las Vegas) has also seen time at this year. That's a team any GM would love to have, regardless of whether your direct foes include the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox and Tampa Bay Rays.

It's not like the talent begins and ends with the bats either, as the Jays currently have four extremely talented pitchers in Shaun Marcum, Ricky Romero, Brandon Morrow, Brett Cecil, and Drabek, the headliner of the Roy Halladay deal, in the minors.

Drabek, Wallace and Arencibia could all provide some modest-to-large return immediately and although Snider has yet to flourish at the big league level, good things may come sooner than most expect.

In a couple of years, the Jays could become the Rays, although they won't have to spend a decade in the basement to accomplish their goals.


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