It’s official. Jose Bautista‘s 54-home run season last year was no fluke. His three home runs Sunday gives him 16 in less than two months, which is good for first in the majors. He’s doing it again. Actually, he’s only on pace to shatter that mark along with the single-season home run total by a cool eight bombs. Rational thinking would suggest that he won’t get there, but at this point I really cannot doubt this guy and the incredible run he’s been on over the past two years. Oh, plus he’s only hitting .368 this season.

Sure, as a lifelong Pirates fan, I could be bitter. Why? Because the Jose Bautista that played for the Pirates for parts of five seasons was nothing special. In 400 games over five seasons with Pittsburgh, Bautista hit just 43 HR with a slash line of .241/.329/.403. After struggling through another season in 2008, he was dealt to the Blue Jays on Aug. 21, 2008 for Robinzon Diaz. Yes, Robinzon with a Z. The change of scenery didn’t seem to help Bautista in the last month with Toronto or in 2009 where he still hit 13 HR with a .235 average…similar numbers to his years in Pittsburgh.

Then something seemed to just click, but it started before the 2010 season. I traced the date back to Sept. 7, 2009 when things all changed for Joey Bats and whatever change he made began paying off. From Sept. 7 to the end of the 2009 season, Bautista hit 10 home runs in 98 at-bats over his last 21 games to close out the season. This was after he only had three home runs on the year prior to Sept. 7.

Since then he has become the man, the myth and the legend in Toronto. He’s gone from the bottom of the order throw in to the premier hitter in the Blue Jays lineup and the guy opposing teams worry about and put a game plan together on how to pitch to him. He’s quickly becoming a household name. Just consider these ridiculous numbers:

Through his career until 2009 he hit 59 home runs total in 1,638 at-bats. A rate of one home run every 27.7 at-bats (nothing special). The past two seasons, he’s belted 70 home runs in 683 at-bats…a rate of just 9.75 at-bats per homer. That’s a dramatic difference. That’s Babe Ruth type home run numbers. Add in those last 21 games of 2009 when things started to click and he has 80 dingers in 781 at-bats or a rate of 9.76. Here’s the breakdown with his slash line added in…

Career until the end of 2009: HR every 27.7 AB w/ .238/.329/.400
WAR (Wins above replacement): -1.7

2010 and 2011 seasons: HR every 9.75 AB w/ .276/.402/.646
WAR: 11.1

What a ridiculous improvement. Teams and players alike fantasize about sluggers suddenly turning into this kind of legit power hitter. Look at the difference in the slash lines. His average went up about 40 points, his OBP skyrocketed 70+ points and his slugging percentage goes up about .250 in production. It’s absolutely remarkable.

Those lines tell me these are two completely different players. So what changed? It wasn’t playing time because he played full seasons in Pittsburgh with even one year of 600 plus plate appearances. It wasn’t a change of scenery because the old Jose Bautista showed up for at least a year in Toronto before he started launching the ball at an unreal rate.

Is it steroids? I’m sure there will always be people who wonder that his sudden power is because of the juice, but he plays in a league that now tests for steroids throughout the year. If he’s never been suspended for testing positive then you can’t use steroids as the easy answer for his turnaround.

I’m no scout, but he obviously made adjustments with new coaches in Toronto, he started pulling the ball more and he started gaining confidence, which can make any hitter dangerous. I honestly don’t think he would have ever been this new player if the Pirates had held onto him. He had his chances and didn’t take advantage of it. Plus, the Pirates just aren’t that lucky ever. Simply put to me, he just looks like a completely different ball player than when he was in Pittsburgh, and the Blue Jays are reaping the benefits.

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Last month the Blue Jays dealt Vernon Wells to the Angels for catcher Mike Napoli and outfielder Juan Rivera. Looking at it strictly on paper in terms of talent, the deal looks great for the Angels, but it’s Wells ridiculous contract that is the key.

Wells is in the middle of a 7-year, $126 million contract that will pay him more than $26 million this season and $20+ million until 2014. Meanwhile in return the Jays get a serviceable offensive catcher in Napoli and a 31-year-old former prospect that really never lived up to expectations (only posted a WAR above 2 once in 10 major league seasons). Obviously, this is a straight salary dump for Toronto.

When the Jays signed Wells to the seven-year deal in 2007, he was 27 years old, in his prime and they had Roy Halladay to give them a chance to contend. Things have changed drastically in four years after the Jays struggled to keep up with the big boys of the AL East. Halladay was traded for prospects after the ’09 season and with Wells getting up their in age and the team giving the young prospects a chance to play, the Jays were ready to dump Wells.

