Already recognized as the American League's top hitter in 2010 with the Hank Aaron Award, Jose Bautista's monster season earned another accolade Thursday night when he was awarded a Silver Slugger.
Still out there is an even bigger prize, but the Toronto Blue Jays star isn't letting his imagination wander too far when it comes to AL Most Valuable Player honours. The winner will be announced Nov. 23.
"I'm certainly hoping," he said on a conference call from his native Dominican Republic. "It's such an open award when it comes to how people look at it and who's deserving and who's not. It's subject to the points of view of a lot of different people and there's not one set standard to pick someone and I think that's going to hurt me more than anything.
"But I'm hoping for some votes, I know I had a good year and receiving some of these awards definitely shows that a lot of people have been noticing. I can only keep my fingers crossed."
The Silver Slugger, honouring the top offensive players at each position in the American and National Leagues, was a no-brainer.
Bautista bagged the prize in right field after blasting a big-league best 54 home runs, establishing a franchise record while becoming just the 26th player ever in the majors to break the 50 plateau.
The 30-year-old also led the majors with 92 extra base hits and tied for first with 351 total bases. He was second in the AL with 100 walks, third with 125 RBIs, a .617 slugging percentage and an OPS of .995. He batted .260, had an on-base percentage of .378 and scored 109 runs.
And he did much of his damage after sustaining a minor abdominal injury in May that was only corrected through sports hernia surgery last month.
"It never hurt me to throw or to hit," Bautista said of the injury. "Sometimes running down the line or chasing a fly ball in the gap it would bother me, mostly at the beginning, right when it happened. It bothered me for a week or 10 days then after that, there was not a lot of pain and discomfort, it just felt like there was something out of place. It would flare up once or twice a month.
"Obviously it didn't bother me too much."
Now, Bautista says, he's "perfectly fine," and adds that his recovery is ahead of schedule. He spent three weeks at the team's complex in Dunedin, Fla., after the surgery and is already jogging and running.
"I start my hard core abdominal work over the next week or so," he said.
A different type of work is also looming for Bautista, who said he expects contract negotiations with the Blue Jays to pick up in mid-December. He made US$2.4 million last year and is guaranteed a big bump through his final year of arbitration, but with free agency looming after the 2011 season, talks on a longer-term deal will also go down.
The Silver Slugger and Hank Aaron awards may give him an extra card to play.
"I would think it does," Bautista said with a laugh. "I'm not an expert on leverage and bargaining power but if I didn't receive (the awards) I probably wouldn't be in the same position. Accolades are always good in the negotiation process."
In between rehab and preparing for his contract talks, Bautista has also done some groundwork for a charitable program that aims to help Dominican athletes earn NCAA scholarships. Bautista's aim is to serve as a go-between between the kids and the schools, and help cover any costs the students may incur that they cannot afford.
Bautista's own career was helped by such a program and he wants to give others the chance.
"I had somebody (Don Odermann) help me and allow me to go to the United States and pursue my education (Chipola junior college) and play baseball at the same time," said Bautista. "It ended up with a lot of opportunities and doors opening for me."
Amid all that his focus on next season hasn't waned a bit.
Bautista had a "pretty good impression" of John Farrell when they spoke shortly after the new manager's hire and he was very happy hitting coach Dwayne Murphy was retained.
He's already thinking about getting to spring training to "maybe correct some of the things I need to improve, and fix my game plan and developing some sort of strategy to adjust to how the pitching is going to change."
Bautista is the 22nd Blue Jays player to win a Silver Slugger. Second baseman Aaron Hill and DH Adam Lind won them last year.
Award winners are chosen in a poll of big-league managers and coaches, who are asked to pick the top offensive players at each position in both leagues. They can not vote for players on their own team.
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