Jose Bautista Gives the Blue Jays What They Need: A Franchise Player

Ian MaloneCorrespondent IIIApril 26, 2011

Bautista celebrating his greatness
Bautista celebrating his greatnessScott Halleran/Getty Images

Today is April 26. Toronto is 3.5 games back in the AL East.

This should not signify the end of all hopes for the season, as Boston has a similar record and is still expected by some at least to make the playoffs.

But with slumping players and injuries piling up, this year is turning into precisely what general manager Alex Anthopolous said it would be: a rebuilding year.

And this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. There is one bright spot on the Jays lineup. And it’s shining brightly.

Jose Bautista.

Many analysts criticized the five-year, $65 million contract dished out to the reigning home run champion. They weren’t entirely without merit either, as Bautista had only one great year to his name.

But the Jays really couldn’t risk losing their star player.

It is only April, but Bautista is looking to silence his critics. He’s doing a damn good job of it. Bautista is hitting .364 with a major league-leading eight home runs and a whopping OPS of 1.305.

Only April, but not too shabby, eh?

What’s even more impressive is the fact that Bautista is doing this without the stellar supporting cast that backed him last year. Vernon Wells, Lyle Overbay and John Buck have all moved on. With Aaron Hill and Rajai Davis battling injuries and Adam Lind battling mediocrity, Bautista is the only feared force in the Jays lineup.

This doesn’t seem to be a problem.

Few would argue that Vernon Wells’ departure is bad for the Jays moving forward. Wells may not have lived up to his contract, but he was a valuable clubhouse presence. Leadership is something that cannot be understated.

The Jays lineup currently features many young players as well as ones who will probably not be around next year. Jayson Nix, Corey Patterson, Jose Molina, John McDonald and Edwin Encarncion may not be around next year.

Bautista gives the Jays the security that a star playing will be around to guide young-uns such as J.P. Arencibia and Travis Snider into the forces that many project them to be.

Bautista also helps the young rotation with his bat. As last night’s game showed, pitchers like Kyle Drabek can show flashes of brilliance, but also some growing pains.

Bautista gives these guys some wiggle room on nights where a shutout simply isn’t going to happen.

If anything else, Bautista gives the Jays’ fans a reason to show up the games. I’ll be making my annual hike up to Toronto in a little over a month. Their record is less important to me than the opportunity to see a bunch of players I’ve grown to love play. They could have a losing record, but that doesn’t take away the excitement of potentially seeing guys like Bautista go out and give their team a chance to win.

The Jays may not contend this year, but keeping Bautista around gives them a better opportunity to contend in a few years.

And he’ll make the SportsCenter highlight reel a little more fun along the way.