MLB Free Agency: Is Jose Bautista the Best Hitter Left on the Market?
After turning down a qualifying offer from the Toronto Blue Jays, Jose Bautista officially bet on himself by turning his attention toward what was a rather strong free-agent market. When Yoenis Cespedes re-signed with the New York Mets for the second consecutive winter, Bautista's market was supposed to pick up.
Bautista is still on the open market, while ex-teammate Edwin Encarnacion found greener pastures with the American League Champion Cleveland Indians, and Kendrys Morales and Steve Pearce have ostensibly replaced him in Toronto. The outfielder has even lowered his demands, and is willing to take a one-year deal.
So, is the almost 37-year-old outfielder a good bet for just 2017? And how does he compare to the other top offensive players still available?
Let's take a look.
Quite an Interesting Career
Bautista bounced around with four different teams his rookie season, playing in 64 games with the Baltimore Orioles, Tampa Bay Rays (then Devil Rays), Kansas City Royals, and finally the Pittsburgh Pirates. He spent three more middling seasons with Pittsburgh before moving to Toronto in 2008, where he really came into his own.
His first full season with the Blue Jays came in 2009, where he posted a 102 wRC+ and 1.8 fWAR. From 2010-16, his wRC+ never dipped below 122 and had a high of 181, while his fWAR settled in between 1.4 and 8.1. His best performance came in 2011, where he hit .302/.447/.608 with 43 home runs, a 181 wRC+ and that 8.1 fWAR.
Picking the Wrong Time for a Down Season
While Bautista didn't have the kind of season he would've wanted in 2016 before hitting free agency, he was still a productive hitter, slashing .234/.336/.452 with 22 home runs, a 122 wRC+ and a 1.4 fWAR.
That wRC+ was seventh-highest among right fielders and his fWAR checked in at 15th, though.
Bautista isn't the only big-name slugger still looking for a job with Spring Training a little over a month away. Guys like Mark Trumbo (who led MLB in homers last year) and Mike Napoli (who posted the first 30-homer season of his career) are in a similar situation.
Let's take a look at how their numbers compare to one another over the last three seasons.
|Jose Bautista, 2014||.403||35||15.50%||14.30%||.239||160||6.3||155|
|Jose Bautista, 2015||.337||40||16.50%||15.90%||.285||148||4.4||153|
|Jose Bautista, 2016||.366||22||16.80%||19.90%||.217||122||1.4||116|
|Mark Trumbo, '14||.293||14||7.70%||24.60%||.180||90||-1.2||88|
|Mark Trumbo, '15||.310||22||6.60%||24.20%||.187||107||1.1||142|
|Mark Trumbo, '16||.316||47||7.60%||25.50%||.277||123||2.2||159|
|Mike Napoli, '14||.370||17||15.60%||26.60%||.171||123||2.4||119|
|Mike Napoli, '15||.324||18||12.20%||25.20%||.187||98||0.7||133|
|Mike Napoli, '16||.335||34||12.10%||30.10%||.226||113||1.0||150|
While Bautista didn't have the best performance as a 36-year-old in 2016, he still walked at a good rate and struck out significantly less than his counterparts in every season. He still also has a rather high OBP in comparison, which is a dangerous combination when coupled with his power ability.
Napoli and Trumbo enjoyed banner years with regard to power, which is evidenced by the huge jump between 2014-15 and 2016. It can be viewed as flukes in both instances, though, considering Napoli nearly doubled his 2015 total at the age of 35, while Trumbo saw his ISO jump 100 points.
With regard to Napoli, he's somewhat of a wild card because of his inconsistent performance over the past three years. Trumbo has been improving, but is still an unknown, especially since we don't know which park he'll be playing in most of the time yet in 2017.
Obviously, cost reigns supreme over all at this juncture in the winter. With Bautista willing to accept a one-year deal, the discussion can be swung in his favor, despite having draft-pick compensation attached to him. Although he's another year older, expecting a season of around 20-25 home runs and a wRC+ near 120 isn't outrageous. Trumbo reportedly still wants a four-year deal, while Napoli is looking for something more than one year.
It's safe to say that getting Bautista on a one-year deal can improve most -- if not every -- MLB team in some capacity. Now, we'll just have to wait and see which organization makes the jump.