There were better players during his generation than Jose Bautista, but when I think of the phrase "franchise player," few fit that description the way Bautista did with Toronto. This is ironic because Jose Bautista started his career with Baltimore, which I do not remember. He played for four teams in his rookie season, bouncing from Baltimore to Tampa Bay to Kansas City to Pittsburgh. He spent a few years in Pittsburgh, where he was OK but underwhelming. He showed occasional pop but is OPS+ in Pittsburgh during his five years there was 93. ￼He seemed destined to be one of those fringe Major League guys for his entire career. Even when he went to Toronto, it took him a while to get going, but when he got going, he was the man.
For several years there, Jose Bautista was the Toronto Blue Jays. In the early 2010s, the Blue Jays didn't have great teams. But they were always tough to beat because they had some mashers in the middle of their lineup, with Bautista being the best of them. His 2010 and 2011 seasons were some of the best Blue Jays fans have ever seen. He hit 97 home runs combined over those two years, finishing fourth in the MVP voting in 2010 and third in 2011. The guy must have eaten his Wheaties because he went from a standard journeyman outfielder to one of the best players in Major League Baseball seemingly overnight. Some guys are just late bloomers. And while he was never as good as in 2010 and 2011, he maintained that success for a while. He made six consecutive All-Star teams from 2010 to 2015. That's really impressive.￼ He also low-key had a pretty underrated cannon out in right field.
The defining moment of Jose Bautista's career (and really one of the defining moments in baseball over the last 25 years) was the bat flip in game five of the ALDS in 2015 against the Rangers. It's so bizarre the discourse that this moment created. People have been flipping bats since the dawn of time, but this one ignited a rivalry. If you asked Bautista, he would've done the same thing 100 times out of 100, and I don't blame them. In one of the wildest innings I've ever watched, Joey Bats' three-run shot capped off the Blue Jays' first playoff series win since 1993. Quick sidebar, but the 2015 Blue Jays lineup was ridiculous. I know the Royals won the World Series that year, but the 2015 Jays team, especially after they made the moves they made at the deadline, was one of the best teams in recent memory that didn't win the World Series. I apologize to the Blue Jays fans who may be reading this. I didn't mean to bring up bad memories.
As I said at the beginning, Bautista will not find his way to Cooperstown. He doesn't even have a career WAR that reaches the 40s, so he'll drop off the ballot quickly, but he is a first-ballot Toronto Blue Jay. Not only were his best years in Toronto, his only good years were in Toronto. I brought up the teams he played before he came to the Blue Jays, but even after he left the Blue Jays, Bautista had stints with Atlanta, New York, and Philadelphia, and he just couldn't recapture that magic. But he'll go down as one of the most impactful and best Toronto Blue Jays ever. Enjoy retirement. ￼￼￼