Well guess what? Sometimes the artificial turf isn’t always greener on the other side.
The Toronto Blue Jays inked their longest-tenured player and one of the faces of franchise to a one-year deal for $18 million, with a pair of mutual options that could see Bautista earn $60 million over three years.
The short term contract is perfect for both sides: Bautista takes a chance by gambling on himself with a short term deal with hopes of seeing perhaps that big pay day a year or two from now, and the Jays get to bring back their beloved right fielder at a discounted rate.
When contract talks stalled and eventually died as fall turned to winter, I thought it would be a good idea for Bautista to take a similar approach to that of Yoenis Céspedes’ contract in 2016, where he signed a three-year deal, with the ability to opt out after each year.
This is essentially the same type of deal, but different. For Bautista’s deal, both sides have the ability to opt out after each year.
It’s as mutualistic of a relationship as bees and flowers. Bautista is getting much deserved $4 million bump in pay from his last contract, he is gambling on himself moving forward with a slight safety net, and the Jays brought back their guy at a market-friendly cost.
Blue Jays president Mark Shaprio has to be satisfied by getting this deal done.
- He retains one of his top power hitters after losing Edwin Encarnacion and Michael Saunders in free agency.
- By keeping enough veteran players around, he buys himself contention time while he waits for the farm system to develop lethal enough talent to compete in the big leagues or trade for other players down the road.
- If Bautista’s numbers go down injury related or not, he can pull the plug after one year.
- They retained him for less than $25-30 million per year
- It’s a moveable contract if things for the Jays go south.
For Bautista it’s a great deal, too. He gets to stay in a place he is comfortable, he gets another year to work his way up the franchise statistical leaderboard, he returns to a winning team, he can assess the market going forward after each year, and most importantly, Booster Juice gets to keep their front man one more year at the minimum.
His contract ranks 25th among Opening Day salaries (at this moment) of any hitter. A bargain compared to the likes of Jason Heyward ($28.16), Joe Mauer ($23), Jason Werth ($21.5), Matt Kemp ($21.5) and Jacoby Ellsbury ($21.1).
It took the 36-year-old six years of MLB service time to become a legitimate star. Unfortunately, for Bautista’s sake, those six years cost him the five-year, $150 million mega-deal he was dreaming of back in spring training.
We won’t know until whistleblowers surface why other teams didn’t sign him.
Believe what you want to believe, but there were reports out there about Bautista turning down big-money deals elsewhere because he wanted to remain in Toronto.
I truly believe his heart was always in Toronto. But I have a hard time believing that with the best years of his career behind him, that he walked away from more money with the security of a multi-year deal.
One of the teams that were linked to Joey Bats this winter was the Baltimore Orioles, but they were held hostage by a fan poll. The Texas Rangers poked around Bautista, but it’s easy to see the two sides recent history together leading the Rangers to look elsewhere.
As fiery as Bautista has been at times, surely he didn’t piss off every organization.
National League teams probably saw him as a liability in the outfield. Which makes sense; his defensive metrics aren’t what they used to be.
He isn’t as versatile anymore. There was once a time where you could stick him in the infield and feel safe. Bautista broke into the big leagues as a third basemen and fielded some second and first base early in his time with the Jays. He filled in at centre field when Colby Rasmus got injured, but is now primarily pegged as a corner outfielder and designated hitter.
It’s more likely to have a bounce back year at the dish than it is to have rejuvenation in the field when players reach their mid-to-late-30s.
Strictly playing right field, his level of play has decreased. His throwing motion hasn’t looked the same since he injured his arm trying to backdoor Delmon Young at first base April 22, 2015. The arm injury was only a slight contributor to seeing his defensive runs saved have fall from plus-6 in 2012 to minus-8 in 2016. He doesn’t lay out for balls in the gap as well anymore or catch the balls while crashing into walls — plays Gold Glovers make.
Or maybe teams didn’t want to surrender a first/second-round draft pick for an aging slugger. Under the collective bargaining agreement, the team that landed Bautista would have to cough up a pretty good pick for Bautista, an unlikely scenario for rebuilding teams.
The Angels seem like the team with the shortest path from the basement to contention. Bautista could solve the problem of finding someone to hit in front of or behind Mike Trout and Albert Pujols, but their barren farm system desperately needed the high draft pick instead of a 36-year-old stick. The Angels finally have a top-10 pick (10th overall), their best draft slot since 2004 when they selected Jered Weaver 12th overall.
Wouldn’t it have been the most A’siest A’s move to sign Bautista to a deal, only to flip him for prospects later in the season? They did this with Matt Holiday in 2009, but Holiday was seven years younger at the time than Bautista is now and he was coming off his three-straight seasons winning the Silver Slugger award playing for the Colorado Rockies.
