The news that Jose Bautista would receive a qualifying offer from the Toronto Blue Jays once the offseason begins surprised nobody. The 36-year-old slugger still has a lot to offer an MLB team. While he has become a liability in the field, Bautista still managed 22 home runs and an elite walk rate of 16.8 percent.
Despite costing his team defensively, Bautista was still worth $10.9 million by FanGraphs’ $/WAR estimations. If Bautista was just relegated to designated hitting duties, that would push his value somewhere near the $23 million range, a good chunk above the $17.2 million qualifying offer amount.
Going forward, that means that Bautista is likely going to have to sign as a DH, which narrows his suitors down to the 50 percent of teams in the American League only. That could severely hamper his ability to get the five-year, $150 million deal he was looking for last offseason as an extension from the Blue Jays.
All things considered, Bautista is likely to sign with an American League team with money to spend, and a vacant DH spot. That being said, National League teams willing to put him at first base could be in the running as well. Let’s take a look at the five teams that fit those criteria the best:
Boston Red Sox
The Red Sox have the most famously newly-vacant DH spot in the entire league. David Ortiz has completed his retirement tour and helped the Red Sox clinch the AL East in his final season. If the Red Sox want to repeat that, replacing him might be a key goal of Dave Dombrowski and his front office team.
The outfield is completely set, so that eliminates that opportunity for Bautista if he happens to sign with the Red Sox. Complicating the Red Sox option further, Pablo Sandoval is set to return. With him come two lessons: first, that Sandoval’s time in the field is likely over and, second, that spending large amounts of money on free agent hitters is ill-advised. Even the investment in David Price hasn’t necessarily gone as planned thus far.
In Bautista’s favor, despite being 36-years-old, is the fact that he doesn’t miss much time in the field. Since 2012, Bautista ranks 33rd in games played among outfielders. He’s known for his conditioning and athleticism. Whether or not the possibility of acquiring Bautista’s bat allows the team to invest on the free agent market once again remains to be seen, but Dombrowski has never been a frugal investor before.
The Astros may have cost themselves last offseason by not investing in free agency. With so many seasons in the cellar, the fanbase was hungry after a 2015 Wild Card victory.
Instead of rewarding the Astros-faithful with reinforcements, the team stumbled out of the gate with a 7-17 record in April. By the time September rolled around, even a red-hot June couldn’t salvage their postseason chances fully.
Whether that changes GM Jeff Luhnow’s offseason approach this season is still in the air, but even for a team on the fringe, Bautista might not be a smart investment. Marwin Gonzalez, A.J. Reed, and Tyler White are currently manning first base—albeit poorly. Adding a fourth player into that mix just might not be the right move. That being said, Bautista can split time at DH with Evan Gattis, who may be asked to catch a little bit more in 2017.
The Astros might not be the best fit for Bautista, but there’s definitely a way that this move works and pans out this offseason.
This one might seem weird, but hear it out. Bautista could be a strange addition to the Rangers given his history with the team, and the fact that Rougned Odor literally punched Bautista in the face. But their situation may call for a very specific reinforcement.
In their postseason press conference—once the team was eliminated from the playoffs—the Rangers’ GM Jon Daniels vowed to improve his club over the offseason. While a significant amount of that will likely be dedicated to improving the starting rotation, the Rangers have quite a few holes in the field as well.
Among the potential departing members of the outfield are Ian Desmond, Carlos Gomez, and Carlos Beltran. With the latter two from that list spending just the last couple months with the team to begin with, the Rangers might not actually consider them losses per se. Right now, the Rangers have Nomar Mazara, Shin-Soo Choo, and Delino DeShields in the outfield with an empty first base and DH spot. Joey Gallo could fill one of those spots, but Prince Fielder is newly retired and Mitch Moreland is a pending free agent.
David Ortiz and David Price were able to bury the hatchet in order to work together and commit to winning; perhaps Odor and Bautista could too. It might take the Rangers losing out on the bidding of fellow free agents Edwin Encarnacion and Yoenis Cespedes before turning to their former foe though.
Toronto Blue Jays
Of course, returning to the Blue Jays is still an option, but the odds might be a tad long. The Blue Jays are likely parting ways with one of Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion, which at least opens up the DH spot, and puts Justin Smoak as the full-time first baseman—an unenviable position for a presumptive contender.
The shuffling of chairs in the front office has left a lot of uncertainty about the team’s future direction. With so many players in their prime, it’s difficult to imagine a scenario where the team doesn’t commit to winning for at least next season. That being said, GM Ross Atkins likely doesn’t want to jeopardize the future development of the team with debilitatingly large contracts.
With the average age of the team higher than the other playoff teams, the Blue Jays’ window of contention could be closing. There is no reason to believe they can’t bridge the gap between contending eras, however, re-upping with franchise cornerstone Bautista could still be in the cards.
If Bautista does end up in the National League, it could be for the team that inquired about his trade availability prior to the trade deadline.
It was honestly always a weird fit, but if we completely stop considering Bautista as an outfielder, it actually starts to look clearer. The Nationals fielded Ryan Zimmerman at first base for 114 games this season. Zimmerman is certainly a major leaguer in name and salary, however, he cost his team 1.3 wins by FanGraphs’ WAR this past season. By far the worst player in all of baseball among first basemen with at least 450 plate appearances.
Of course, Zimmerman is signed through the 2019 season and guaranteed at least $48 million, so the Nationals do have a dilemma to face there; especially if they want to invest in a replacement like Bautista.