When Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times floated the notion that the Rays could be a potential landing spot for Jose Bautista, Rays fans treated it as little more than a pipe dream. Yet, almost a month later, the market for Bautista has shrunk to the extent that this distant and unreachable dream has become a palpable possibility.
Earlier this week, Mat Germain spelled out the case for Erik Neander bringing Joey Bats to St. Pete, focusing on the reasons this would be a good match for the Rays.
But would Bautista have any reason to take his talents to St. Pete? I think there is a deal here that could work for both sides, and here’s why:
Reason 1: Bautista seems to recognize that a multiyear deal isn’t coming (at least in the right price range)
Jose Bautista reportedly entered the offseason aiming for a multiyear deal in the range of a $150 million, but to no one’s surpise, teams have balked at paying that kind of money to a 36 year old coming off a disappointing, injury-riddled season. Even his longtime team, the Toronto Blue Jays, elected to give him the one year qualifying offer rather than shell out big money considering all the question marks he faces entering this season.
If that weren’t enough to damage his potential market value, the incredible bargain of a deal that Edwin Encarnacion signed with the Indians must have been a sobering deal for Bautista.
According to Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports, Bautista is now open to a one year deal provided it’s more than the $17.2 million qualifying offer he received. It seems reasonable on the surface given that Carlos Beltran signed a one year $16 million, but when you consider that a team has to part with their top pick to sign him, it becomes a significantly more expensive move for a team (The Hardball Times has it upwards of $12 million in value to be more precise).
Reason 2: Teams are turning their attention to cheaper alternatives
Although this is still a weak free agent class comparatively speaking, there isn’t exactly a dearth of power hitters on the market. A number of them like Beltran and Matt Holiday have already signed, but the likes of Mark Trumbo, Mike Napoli, Brandon Moss, Chris Carter, and Pedro Alvarez are all still available.
None of them possess the upside of a potential Bautista bounceback; however, they can all fill a similar void with not only cheaper contracts but also without loss of a draft pick (except Trumbo).
Reason 3: Bautista can’t afford to sit out half a season
In an MLB network spot, Peter Gammons suggested that Bautista could sit out until midseason in hopes that either a team struck by injury or one looking to bolster their lineup would cave to his price demands. While he could very well wait til Spring Training, it’s a dangerous plan for a 36 year old to pass up guaranteed money.
It’s completely rational for Bautista to be patient and insistent upon a multiyear offer since he’ll only get one more at this juncture of his career; however, his willingness to accept a one year deal suggest he understands that he needs to sign a one year “prove it” deal if he ever hopes to land a massive multiyear agreement.
If he sits out for half the season, yes, a team will probably sign him, but Bautista’s opportunity to make money is evaporating quickly. Suppose he doesn’t bounce back or injuries further hinder him; in that case, he isn’t likely to ever get a multiyear deal, and he’d be leaving $5-8 million sitting on the table.
It’s so much safer to make all the money he can this year and to enter the season with a team so that he can go through spring training and spend a full season erasing the doubts teams had about him; well at least some of the doubts because Bautista can still hit and get on a base even if the fielding skills have declined.
Reason 4: At this point in the off season, his possible destinations are limited.
As a first step in illustrating this point, I broke down teams across the league to see possible landing spots and to eliminate others.
This leaves about 7 real possibilities (Tor, Tex, KC, TB, Atl, SF, Oak) but you have to think that an American league team with the luxury of DH spot gives Bautista the best chance to showcase his offense and remain healthy. Even though that doesn’t rule out the NL, it would be safe to suggest that Bautista’s defensive liabilities render AL teams a more obvious fit.
Toronto remains on the lists, but their public stance is that they’ve moved on; granted, we can only take that with a grain of salt given they lost EE and Saunders.
Texas would make a lot of sense with the gaping hole at DH, but there’s been more chatter about a Mike Napoli reunion.
That leaves us with two small market teams, Kansas City and Tampa, as possible AL destinations for Joey Bats. Both teams could compete this season, which would certainly be a more ideal situation for Bautista if he wants to rack up some rbi’s and have some protection around him in the lineup. The primary advantage that Tampa Bay offers is that their top pick is protected as a part of the collective bargaining agreement. They’d still have to give up a valuable pick, but it wouldn’t be the number 4 pick they are currently slated to have.
Additionally, Matt Germain pointed out that a player with Bautista’s personality and passion would probably revel at the opportunity to return to glory while thumping AL East teams.
At the end of the day, it’s still unlikely that Bautista ends up in Tampa Bay, but it’s certainly become more than a pipedream. If the market continues to drive him down to the $10-15 million dollar range, then Neander could make it work even if it costs a pick. Besides, if the team flounders to start the year but Bautista excels, they could flip him for a handsome return at the deadline.
The money is still on a return to Toronto, but for once, the Rays aren’t ruled out on one of the biggest free agents in all of baseball.