Jose Bautista puts Blue Jays in very tough spot with Monday deadline for long-term deal

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Albert Pujols’ self-imposed deadline for long-term contract talks with the Cardinals is understandably grabbing all the headlines, but Jose Bautista setting a similar timetable on potential talks with the Blue Jays has flown somewhat under the radar.

Bautista, who like Pujols will be eligible for free agency following this season, told Ken Fidlin of the Toronto Sun that he won’t negotiate with the Blue Jays once Monday’s scheduled arbitration hearing has come and gone.

Here’s more from the reigning AL home run king:

I won’t be open to it after the hearing. After the hearing, I believe we will notify the team that [a long-term deal] is not going to be a possibility, unless it’s in that window they have from the end of the season until the free agency period begins. My desire is to play in Toronto long term but, after the hearing, or during the season, I have come to the conclusion that it’s probably not the best thing for me to be negotiating any type of deal. I want to focus on the game and trying to win ball games. If I’m in that type of negotiation, it’s going to shift my focus from what I need to worry about and that’s baseball. I don’t want my mind to be elsewhere when I come to the ballpark to help my team win.

All of which forces the Blue Jays into making a very tough decision. If they believe Bautista’s monster 2010 season is representative of the type of player he’ll be in future years they should be doing whatever they can to sign him before Monday’s deadline, because a) coming anywhere close to repeating his 2010 performance will only raise his asking price, and b) once he hits the open market as a free agent there’s seemingly very little chance of the Blue Jays out-bidding 29 other teams to re-sign him.

Of course, if the Blue Jays are like most people and view Bautista’s breakout skeptically then it makes sense that they wouldn’t commit to him long term before seeing him repeat that level of production. It’s a catch-22, because if he doesn’t sign a long-term deal and actually repeats his 2010 numbers he’s probably a goner anyway. And sure enough Bautista told Fidlin that “as far as I know” the Blue Jays “haven’t even started” any negotiations with his agent, so clearly they have no plans to work out a long-term deal by Monday.

As for the actual arbitration hearing scheduled for Monday, he submitted a $10.5 million figure while the Blue Jays countered at $7.6 million. So even avoiding the hearing by working out a compromise is no sure thing.

Corey Knebel sets modern record for consecutive appearances with a strikeout

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Brewers closer Corey Knebel set a modern major league record for relievers to start a season, as Thursday’s appearance marked his 38th consecutive appearance with a strikeout. He set down the side in order in the ninth inning, striking Josh Bell out to start the frame.

Aroldis Chapman held the record previously, recording a strikeout in his first 37 appearances of the season in 2014 with the Reds.

Knebel, 25, has flown under the radar despite having an incredibly good season. He moved into the closer’s role in mid-May when Neftali Feliz, now a free agent, struggled. After Thursday’s appearance, Knebel is 12-for-15 in save chances with a 0.96 ERA and a 65/17 K/BB ratio in 37 2/3 innings.

Joey Votto thinks he can win the Home Run Derby, but hasn’t been invited yet

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Despite having hit at least 20 home runs in eight of his 11 seasons in the majors, Reds first baseman Joey Votto has never participated in a Home Run Derby. Currently, he’s tied for the National League lead in home runs with 20, and he hasn’t been invited to this year’s festivities at Marlins Park.

In the event he is invited, Votto said he thinks he can win it, C. Trent Rosecrans of the Cincinnati Enquirer reports. Votto likened himself to Ichiro Suzuki, a player known more for his contact abilities and mastery of the strike zone than power. “Just think of me as the Canadian Ichiro — Japan has theirs and Canada has theirs,” Votto said. “I could pull homers into the seats at will.”

Along with the 20 homers, Votto is currently hitting .306/.419/.601 with 53 RBI, and 52 runs scored in 313 plate appearances.

Teammate Scott Schebler also has 20 home runs at the moment and Adam Duvall, who made it to the semifinals of the Derby last year, has 16. Neither of them have been approached about participating in the Derby, either. Per Rosecrans, in the event each was invited, Duvall said he would consider participating if he wasn’t an All-Star and Schebler would participate regardless. Votto said he would only participate if he made the All-Star team.