There's recently been a plethora of negativity surrounding free agent slugger Jose Bautista, and most are self-inflicted wounds. Whether we're talking his chip on the shoulder attitude or showmanship, he's rubbed a lot of purist baseball fans the wrong way. However, there is plenty to like about his talent and his attitude could be a welcomed addition to the Rays roster.
DRaysBay has already covered Joey Bats when the possibility of his addition came to light, landing on a one-year, $10 million contract as a possible match, but I'll try to cover why Bautista fits from some different angles.
1. Outstanding OBP
If there's one area the Rays lineup seemed to be lacking in 2016, it's OBP. They ranked 27th in that category in 2016, 4th to last in MLB. Bautista has a great eye at the plate and has been able to maintain a .368 OBP or better over the last 3 seasons. Steven Souza - currently slated to play RF - has never been able to exceed a .318 OBP, so adding Bautista to the lineup would significantly increase the number of scoring opportunities the Rays would have in 2017, even if we can expect a slight increase from Souza as he progresses.
Everyone knows that a tough out can help wear down an opposing pitcher. Get the pitch count high, and you get to the pen more quickly. That approach has forced some teams to load up on relievers, with much success. However, the chances of winning are still enhance - particularly in a series - if you can wear down the pen as well. So, with that in mind, someone like Bautista significantly enhances the Rays chances of winning by helping to wear down their pitchers at a quicker rate.
2. Bautista vs Souza vs Dickerson
Even while we can harp about Bautista's production being down in 2016 from his highs in previous years, he'd be a significant upgrade over Souza and Dickerson in the majority of the following categories:
- BB%: JB 16.8%, SZ 6.6%, CD 6%
- K%: JB 19.9%, SZ 34%, CD 24.5%
- ISO: JB .217, SZ .163, CD .224
- wOBA: JB .355, SZ .308, CD .319
- wRC+: JB 122, SZ 94, CD 101
These are just a few categories, but they're the ones that can be attributed to many of the Rays struggles in 2016. The fact that he can spell Souza - who also has his own injury issues to work out - adds to the positive side of signing Bautista. Between these three, the Rays can settle LF, RF, and DH and keep everyone as healthy as possible.
And for all the pundits who keep beating up on JB's 2016, let's not forget that despite being riddled with injuries, he still managed an OPS of .817, 15th best for outfielders with enough AB to qualify. That places him ahead of Bryce Harper, Matt Kemp, Ian Desmond, Adam Eaton, and Andrew McCutchen just to name a few. Enough about his demise. Bautista still has plenty in the tank.
Just imagine how much of an improvement Bautista would be if he improves on 2016's output.....
Here's the thing, the Red Sox used to be able to absorb Manny Ramirez playing LF because they sorely wanted his bat - and Ortiz - in the lineup. One of them had to play the field. And if the Red Sox can do well enough with Ramirez in LF to win a World Series, the Rays should have no qualms about playing Jose Bautista in LF.
The statistics are not as bad as some may think, but with the major difference being Bautista's reliability; specifically, his ability to get ALL of the plays that should be made 40% of the time or better. Dickerson had 6 misses in that range compared to JB who only missed 1 occasion out of 151 (as assessed by Inside Edge Fielding stats from Fangraphs). Simply said, JB will get the plays he should complete done, he just won't wow you anymore with a superman dive.
The one part that has Dickerson being well ahead of Bautista is in the Range category, where Dickerson achieved a 6.5 RngR and 14.5 UZR/150. So evidently, Dickerson would remain the primary LF, Souza would remain the primary RF, but Bautista could field either position well enough to spell them when need be.
The big question with Bautista, which nobody but his doctors can answer right now, is whether or not his shoulder will ever return to form. He's received multiple cortisone shots in it and there could be an argument to be made that he can only fit in as a DH right now - an argument made by Adam Sanford recently - if that arm can't hold up to the throws required from LF. This, to me, is only a huge issue if he can't swing the bat as well, because if he does only fit in as a DH, not only can the Rays use him in the lineup but they may get him at a cheaper rate than anticipated.
