DUNEDIN, Fla. – Jose Bautista welcomes the competitiveness new teammates Josh Donaldson and Russell Martin bring to the Toronto Blue Jays and feels that will help address an area that may have been lacking on previous clubs.
The all-star right-fielder’s intriguing comments came during his first meeting with media this spring and after the opening day of full squad workouts Friday. A theme throughout the off-season has been how the Blue Jays sought to change in the clubhouse’s pulse, and while Bautista refused to blame past failures on a lack of competitiveness, he certainly seemed pleased things are different.
“It’s hard to knock on your teammates present or past, everybody comes in here and tries to do their job, everybody’s situation is different so people’s feelings vary from guy to guy,” Bautista began. “I feel like we gelled together well last year and I think we’re going to be even better this year. We have a common goal and that’s to win, and we might have some guys in here now that are maybe an uptick or two more competitive than some guys that have been here in the past.”
Asked how the uptick in competitiveness impacts the club, Bautista delivered an eyebrow-raising reply.
“It’s huge because you know people aren’t complacent with losing,” he said. “You walk around after a loss in a crucial game or a bad beating that you took, and sometimes you see people and you don’t know what they’re thinking. I’d rather at least know.
“I can’t say that I can read minds and I can’t say that I thought that guy didn’t care. But if I don’t know, it makes me think. I’d rather look at you, we got our butts handed to us 10-0, or 9-1, I’d rather be able to see you in your body language and facial expressions and know that you’re upset we got our butts kicked, you know? Which some people in the past, I can’t say that was there, without naming any names, and it’s not that big of a deal, it’s not what led to the seasons we’ve had. It’s just something nice to see.”
Bautista’s comments come in the same week Adam Lind, traded to the Milwaukee Brewers, told Bob Elliott of the Toronto Sun that, “they haven’t changed the culture of the clubhouse.”
“They’re my friends, but the guys who still run it are still there. Jose Bautista is the voice among position players and Mark Buehrle runs the starting pitchers,” Lind continued. “There might be a few more smiles with Colby (Rasmus) gone.”
The Blue Jays underwent significant roster turnover during the off-season through trade (Lind, Brett Lawrie, Anthony Gose, J.A. Happ) and free agency (Rasmus, Brandon Morrow, Dustin McGowan, Sergio Santos, Juan Francisco, Melky Cabrera, Casey Janssen), and will clearly be different.
The intangibles both Donaldson and Martin bring to the club were part of why the Blue Jays pursued them, and that they both come from winning environments is seen as important.
Also important is that they’ll help shoulder the leadership load that Bautista has carried in recent years, and replicate his intensity around the diamond.
Teammates often praise the fire he plays with between the lines and Kevin Pillar on Friday mentioned how helpful the support and information Bautista has provided to him and other young players has been.
“I think he understands in order for this team to be successful I need to be successful and guys like (Dalton) Pompey and (Ryan) Goins need to be successful,” said Pillar. “Anyway he can help he’s been a great outlet for us.”
While such exchanges guarantee nothing – the best advice in the world won’t help if the person receiving the tips can’t apply it – it’s noteworthy that earlier in the week Donaldson expressed a similar inclination to support his teammates in any fashion he could.
Combined with Martin’s well-known work with pitchers, the Blue Jays appear to be better positioned to make the most of their human capital.
Bautista said he’s always been active in speaking around the clubhouse, but understands that given his success over the past few years, his voice now carries more weight. Asked if his leadership has evolved during that span, he replied, “you know who to talk to and when.”
“I always try to be mindful of people’s personalities and how they like to be approached, if it’s in a private setting, if they don’t mind if you talk to them in front of everybody, a lot of times I let it be initiated by the other person,” he continued. “I don’t like necessarily going out of my way too much because I don’t want people to think that I feel like I’m better than anybody. Because I don’t think so and I’m not. It gets misconstrued sometimes when you go out of your way too much to initiate conversations, especially because I’m not a coach. I let it be initiated by my teammates.”
Ultimately, all the good intentions and clubhouse camaraderie in the world can’t overcome a lack of talent and a lack of execution, something Bautista has learned all too well during the first four years of his five-year contract extension.
The Blue Jays do hold a 2016 club option on him, so this season won’t be his last shot at the post-season in Toronto during that deal, but time is running out to make it happen.
“It’s been a disappointment for me on the players’ side that we haven’t done a better job playing baseball, and it’s led to the seasons we’ve had,” said Bautista. “We’ve been an average team, comprised of better than average players. To me, that’s not satisfying to know I was part of those teams. I could have done something, maybe not anything that reflects in stats, but I could have maybe given somebody advice, maybe I could have done something different that could have helped. That’s disappointing to me, nothing that happens in the front office or ownership (is disappointing).”
With a different crew and, perhaps, a different collective mindset, there’s an opportunity for him to help change that.