Every MLB offseason, at least one player falls victim to the dreaded draft pick compensation that is attached to their name thanks to rejecting a qualifying offer. This winter there have been a handful of names who fit under that umbrella. First was Edwin Encarnacion, who finally landed a three-year, 60 million dollar deal with the Cleveland Indians after expecting a much a larger haul back in November.
Next, we have Mark Trumbo, who led the league in home runs in 2016. Trumbo is still a free agent and has yet to see his market develop. There have been rumblings he may return to Baltimore. Others think he will end up in Colorado with the Rockies. Some have even said he will land with the Oakland A’s. But at the end of the day, nothing is a given other than his eventual contract will be a lot less than was expected at the start of the offseason.
And that brings us to the man that this article is going to focus on: Jose Bautista. Like his former teammate Encarnacion, Joey Bats has not seen his market develop like he expected. To some, this lack of development is not a complete surprise, as Bautista’s resume does boasts a few red flags.
For starters, he is set to enter his age 36 season. On top of that, he rejected a qualifying offer, which means, as stated above, he has draft pick compensation attached to his name. If that wasn’t enough, he is coming off an injury-plagued season that saw his stat line suffer as a result. So is it really a surprise that teams do not want to pay for an aging veteran who has a lengthy injury history, plus give up a draft pick?
Because of the lack of market development for the power hitter, an interesting possibility has become a very realistic possibility: Bautista may settle for a one-year deal. And if I am a general manager who is in need of another power bat with some payroll this season, this is a no-brainer.
As I mentioned above, Bautista is coming off a down season. His stat line saw him end the year with 116 games played, 22 home runs, a .234 batting average and 24 doubles. He battled several injuries throughout the campaign, and that certainly impacted his numbers, but things are not all bad.
First off, the power is still very much there, even at age 36. To go through all the injuries that he did and still hit 22 homers and 24 doubles (he had 27 and 29 doubles the prior to seasons with 150+ games played) is still fairly impressive. If you are a fan of the Baseball Forecaster (the fantasy baseball bible in my opinion), let me point you to the power metrics for Mr. Bautista. His PX and xPX both sat in the 130’s, for both halves of the season. Yes the PX is down from prior seasons, but that xPX is similar to prior seasons, meaning a 30 homer season is not out of the question. He also still makes extremely hard contact, as his HctX was higher in 2016 than the prior two seasons, and even improved in the second half.
Bautista may have also missed out on a few homers as his home run per fly ball ratio was down slightly from prior seasons. But that metric rebounded in the second half back to the level he was at in prior seasons, and it showed in home runs. In the first half, Bautista hit 12 home runs in 235 at-bats, followed by 10 homers in 188 at-bats in the second.
Also, while a major bounceback in terms of batting average should not be expected, Bautista will certainly improve upon his .234 average, which was clearly a result of his injuries. His xBA was over 30 points higher than his actual average, which shows he should have been in the .260 range. A .250-.260 average is certainly a realistic goal, plus he has a very good eye and knows how to take a walk.
Now sure, all of this sounds nice, but people will still argue he is aging and there are no guarantees that he will stay healthy. Yes, that is true, but that is the beauty of a one-year deal. If a team inks him to a one year deal and he gets hurt, they only suffer the payment for a single season. If he is healthy and hits 30 homers, then the general manager looks like a genius and the team’s offense will benefit big time. There is also the possibility he ends up on a club that will be out of it by the July 31st trade deadline, and then he could become more attractive trade bait. A healthy Bautista who is not a financial commitment in future seasons would certainly draw interest come July, as the financial commitment would be minimal.
So if a team can stomach giving up a draft pick, which I would be given the potential benefits of having him help or flipping him for prospects in July, then Bautista makes perfect sense on a one-year deal. The Blue Jays appear content to let him walk and collect the draft pick, but they cannot be ruled out completely. The Seattle Mariners could become a darkhorse contender who have not been mentioned. Finally, the Oakland Athletics have to be considered, as they love to sign these types of players with the intent of flipping them later.
Some teams who would have made some sense but have taken themselves out of contention include the Baltimore Orioles, the Texas Rangers, and the Philadelphia Phillies. The Tampa Bay Rays will likely fall in this column now following their signing of Colby Rasmus.
So what are your thoughts on Jose Bautista? Is he worth the one-year deal? Is it still too much of a gamble because of the lost draft pick? Tell us what you think in the comments!