The Tampa Bay Rays were rumored to be one of the teams that offered him a lucrative deal. Despite finishing last in the American League East last season, the Rays were better than their record suggests. They have some young pitching (Chris Archer, Jake Odorizzi) to build around and two of the best defenders at their positions (Evan Longoria and Kevin Kiermaier), but lack the offensive oomph to have a chance in the toughest division in baseball. Plus, I’m guessing Bautista much rather play in front of the 40,000 fans each night in Toronto instead of the 14 season ticket holders the Rays draw.
Other teams like the Seattle Mariners appeared to be nosing around Bautista for a bit. They felt like a potential destination, aside from Nelson Cruz, their outfield doesn’t have much pop to it. A Bautista deal would vault the Mariners into the top-10 in league payroll with three players (Felix Hernandez, Robinson Cano and Bautista) earning over $20 million per year. But the Mariners removed themselves from the Bautista sweepstakes after trading for Jarrod Dyson earlier this month (a much cheaper, younger, versatile option).
Maybe Bautista thought teams would look past his age and health risks and shell out a four-year deal around $25 million, like the good-ole’ free agent days of Josh Hamilton, the artist formerly known as B.J. Upton and Carl Crawford.
Last year, 16 MLB hitters pulled in more than the $20 million that Bautista was yearning for. Of those 16, 13 of them failed to reach the postseason last year. While one player doesn’t make the team, when you pay your guys the big bucks, you want big numbers and championship aspirations.
Was Bautista worth $20 million?
Hard to say, but certainly not this offseason.
The Jays were going to have to overpay him in order to keep him. There’s no doubt that he out played his previous deal. The contract that the two sides agreed on was a perfect marriage, giving Bats a little extra cash in his pocket, while not costing the Jays $30 million per year.
It’s a strange time we live in. Historically, teams have thrown around money like their drunk at power hitters, but not this offseason. Teams have approached the sub-250, 150-plus strikeout hitters with caution (both AL and NL leaders in home runs remain free agents). It’s an interesting study with gargantuan free agent list ready to cash in next winter. Bautista thought he was going to get the Kevin Durant treatment — have teams fly up to the Hamptons to meet with him on his approval. But that’s not how the market viewed him this offseason.
The fact that Bautista has a chance to opt out into potentially the greatest free agent class in MLB history next winter is laughable.
Bautista was forced to settle for a return to Toronto at a deal dramatically less than what he dreamt for. Now, he might opt out in a winter among other outfielders such as Bryce Harper, Adam Jones, Andrew McCutchen and Michael Brantley.
Let’s close our eyes and pretend we live in a world where injuries don’t happen, just like when you turn them off while playing MLB The Show 2017 and you drafted Michael Brantley’s back and you Masahiro Tanaka’s elbow.
When healthy, Bautista is still a force.
From 2009-16, Bautista finished with the third highest wRC+ (weighted runs created) at 181 in 2011. He finished behind Cabrera (193) in 2013 when he won the Triple Crown and Bryce Harper (197) when he was named National League MVP.
Although that was five years ago in human time, it was only three healthy seasons ago.
Let’s take 500 at bats as a guideline here; it might not be the average AB’s for a season, but it still provides enough evidence to work with.
Going back to his first all-star season of 2010, Bautista failed to reach the 500 at bat mark just once. In those six healthy seasons, He logged over 30 home runs four times (28 in 2013 and 22 last season).
And when you pro rate his stats last season, if healthy, he was on pace for another 30 homer, 95+ RBI campaign.
From 2010 to 2015, the Jays outfielder put up a ridiculous average of 154.33 wRC+, establishing him as one of the best hitters in the game.
Even last year, after submitting his worst batting average of his major league career, he still turned in a 122 wRC+ (league average for position players in 100, every point above 100 is a percentage point above league average. So Bautista generated 22 per cent more runs than a league average hitter). Which is still good, but dramatically down from when he used to turn in wRC+’s in the 140s.
His eye of the strike zone isn’t going anywhere and will probably be among the league leaders in walks once again. Maybe with the departure of Encarnacion, the Jays will realize they need to manufacture runs a little bit more. Bautista’s four stolen base attempts were the lowest since his 2009 campaign. An extra 90 feet here and there can make a big difference.
If you take a look at the exit velocity from his bat, it took a slight downtick last year from 93.6 mph in 2015 to 92.6 mph last season. It was an odd year in regards to how hard the ball the ball was put in play according to Baseball Info Solutions on FanGraphs. His Soft Percentage (percentage of balls in play that were classified as hit with soft speed) was way up over his career average of 17.4 percent to 21.3 per cent. And his Hard Percentage was also up from 35.3 per cent last season to a career-high 41.0 per cent (career average 34.7 per cent). What this tells me, is that he might have been a little bit more selective than in years past than maybe he should have been, but he still has the ability to hit the ball harder than at any point in his career.
Take a look at the spray charts from the 2014 campaign (Bautista’s last great MVP run) and the injury-plagued season last year, you notice that in 2014, he used the centre of the field and went the other way more often. It’s no shock to see that his batting average was 52 points higher.
