By: Bob Elliott
Canadian Baseball Network
DUNEDIN, Fla. _ Rounding the corner of the Bobby Mattick Center Friday we spotted two former Blue Jays and a current minor leaguer.
Anyone know where Robinzon Diaz is?
“You mean the guy traded for Jose Bautista?” asked catcher Cameron O’Brien breaking away from his conversation with his pop Charlie O’Brien and Pat Hentgen.
“Probably inside,” said Cameron O’Brien.
Later in the front lobby, Diaz is asked how many times he has been asked if he was the guy traded for Jose Bautista?
“A few guys,” said the former Jays catcher of the future, “some guys here, guys asked when I was in Nashville in 2013, Adam Lind last spring when I was in the Milwaukee Brewers system last year. Yeah, a few guys have asked in the eight years I have been gone.”
Bautista was acquired from the Pittsburgh Pirates on Aug. 21, 2008. Four days later Diaz went to the Bucs completing the trade.
A lot of people had something to do with the Bautista-Diaz heist.
No one could have envisioned the outfielder developing into such a power hitter.
The Pirates placed Bautista on waivers, sending him to triple-A Indianapolis. Assistant general manager Alex Anthopoulos saw the waiver report and thought the Jays should claim him. Anthopoulos called assistant GM Tony LaCava, who agreed.
Ricciardi thought it was a good idea too since each spring the Jays would see Bautista hit liners in Bradenton or Dunedin. LaCava sent Jays scout Mike Berger to Indy to monitor. The Jays were awarded the claim.
Then, Anthopoulos worked out the deal with Pirates assistant GM Brian Minnitti, who originally asked for Brian Jeroloman. The Jays declined. Then, the Pirates agreed. Bottom line, Ricciardi approved the claim and dealing Diaz after Anthopoulos presented it to him.
“I was very sad when I was traded, I cried,” Diaz recalled looking back. “The Blue Jays had been my only organization since signing (2000). Ryan Roberts and Adam Lind were my closest American friends.”
Diaz started one game for the Pirates in 2008 and 33 the next year.
“They gave me a chance, check my numbers, I did OK, but you know baseball,” said Diaz, who hit .279 with one homer and 19 RBIs with a .663 OPS in 44 games, sharing duties with Ryan Doumit and Jason Jaramillo. The next year Doumit, Chris Snyder and Jaramillo caught.
After that, Diaz moved from one organization to another: Detroit Tigers, Texas Rangers, Los Angeles Angels, back to Texas and the Brewers -- 11 minor-league towns in all -- carrying his catching gear plus the “you the guy traded for Bautista?” tag.
Bautista went from vagabond Rule V (drafted by the Baltimore Orioles from the Pirates, claimed by the Tampa Bay Rays, purchased by the Kansas City Royals, dealt to the New York Mets and traded to the Pirates in a span of seven months of 2004) to backup to home run champ.
When Alex Rios was claimed by the Chicago White Sox in 2009, manager Cito Gaston made Bautista an everyday player. Since then, Bautista has won two home run titles (2010-11), set an all-star record for most votes received (2011), made five other all-star games and hit 243 homers in eight seasons with the Jays, plus four more in the post season.
And now as Diaz returns impending free agent Bautista could be entering his final season as a Jay.
“People in my country knew Jose could hit, he swings so hard,” said Diaz, a teammate of Bautista’s with the 2006-08 Tigres del Licey. “I knew Jose before. I haven’t seen him since the trade. Good for him -- he finally got a chance to play.”
Diaz began winter ball with Escogido, was traded to Licey, to Estrellas, back to Licey and finally to Gigantes del Cibao.
“A lot of teams wanted me,” Diaz said, “the last trade was a five-player trade for the best in the Dominican: Juan Francisco. Did you see him when he was with Toronto?”
Yep. Played more games at third base than anyone else in 2014.
Perhaps you heard of the Sports Illustrated jinx which included the Cleveland Indians going to win it all in 1987 with Joe Carter and Cory Snyder on the cover? Just as much as a jinx is someone hanging the title Jays Catcher of the Future on you.
Past Jays Catchers of the Future included Jeff Hearron, Jeff DeWillis, Matt Stark, Randy Knorr, Sandy Martinez, Josh Phelps, Kevin Cash, Guillermo Quiroz, J.P. Arencibia, Max Pentecost, who has had two shoulder surgeries, and Diaz.
Even Carlos Delgado failed as a catcher.
Diaz listens as a partial list of catchers are named.
“I’m here now, not sure where they will send me,” said Diaz back with his triple-A Syracuse manager Doug Davis and good friend Billy Wardlaw, the equipment manager.
Now, both ends of one of the best Jays trades ever are together in Dunedin.