Is Jose Bautista Worth a Multi-Year Contract?
In his final season before free agency, Joey Bats suffered a cacophony of misfortune. In between two different stints on the disabled list, he played in 116 games (517 plate appearances) and batted .234/.366/.452 with 22 home runs and 69 RBIs, leading to a wRC+ of 122 and an fWAR of 1.4.
That fWAR was his lowest since 2008, his wRC+ hadn't been that low since 2009, and his batting average was the lowest it had been since becoming a regular player. His strikeout rate of 19.9% was up 4% from 2015 and was his highest since it was 21% in '09.
And now, entering his age-36 season, Bautista is looking for a big payday. But should he get one?
Why Teams Should Pay Bautista
Until last season, Bautista had been one of the game's most consistent sluggers. Since emerging as a star with Toronto in 2010, Bautista had never hit fewer than 27 home runs in a season. In 2014, he walloped 35, and in '15 he slugged 40.
It was just two years ago he finished in the top-10 of MVP voting, and although his performance was down last year, much of that can be attributed to his injuries.
Bautista missed 30 games in June after suffering a turf toe injury, and then hurt his knee in August and was placed on the 15-day DL. The outfielder also considered both those "fluke" injuries, not indicative of his body breaking down.
While his strikeout rate went up and his batting average went down, he continued to get on base at a good clip. His .366 on-base percentage wasn't far off from the .377 he put up the year before thanks to a walk rate of 16.8%, which was the highest of his career.
And yes, he is getting up there in age, but consider he didn't really become a full-time player until he was 26 and the wear and tear on him may not be as severe as with others.
It's entirely possible Bautista was just unlucky with injuries last year, and his overall numbers paid the price as a result.
Why Teams Should Stay Away From Bautista
Virtually any team that can get Bautista on a one-year deal should do it, let's just get that out of the way. Even if he fails, the risk for the team that signs him under that circumstance is negligible. The question here is whether or not he should get a multi-year deal.
It's generally a bad idea to give multi-year deals to players entering their late-30s, no matter the circumstances. The ability to catch up to a Major League fastball, especially in an age when the average pitch speed continues to increase, makes it especially tough for older sluggers to keep up. And one has to consider if Bautista's injuries were due to his aging body.
At 35, he suffered his worst year as a baseball player since 2009, the year before he burst onto the scene as one of the greatest sluggers in the game. That's bad timing, and it may not be coincidence. That increasing strikeout rate can often be a sign the age bill is coming due.
He simply did not perform like Jose Bautista last year, and it's fair to wonder if he ever will again. If a team signs him to a three-year deal, they'll be paying $15-20 million for him to play in his age-37 season.
In addition, any team without a first-round draft pick that is top-10 protected would have to give up that pick to sign Bautista, something many teams are eschewing at the moment.
Who Could Sign Him?
There are a number of teams that could roll the dice on a multi-year contract with Joey Bats. Even though their outfield/DH situation is mostly set, it's possible the Blue Jays could bring him back on a one-year deal. He is a folk hero in Toronto, and if he's going to take a one-year deal, it will likely be there.
However, teams like the Tampa Bay Rays, Houston Astros, Seattle Mariners, and San Francisco Giants could also be potential suitors as well - if they're willing to roll the dice that Bautista isn't done yet.