The surprising thing is that they found a suitor to take his contract on. Insert the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim of Orange County of California. Here’s a team that tried and failed to sign Carl Crawford and Adrian Beltre this offseason, losing Beltre to a division rival in the Rangers. The Angels obviously took some heat publicly for not signing either free agent and had some extra money to spend, but $23M? They could have spent less than that and still gave more money to Beltre than Texas did.

Let’s look at Wells to see if he’s worth that kind of money. His best seasons were 2003 and 2006, the latter when he hit 32 home runs and a slash line of .303/.357/.542. Following the 2006 season, he slumped the next three years producing a three-year slash line of .265/.317/.426. Which was right after he signed the long-term deal. Did he get complacent? That’s definitely a possibility.

At any rate, Wells rebounded last year with 31 homers, his highest since ’06, and a slash line of .273/.331/.515. But he’ll be 32 this summer, and he’s already shown signs of diminishing skills so I’m not sure what the Angels can expect from him the next couple of years. But I do not see how the Angels will get $23 million dollars worth out of him this year. Wells is one of the top five paid players in all of baseball, but he’s not one of the top five players out there.

The bottom line is the Angels panicked and searched for a deal that could bring in a name. They lost out on Crawford and Beltre while seeing Adrian Gonzalez go to Boston and Cliff Lee to Philadelphia, and they suddenly didn’t have anything to show for this offseason so they looked for a quick desperate deal. Did their team get better on the field? Yes, but at what cost and for how long?

On the other hand, the Jays will miss Wells production from 2010 but with the $75+ million they saved over the next four years, they can better spend the money to keep prospects like Travis Snider, Ricky Romero, Kyle Drabek among others around. Then again they could just dump that money into Jose Bautista for the next five years and pray last year wasn’t a fluke, but that’s another topic for another day.

What a day for milestones throughout major league baseball! Well, how about the same game north of the border in Toronto for two major ones.

First, let’s start with Ichiro Suzuki who became the first player in ML history to record 10 straight 200-hit seasons, breaking his own record of nine straight. Ichiro continues to just hammer out hits and produce yearly since coming over to America to play for Seattle. The guy is rarely injured, rarely slumps and is on his way to Cooperstown after he retires. Just when you think age will catch up to Ichiro, he fires out another incredible season. His holds a career slash line of .331/.376/.430. He has more 200-hit seasons than Ty Cobb and is tied with hit king Pete Rose as the only other play with 10 seasons of at least 200 hits. Amazing.

Another incredible performance took place in the same game as Ichiro’s milestone in Toronto as Jose Bautista continued his meteoric breakout season with his 50th home run of the season Thursday. Not only was it his 50th blast of the year, easily leading the majors in homers, but it came off of fireballer Felix Hernandez and was the winning run for the Jays in a 1-0 victory over the Mariners. It will be hard to explain what exactly has happened north of the border this year with the Jays going homer crazy, but Bautista was a guy who had 59 home runs through six ML seasons and now this. His career high in one season was 16 homers and he triples that total for 50 out of nowhere. In a season of record no-hit and low-hit ballgames, this feat is even more special. I don’t think you will find too many people (even Blue Jays fans!) out there who think this is what to expect from Joey Bats year in and year out from now on. I sure don’t and that’s just my opinion, but we’ll eventually find out if this is the real Bautista or an incredible fluke of massive proportions. Of course as a Pirates fan, this is not even surprising to any of us. Not that anyone saw this kind of season on the horizon for Bautista, but it’s just about right considering he used to hit .230 with 15 homers for the Bucs.

MLB fans, GMs and players can now breathe again—the trading deadline has officially passed. Need a recap on everything went down? Here are some trade links to do just that…

MLB Trade Rumors is the authority on the trading deadline, and the folks over there put together a nice rundown of all the trades from the past couple of days.

MLB.com also runs down the plethora of trades today.

Jayson Stark of ESPN gives his winners and losers of the trading deadline.

Big League Stew of Yahoo! ranks the top 10 notable trades from this July.

I had to get my hometown Pirates in here as they were busy as usual on the deadline. Dejan Kovacevic of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette recaps the three trades the Buccos made today. From my viewpoint, the Pirates made some low-risk free agent pickups in the offseason and flipped most of them for some decent, young talent today. Not bad in my book.

Am I the only one who didn’t like the Jake Westbrook deal for the Cardinals? I mean parting with young hitter Ryan Ludwick for Westbrook when they also went after Oswalt and Lilly and end up with Westbrook. Seems like they panicked to me and settled for the lesser of three pitchers. I could see Westbrook find his groove against NL hitters, but it’s still a downgrade after losing out on Oswalt and Lilly.

