The longest tenured Blue Jay has finally hit free agency, with Jose Bautista joining the open market for the first time on Tuesday
Jose Bautista has been a fixture in the Blue Jays’ outfield for over eight years now. He was acquired in 2008 from the Pittsburgh Pirates in exchange for Robinzon Diaz, which will undoubtedly go down as one of the best trades the Blue Jays ever make.
Since 2010, Bautista leads all MLB hitters in home runs with 249, including a 2010 season with a career high 54, which he followed with 43 the following year, leading the American League both times. The free-agent-to-be told reporters in spring training that there would be “no hometown discount”, thus, putting the pressure on himself to perform to the highest standard.
Despite struggling with injuries throughout the season, Bautista still showed plenty of ways he can bring value to the diamond. He managed a .366 OBP, walking 87 times in 517 plate appearances. Although his power numbers were down, he finished with 24 doubles to go with his 22 home runs. They may not be the video game numbers we’ve gotten used to, but he still put fear into opposing pitchers when he stepped into the box.
Having shown resistance to change in the past, Bautista willingly accepted a move to the leadoff spot to try and spark the offence, and also moved from 3rd in the order to 4th without comment. Flipping Bautista and the red-hot Edwin Encarnacion in the lineup was a no brainer, and it was a positive reflection on Bautista that he didn’t complain (publicly at least).
He came through in the playoffs with a big home run against Baltimore in the Wild Card game, and another against Texas in the ALDS, but largely struggled in the postseason outside of those moments.
The six time All-Star came into the 2016 looking to continue his dominant play and set himself up for one last big free agent contract. Bautista has never been a free agent since becoming an All-Star, as he signed a five-year, $65 million extension with the Jays back in 2010. At the time, it looked like a possible risk for the Blue Jays, but it’s worked out extremely well in their favour.
Unfortunately for the slugger, his season did not go as planned. He was injured twice, first on a grade 2 turf toe injury, and then with a sprained knee. All told, Bautista missed 46 games, and struggled to regain his form even while he was on the field.
He finished with his lowest home run total since 2009 (22), lowest slugging percentage (.452), and OBP (.817). On defence he became a liability in the outfield, finishing with a -8 in Rdrs (defensive runs saved above average).
Lastly, he finished the season with a +1.0 bWAR. Being on the positive side of WAR is definitely a good thing, but the Dominican averaged 5.1 bWAR per season from 2013-2015, and set a career high with 8.1 in 2011.
It’s hard to say what comes next for Bautista. He will be extended the qualifying offer by the Blue Jays, but it’s highly unlikely he’ll accept. He’ll be a free agent for the first time on Tuesday, and there should be several interested clubs around the MLB.
However, Bautista’s stock took some important hits this season, and it’s possible he’s no longer viewed as a defensively capable player. If that’s the case, it could eliminate the National League from bidding on the slugger, which cuts his market in half.
While it’s highly unlikely for Bautista to approach the rumoured ask of “six years/150 million” that was reported in spring training, the former 20th round pick will likely be priced out of returning to Toronto. The Blue Jays have several dominoes to fall this offseason including the free agency of Encarnacion, so while anything could happen, expect to see the former franchise face in another jersey next season.
All it takes is one front office to believe that the six-time All-Star is worth a risk, and it’s hard to imagine there won’t be at least one.
Other Toronto Blue Jays ‘Year in Review’ Profiles:
Michael Saunders Ryan Goins Ezequiel Carrera Joe Biagini
Chris Colabello Aaron Loup Kevin Pillar Melvin Upton Jr.
Justin Smoak Francisco Liriano Ryan Tepera Devon Travis
J.A. Happ Roberto Osuna Marcus Stroman Jason Grilli