In 2014, he only pulled the ball 50.0 per cent of the time, his lowest since turning into a power hitter in 2009. He also went the opposite way 21.8 per cent of the time, again, the highest percentage since he was a nobody.
Bautista didn’t make it to the big leagues by being strictly an ass-out, yank-happy hitter. Before he became a superstar and a diva, Bautista had the ability to spray the ball. It was when he began working with Dwayne Murphy in 2009 to develop an extenuated leg kick and pull-everything approach.
From 2004-09, Bautista used all fields, pulling the ball 36.66 per cent of the time, going up the middle 31.98% and oppo 31.42%.
Granted, those were the years he was struggling to bring home a big-league cheque every two weeks, but if he can sacrifice a little power by using the entire field more frequently, I think the Jays would be more than okay with that.
The age of the shift is upon us and you wouldn’t think it would take much to go the other way a couple more times. Last season, he finished with 99 hits in 423 at bats. If he goes the other way 15 times (roughly once every seven games), that brings his average up from .234 to .270. He has changed his approach before; maybe it’s time to have an honest conversation about changing it again.
Something else to keep an eye on this season is to see how Bautista handles the clutch moments.
Closers don’t intimidate him and he hasn’t met a fastball he doesn’t like.
Dellin Betances? Got him.
Wade Davis? Outta here.
Edwin Diaz? Smell ya later.
Last season was Bautista’s worst season at the dish from the 7th inning on since 2009.
In 2015, from the 7th inning onward, he hit .309 with 15 home runs, 32 RBI, 32 runs and carried a wRC+ or 190.
Last season, he hit .203 with two measly home runs, 16 RBI, 14 runs and had a wRC+ of 100.
In 2016, Mike Trout carried a wRC+ of 156 from the seventh inning on, with six home runs, 32 runs and 21 RBI.
Those numbers must improve if Bautista hopes the Jays pick up his option, or if he feels like making more money in the free agent pool next winter.
It will be interesting to see how he does without his bodyguard (EE) hitting behind him each night, putting more pressure on his shoulders.
Shapiro’s world record low panic threshold sent the Jays spinning in a variety of directions this winter. By him moving on from Encarnacion quicker than Grade 7 girls move on from boyfriends, he handcuffed the Jays designated hitter position. Bautista’s offensive capability will always warrant him a slot in the lineup. With his declining play in the outfield, there is only room for one defensive slug in the batting order. Somehow, manager John Gibbons is going to have to figure out a system where he keeps the switch-hitting Kendrys Morales (who has only played 53 games in the field since 2014), Steve Pearce, Justin Smoak and Bautista in the lineup, along with giving Josh Donaldson and Troy Tulowitzki their days off from the artificial turf (last season, the two combined for 21 games at the DH position).
The Jays need Bautista plumping along in the outfield to make the lineup work. Was staring down the idea of having an Opening Day starting outfield consist of Melvin Upton Jr. and Ezequiel Carrera flank Kevin Pillar.
Carrera logged the most innings as a corner outfielder and finished with the highest fielding percentage at .993.
Upton Jr. is not an upgrade over Bautista fielding-percentage wise, and newcomer Steve Pearce only started 12 games in the outfield last season.
The Jays needed their big bat back in the outfield, especially after the departure of Captain Canada, Saunders, who had a fantastic season last year, finishing with career highs in home runs, RBI, batting average, runs, OPS and was voted into the all-star game. The Jays could not afford to lose Bautista after already losing 66 home runs between Saunders and EE from their lineup.
The layout of their team offensively and defensively is better with Bautista in the outfield.
Now, the onus falls more on Gibbons. He no longer has the home run bashing lineup; he is going to have to create runs in other ways if this team is to compete for a playoff spot next season. The Jays’ 759 runs scored and plus-93 last season is sure to take a dip.
At the end of the day, Toronto was the only destination for Bautista.
Bautista was a castaway before he arrived in Toronto, and you could argue that the Jays would not have risen from the ashes of the AL East basement without his contributions over the past nine years.
Just go back and take a look at any of the Jays playoff celebration photos on Instagram over the past two seasons. Look who is in the middle of every picture, spraying the most champagne and dolling out the cigars. Winning matters to him and in a time when free agents stuck their nose at the Blue Jays, he truly wants to be here. And that matters.
I’m a big believer in franchise cornerstones. I think it’s important moving forward to have some memories to look back on. He is one of the most important players in franchise history and the second-most important home run. Bring him back, and one day there will be montages, documentaries, jersey retirements and an endless amount of throwback days at the ballpark. Treat your stars properly, show them the respect they deserve, because it bodes well moving forward with future free agents. Keeping a pillar of a franchise around and happy is important for the stock of the team.
While some players around the league hate him, his teammates love him, and when you get the combination of production and a good team-chemistry guy, that is someone worth keeping around.