Speaking of the Indians, they found a taker for Kerry Wood!?! The Tribe sent the struggling closer to the Yankees for a player to be named later or 500k. Uh, I’m pretty sure that cash will work just fine. I could see the Indians going to the Yankees in the offseason and say, “You know what, don’t bother sending anyone for the deal. We’re good.”

FanGraphs breaks down the Octavio Dotel trade to the Dodgers and wonders, along with many, what the Dodgers are doing giving up too much for bullpen arms, including a top prospect in Andrew Lambo now with Pittsburgh.

Also, the Reds stood pat and made zero moves. Interesting. After trading for Yunel Escobar earlier this month, the Blue Jays also were quiet at the deadline along with the Tigers, Mets, A’s (Billy Beane must have been sick), Brewers (they’re in contention though, that’s it), Red Sox and Rockies.

Well the non-waiver trade deadline gone, tomorrow is August 1 and back to our regularly scheduled program of baseball while teams battle for pennants the last two months of the season.

Well if you haven’t heard about it by now, the Phillies ended the numerous Roy Oswalt rumors and acquired him from the Astros.

So let’s go back to last December in the offseason and play a little timeline game. The Phillies trade a couple prospects away to get Roy Halladay in a deal on Dec. 16, 2009. Almost immediately following that trade, the Phillies turn around and deal Cliff Lee to Seattle for a couple of prospects. Fast forward to July 29, 2010 when the Phillies trade a couple prospects away and a ML pitcher in J.A. Happ to Houston for Oswalt.

Why didn’t they just keep Lee originally like everyone was wondering last December? A rotation with Halladay and Lee for a full year in light years better than a rotation with Roy and Roy for a half season. Oswalt is a nice pickup, but he’s not Cliff Lee at this time of his career. Oswalt currently has a WAR of 2.7 while Lee’s is significantly higher at 4.9. Lee has been dominant this year and is now helping Texas run away with the AL West.

At any rate, the Phils now have Oswalt to provide a great 1-2 punch in hopes of getting ahead of Atlanta in the last two months of the season. They traded Happ and minor league prospects Anthony Gose and Jonathan Villar. The Astros immediately turned around and dealt Gose to Toronto for key prospect Brett Wallace. Speaking of Wallace, if he’s such a great prospect that everyone raves about his power, why is this the fourth trade he’s been involved in about a year?

Wallace could eventually be the Astros long-term answer to Lance Berkman at first base as they are now discussing deals to send Berkman out of Houston. Anyway, getting back to Happ, who went 12-4 with a 2.93 ERA last year to finish second in the NL Rookie of the Year voting. He only pitched in three games in April for Philadelphia before a forearm injury has sidelined him since then. I’m just confused to what the Phillies were doing last offseason when they could have had Halladay, Lee and Happ all under contract. Instead, Lee and Happ are gone and Oswalt is the pitcher coming in.

Oswalt should be fine for the Phillies, but he won’t do what Lee did for them last year in the playoffs. It also will be interesting to see how Oswalt will react to pitching for a new team that isn’t the Astros for the first time in his career. The Astros probably could have landed better prospects for Oswalt, but with the money involved and Roy’s willingness to have his 2012 option picked up probably derailed better deals. The fact that they were able to get Villar, a young raw shortstop who could have a high ceiling, and a former first round pick with power that is probably ML ready in Wallace is a decent enough return for a pitcher that wanted out and wouldn’t be leading the Astros into the playoffs in the next two years.

Of course if you go over to FanGraphs or some other baseball site, they will probably tell you the Astros totally lost out on the deal. Anytime you’re trading for prospects with some of them in the low-level of the minors, you have to wait and see how these players develop before fully dissecting the trade. If Villar, Wallace and Happ end up having decent major league careers (even only two of them), doesn’t that outweigh a half season of Oswalt’s 32-year-old arm?

Last year the Blue Jays rolled to a 27-14 start in May before falling back on a nine-game losing streak where they eventually finished the season in fourth place at 75-87. Fast forward to 2010 where the Jays have once again started strong to a mark of 33-24 and 3.5 back of the Rays following Saturday’s action, including two straight wins over the Yankees with a chance to sweep them today at Rogers Centre.

So the question remains—if the Jays have done this before and falter down the stretch, is this 2010 team for real? A lot of experts write this team off whenever the Blue Jays are mentioned as possible contenders, but I’m not so sure this team I agree with the consensus.

