As vital as it was to re-sign Jose Bautista and return his bat to the Blue Jays line-up, having him play out in right field for the entire 2017 season is certainly not the wisest thing to do. Especially if Toronto wants to get anything close to the best of what he has to offer at the plate. Despite an off year in 2016, Bautista still has the potential to be one of the best offensive players on the Blue Jays. But at 36 years of age, the difference between Bautista having an off year like he did last season, versus him putting up 35+ HR 100+ RBI could be as little as how Toronto goes about using him on defense. To expect a full season of solid offensive production from Bautista while playing him in right field the majority of the time is a risky proposition, which is why if the Blue Jays hope to see a return to form of Bautista at the plate, they need to strongly consider giving him some regular playing time over at 1st base.
One of the big reasons a player like Edwin Encarnacion was able to transform himself into such a great hitter was because he made the shift to 1B/DH. Two positions far less demanding both physically and mentally on Encarnacion compared to when he was playing 3rd base. Although the Blue Jays likely didn’t re-sign Bautista with the intention of playing him anywhere other than right field, it’s important for them to remember that the most important thing that Bautista brings to the table for the Blue Jays is what he can do on offense. And for Toronto to get the most out of Baustista offensively, he needs to remain healthy, and the best way to ensure that happens is to have him play a less physically demanding position than right field at least some of the time.
For those of you saying the Blue Jays already have a back-log of players suited to play 1st base, consider that Kendrys Morales will play the majority of the time at DH, and that Steve Pearce is a suitable left-fielder and 2nd baseman. As for Justin Smoak, unless he cuts down on his strikeouts (which is what he did in 33% of his plate appearances in 2016), does Toronto risk having him play regualrly at 1st base? I don’t think so. Even before Bautista re-signed, I felt the Blue Jays would have been better served bringing up 21 year old prospect Rowdy Tellez to play 1st base instead of Smoak.
Toronto can’t afford to take their chances playing Bautista for an entire season in the outfield like they did last year where he ended up missing 46 games due to fluky injuries playing in the outfield. The Blue Jays already have one of the oldest groups of starting position players in baseball with Bautista (36), Russell Martin (turning 34 on February 15), Kendrys Morales (33), Steve Pearce (33), Troy Tulowitzki (32), and Josh Donaldson (31). With so many older players in the starting lineup, the chances are pretty good some of these players will (knock on wood) be missing time due to injury in 2017. Which makes it that much more important to preserve Bautista’s health and keep his potent bat in the lineup. I’m not saying Bautista has to play the entire season at 1st base, but give him a game or two a week. That way it’ll give him a breather from running around and diving in the outfield, and hopefully he can then stay healthy for the better part of the season and get back to what he does best on a ball field…hit!