A name not often heard throughout what was already a quiet offseason was that of free agent slugger Jose Bautista. The former Toronto Blue Jays slugger, according to ESPN's Marly Rivera, was discussing one-year contracts with teams as recently as yesterday, and yet nothing has materialized for the 37-year-old who hit 40 home runs just three years ago.
Some may call it rough luck that Bautista has not found a new contract, but let's just call it what it is. The man's bat speed has abandoned him and it's time for him to retire.
A 2017 to forget
Bautista would probably rather forget the 2017 season, his last in a Blue Jays uniform. After failing to find an interested market after an injury-ravaged 2016, the six-time All-Star only managed a one-year, $18m deal to return to Toronto. Fortunately for him, the deal also contained a mutual option for 2018 and a vesting one for 2019, so a bounce-back season easily could have put Bautista's critics to rest. He only hit .234 in 2016 but still hit 22 homers with 69 RBI, so $18m seemed like a worthy gamble given Bautista's injury woes.
And boy, was Blue Jays management wrong. Bautista played a full season last year and hit 23 homers with 65 RBI, but his batting average dipped to .203. His walk rate plummeted from 16.8% in 2016 to 12.2% last year and his strikeout rate increased from 19.9% to 24.8%. His isolated power dropped from .217 to .164 and his BABIP was a lowly .239.
Bautista's hard contact percentage also dropped from 41% to 31.4%, though his fly ball rate actually increased from 41.7% to 45.8%. That still doesn't account for his line drive rate falling from 18.8% to 16.5%, but it shows that 2017 was not just bad luck for Bautista like it was for Angels infielder Ian Kinsler. Bautista's hitting metrics dropped in almost every major category and with more and more teams relying on analytics, they are rightfully shying away from him.
Though Rivera reported the Atlanta Braves and Tampa Bay Rays as being interested in Bautista, neither will come to pass. Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports tweeted earlier this morning that the Braves had moved on, and MLB.com's Mark Feinsand later reported the Rays as being "unlikely" to sign Bautista.
Not that Bautista is up the creek without a paddle, but that even the rebuilding Rays don't appear to be interested is quite telling. This is a team whose only reason for signing Bautista to a contract would be to increase already dismal ticket sales, so it doesn't make sense to sign him unless it's on the super cheap.
The truth is Bautista could probably still hit 20-25 home runs for a team willing to pay him but between his heavy decline and his being a polarizing figure, some front office executives are surely thinking he isn't worth the potential headache. If he isn't performing on the field and is causing trouble in the clubhouse, then why even take the risk?
If he really wants to go out on his terms, better for Bautista to walk away from the game now rather than risk embarrassing himself by hunting for yet another deal.