Pittsburgh Pirates: Forgotten Opening Day Starters
Jose Bautista was known for his prodigious power with the Toronto Blue Jays. From 2010 through 2016, Bautista batted .264/.387/.542 with a 152 wRC+. During this time, he was one of baseball’s best hitters. He crushed 249 home runs, which led the league by a dozen. He also had the 4th best wRC+, wOBA, and 5th best OPS. Bautista started eight straight Opening Days for the Jays, but he also made two appearances in the Pirates’ Opening Day line-ups as a third baseman.
The Pirates originally drafted Bautista in the 20th round of the 2000 draft, but bounced around a ton before ending up back with the Pirates. He was selected by the Baltimore Orioles in the 2003-2004 Rule 5 draft. He was then put on waivers in early-June, and selected by the Tampa Bay Rays. At the end of the month, he was purchased by the Kansas City Royals. Bautista’s 2004 journey was far from over, as he then was traded to the New York Mets at the trade deadline. On the same day, he was traded once again, back to the Pirates.
Either way, Bautista became the Pirates’ regular third baseman in the late-2000s. After playing 117 games in 2006, Bautista was the Pirates’ 2007 Opening Day starting third baseman. Bautista went 2-4 with a double on OD. In total, he batted .254/.33/.414 with a 97 wRC+. Bautista only struck out 16.4% of the time with a fantastic 11.1% walk rate with a .160 isolated slugging percentage.
The following season, Bautista went 1-5 with a double, three K’s, and a sac-bunt. Overall, he would slash .242/.325/.404 with a .319 wOBA, and 91 wRC+. Bautista hit for about the same amount of power with a .162 ISO, but saw his walk rate of 10.5% and strikeout rate of 21.2% move in the wrong direction. He was then traded to the Jays in mid-August. His first season up North went about as well as it went with Pittsburgh. In 404 trips to the plate, he batted .235/.349/.408 with a 102 wRC+. However, that would be the last time until 2017 when Bautista would have a wRC+ under 123.
Although I understand why many blame the Pirates for not identifying and taking advantage of Bautista’s potential, it’s not as if four other teams didn’t play hot-potato with him in one single season, and it's not as if he was a top prospect who eventually figured it out. Up until 2010, he was a slightly below average OF/3B who nearly 30 years old. Bautista’s career ended up as one of the best in Blue Jays’ history, but he got his start in professional baseball with the Pirates, and made two appearances on Opening Day.