There are three main reasons for Toronto’s success so far this season. Number one is the home run totals. Forget about the Yankees Bombers because this should be the year of the Jays Bombers as their 96 home runs easily lead the majors. The next closest team is the Red Sox, who are 18 home runs behind with 78. The second reason for their success is the defense. Toronto is third in the American League in fielding percentage (.987) and has made the third fewest errors in the AL with 29. And the third reason (and these are in no particular order) is the brilliant pitching of Shaun Marcum, Ricky Romero and Brett Cecil. They are a combined 16-6 with a 3.05 ERA. All three have taken on the challenge of replacing Roy Halladay, who was traded to Philadelphia in the offseason. Just think if Halladay was still anchoring this staff. The Blue Jays would probably be rolling away in first place.

You have to remember that this is pretty much the same team as last year minus one of the game’s best pitcher. Romero and Cecil each have their first year under their belts and have looked stellar in 2010. Marcum missed of all of 2009 due to injury, but has bounced back more than anyone within the organization could have expected. If there was ever a reason to believe the Jays could keep this pace up it’s Marcum, Romero and Cecil.

As for the offense which is hitting balls out of the ballpark at a ridiculous rate (almost two per game), some of the big hitters from last year—Adam Lind and Aaron Hill—each have eight home runs, but are hitting just .212 and .190, respectively. While they may be struggling to hit for average other sluggers in the lineup are off to a great start.

Jose Bautista is finding a nice home north of the border, leading the entire majors with 18 home runs. Vernon Wells is having a bounce back season, which is what the Jays desperately were looking for, as he’s hitting .307 with 14 home runs and 38 RBI. Alex Gonzalez even has 11 home runs, Edwin Encarnacion has only played 25 games due to a trip on the disabled list, but he still has eight long balls. Catcher John Buck, who is quickly becoming a nice find in free agency for Toronto, has nine home runs and Lyle Overbay has seven. Young prospect Travis Snider has six homers and was finally looking comfortable at the plate before landing on the DL with a wrist injury. Even though they are leading the majors in homers, I still think this offense could get better once Snider returns healthy and Hill and Lind find their groove.

So what could go wrong for this team? Well for starters they play in the toughest division in baseball. The AL East is loaded with the three-headed monster of New York, Tampa Bay and Boston. Is there room for the Blue Jays in that three-team race? Can they continue to keep up with these three teams? I’m not sure about that.

Also, as I discussed above the Jays top three starters have been money so far this season. But Romero and Cecil have never pitched a full season before, plus Marcum missed all of 2009. Will these guys hit a wall in August/September and fall apart? I cannot answer that, but it’s definitely a concern I would have as we get further into the season. Can Brandon Morrow turn things around and be a reliable fourth starter for the rest of the season? The former first round pick of the Mariners is 4-4 with a 6.00 ERA already this season, so if he can step up and turn his season around, it would go a long way in Toronto.

I think the difficulty of the AL East and the question marks of whether Romero/Cecil/Marcum will last down the stretch or not will be too much to overcome for the Jays. Unlike 2009, I still see them finishing above .500, but anything more than that could be too early for this young team.

Here are some afternoon links from around Major League Baseball and the blog world:

Twins fans can rest easy. The Twins have officially locked Joe Mauer up for a century after working out an eight-year, $184 million extension to their hometown catcher. This was the move the Twins had to make  before they lost him to free agency at the end of this year to the deep pockets of New York or Boston. Some people out there believe this signing was a mistake. In one of his ridiculous columns, Ron Cook of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette actually goes as far to compare the Mauer deal to when the Pirates spent a ton of money on Jason Kendall. Come on, seriously? Kendall’s been a solid catcher for years, but in what world is he on the same level with the reigning AL MVP at any point in his career. Insanity. Thanks for the rules of baseball, this was the move the Twins had to make to avoid seeing him in pinstripes.

Opening day is just two weeks away. Thank God.

Speaking of Jason Kendall above, Baseball-Reference Stat of the Day blog used the play index game finder to come up with a list that shows Kendall owns a pretty interesting record that might not be broken for a long time. By the way, not only do I love BR’s regular website as my computer continuously has it loaded up throughout the day, but the Stat of the Day blog and some of the things they research and look up are truly amazing.

Sticking with the blogs, Two Seam Fastball explains why their shouldn’t be a salary cap in baseball. Also, if you scroll down to the post before that, he also rings in on the Mauer extension that includes an old-school picture of Kendall! And yes, Kendall hasn’t been good since about 2001.

Big League Stew says Shaun Marcum, who hasn’t thrown a competitive pitch since 2008, will be the Jays opening day starter. This struck me as different because those Jays used to have some pretty good pitcher starting every opening day for them before moving on to Philadelphia. Seriously, I love the Jays but this team is really going with a young and risky rotation that starts with Marcum at the top apparently. Could be a long season in the Sky Dome (Rogers Centre blah).

Did I mention we’re less than two weeks away from Opening Day? I already have my Pirates-Dodgers tickets ready to go for April 5th.