Despite being 36 years old, almost every projection out there has Bautista maintaining his 2016 pace and/or exceeding it slightly. All is dependent on health, of course, but the current Steamer projections have him producing the following:
- 15.4% BB, 18.4% K, 28 HR, .225 ISO, .364 wOBA, 122 wRC+, 2.8 WAR
Some people actually knock his 2.8 WAR. For those that do, it would have made him the 4th best WAR rating for the Rays in 2016, behind only KK, Longo, and Archer, tied with Frosty. And that was in a down injury riddled year. David Ortiz had a WAR rating which floated between 2.3 and 4.4 over his last 4 seasons. I'd expect Bautista to be somewhere in that range as well, more likely between 2.5 and 3.5.
Assuming he can in fact add 3 wins to the Rays totals from 2016, that Ramos nears the 3.5 he added to the Nats, and the pitching is as strong as expected, it all of the sudden puts the Rays in contention. Add in the expectation that Matt Duffy will perform better at SS than Brad Miller and others did last season and it gets even more interesting.
The other part of the projection is looking at what he's done as a DH over his career:
- Bautista: 425 PA, 16 HR, 70 BB, 87 SO, .254/.379/.473 (.851 OPS)
- Rays DH in 2016: 627 PA, 25 HR, 35 BB, 173 SO, .223/.278/.421 (.698 OPS)
With that improved output at DH throughout the 2016 season, the Rays would have been a much tougher team to play against, and that's without Bautista being as comfortable in the DH as he would be if that role was inherited in 2017.
5. Lineup Depth and Roles
Perhaps the biggest difference Jose Bautista could make with the Rays is in how their lineup takes shape day-to-day. In much the same way the Jays used Josh Donaldson in the 2-hole when Bautista was healthy, the Rays can move Evan Longoria up to the 2-hole and benefit from a much stronger top of the lineup. Here's how a lineup with a healthy Ramos may look should Bautista be added to the Rays:
2B Logan Forsythe (R)
LF Jose Bautista (R)
3B Evan Longoria (R)
1B Brad Miller (L)
C Wilson Ramos (R)
DH Corey Dickerson (L)
RF Steve Souza (R)
CF Kevin Kiermaier (L)
SS Matt Duffy (R)
Now, I know that not everyone will agree with me here, but this lineup could be one of the best the Rays would put together for 2017 at a very affordable rate (presumably). The ability to front load three hitters who know how to get on base before tapping into the power portion of the lineup would be a game changer.
Ask yourself this: when was the last time you could honestly expect every player 1 through 8 in the lineup to hit 20 or more HR in a season and for 4 of them to approach or exceed 30?
6. Longoria and Rays Fans Deserve It
Now we get into the more intangible aspect of the Jose Bautista addition. Both Evan Longoria and Rays fans have held up their end of the bargain. They've stuck with a team that is fighting it out in one of the most competitive divisions in MLB. Year-after-year this team has focused on adding many cheaper pieces in return for some of their more prominent - and expensive - assets.
Normally, the way they've done business would be commended, because they've been fairly competitive despite a tiny budget. And because of this, nobody would normally expect them to be in the hunt for someone as talented - and normally costly - as Jose Bautista. But things are different this year, and it puts the Rays in a position to make a play for one of the better sluggers in MLB.
As Evan Longoria recently was quoted as saying:
"I'm ready to win," Longoria said. "I hate sitting around watching all my friends go out and do that. I do believe we can be a contender here again. It takes a lot. It takes a lot. And we have to believe that from the top down."
Many analysts are wondering why the Rays haven't already dealt Evan Longoria. He's still at a point in his career where he can be expected to fetch a boat load of talent, he's very affordable compared to the market, and his makeup is off the charts. However, in my eyes and those of many others, it wouldn't seem right to trade your franchise player without ever giving his teams much of a shot to compete by adding significant pieces.
How different would a Longoria trade look post 2017 if the Rays add Jose Bautista - on top of having added Ramos - and give it a real shot? They'd do their best to make the playoffs, and if it doesn't work out by the deadline, they have 2 assets they can deal for a significant overhaul in Longo and Bautista. If it does work out, the Rays will be able to point to his addition as an effort they made to make the playoffs and support what is an outstanding pitching staff.
