The Blue Jays have just made their most significant move of the off-season. The team has reportedly agreed to a 1-year deal with Jose Bautista. The contract also comes with a mutual option for 2018. The deal also comes with a team option for 2018. Ken Rosenthal has the scoop.
— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) January 17, 2017
— Scott MacArthur (@ScottyMacThinks) January 17, 2017
Assessing the Deal
This is a great signing for the Blue Jays. Although Bautista had a sub-par season in 2016, he still has lots to offer. Despite two trips to the DL, which cost him roughly 40 games, Bautista hit 22 home runs. He was also able to maintain his high OBP, with a .366 mark. He will provide a significant boost to a team that needed to bolster its offence.
The concern for the Blue Jays will be Bautista’s health. The 36-year-old has frequently had bumps and bruises over the past few seasons. The two DL stints in 2016 could cause one to worry. However, there is reason to be optimistic. Here is what we said about Bautista’s health and age a few weeks ago:
It’s worth discussing last season’s injuries, as they play a part in his current narrative. First, Bautista ran into an outfield wall, which sidelined him for over a month with turf toe. He missed more time in August with an injured knee. The toe injury came about as a freak accident. While Bautista might be more fragile due to his age, any player could have missed significant time for that. The knee injury was more concerning, but it did not keep him on the shelf for very long. All of this to say that his injuries from 2016 seem to be overstated. If Bautista can post a wRC+ of 122 in a down year that was riddled by injuries, then he should still be expected to at least reach the 130 neighbourhood when healthy. Prior to 2016, the story was that he takes tremendous care of his body, and that his health shouldn’t be a primary concern. The two trips to the DL should be taken in context. Bautista is still in especially good condition for a 36-year-old.
Bautista’s health concerns could also be addressed by changing his position. His agent has tried to sell him as both an outfielder and corner infielder. At this stage in his career, it’s not hard to imagine Bautista playing at first base. Although the Jays have a bit of a logjam at 1B/DH, they could still make room for him. The team could switch between Bautista and Steve Pearce in right field, which would allow for both players to get some rest while playing the infield. This would also limit Justin Smoak’s plate appearances, which appears to be in the team’s best interests.
Although we suggested that Bautista should transition to 1B, it is more likely that he will stay in the outfield. With him under contract, the team must now shift its focus to the bullpen. There is presumably not enough money to sign another outfielder, which would create enough flexibility to move Bautista to the infield. Fortunately, his bat more than makes up for his poor defence.
Bautista is a perfect fit for the Jays’ offence. The team needs high on-base players, which he is. They also need some power, which he will provide. There is no reason to think that Bautista will produce less than 30 home runs per season, as long as he stays healthy. Along with Kendrys Morales, Josh Donaldson, and Troy Tulowitzki, the Jays’ offence certainly has enough firepower.
With all of those names, there is also a question of where Bautista should bat in the lineup. I would put him back in the leadoff spot. While Devon Travis has a great bat, his OBP doesn’t play well as a leadoff hitter. With his contact, Travis is more suited to the #5 or #6 spot. Instead, Bautista should bat leadoff. You want to give your best hitters the most opportunities to hit. It helps that Bautista gets on base a ton. If he isn’t driving in runs from the bottom of the order, then he will be on base for Donaldson and Tulowitzki.
The Jays have done well with this contract. They have filled their biggest need with a familiar face, who also happens to be the second-best free agent outfielder available this winter. If Bautista decides to stay with this contract, then the Jays could keep him under control for two seasons. Now they can pivot to their remaining needs in the bullpen.