Either way, it will let both Longo and the fans know that when the time is right, the front office will pull the trigger on the right deal (as seen with the injured Wilson Ramos), and that goes a long way to helping the franchise out long term.
7. Great for Fans, and Rays Players
I've seen Jose Bautista play quite a few times and it has always amazed me how much time he takes to meet and chat with as many fans as possible before and after games. He's always available, always personable, and he's willing to take the hard questions and respond to them. He might even already follow you on twitter.
Not only does he treat fans right, but he's always been there for players as well - so far as we know. While opponents have always been irked by his antics and umpires tire of his reactions, his teammates seemed to feed off of his confidence and have learned to be better power hitters by copying a lot of what he does. Josh Donaldson may be the best example of this, as he himself stated when he heard he was headed to Toronto:
And Russell Martin summed up his - and JD's - impact on the lineup and opposing pitchers best in this quote:
"They’re gamers. They’re warriors out there. And they’re tough. They’ve got quick hands, quick eyes at the plate. They’re tough outs," Martin said. "So, when you see them lurk in counts, and even when pitchers get two strikes on them they’re still tough, it’s a good sign. They just make the opposing pitcher work and they wear him down. And if the guy makes a mistake, they’re going to make him pay for it."
In short, when in the lineup, Jose Bautista makes any lineup tougher to navigate, and his team mates know it and can bank on it being that way game in, game out.
There's also a case to be made that Bautista's in the process of learning one of the greatest lessons of his life. To say that having to lower your asking price from a reported $150M to possibly asking for a qualifying offer is a slap to the heart is a major understatement. His heart is literally being crushed as he sees his value deteriorate on the open market at the worst possible time.
That leads me to the last point...
8. Motivation. Boat Loads of Motivation.
This, to me, is what makes Bautista's acquisition the most intriguing one ever for the Rays. If he joins the team that isn't expected to compete in the AL East, and brings them up to - and dare I say ahead - of the behemoths in the division, he'll be noted as having exerted his revenge and proved them wrong for letting him go. While most of that would be aimed at the Jays, it would also apply to the Orioles, Yankees, and Red Sox who all decided on different options (TBD, Matt Holliday, and Mitch Moreland respectively).
Then there's the natural rivalry he's had with those teams over the years, his years of success within the division, the Indians laughing about his playoff comments, and the fact that he wants to get paid in 2018 and beyond. He's well known in the AL, and he knows the AL very well.
A man with his heart and pride will show up ready to hammer the laces off of the ball in 2017, and the team that signs him will likely get a humbled, more mature than ever, and extremely motivated - and talented - player to enjoy. For something in the $10-20M range (presumably), that could turn out to be a huge bargain for a franchise like the Rays.
Bautista's ego has taken as hard a hit as anyone could imagine it taking. The Rays have never been able to nab a player of his caliber for a 1 year investment, providing him the opportunity to re-establish his value while simultaneously exacting revenge of sorts on the clubs that doubted his ability to return to form.
While it's true that such an investment is sizeable for a low-budget team like the Rays, the money could be made available by dealing someone like Drew Smyly who is expected to receive approximately $6.9M in 2017 and comes with 2 years of control.
And before we talk about losing that comp pick, let's remember how few of them turn out to be good enough to become full time MLB players. I'm not saying they're worthless, but are the Rays going to forego an opportunity at a playoff run just for a shot in the dark? I certainly hope not.
It's time the Rays took a leap of faith and attempt to jolt this team into the playoffs while Evan Longoria is still a Rays 3B and while the fans who have struggled to keep the faith continue to support the team. The rewards will be there, even if it's just in knowing the team will exhaust all avenues in its attempts to build a WS team.
Make the offer, write the check, and bring Jose Bautista back to Tampa Bay. Not only will the city become a more interesting focus for all of MLB if that happens, but it'll surely force the rest of the AL to recognize the Rays as a more serious contender for a playoff position.
Really though, what do the Rays have to lose?