A bit lost in the recent news cycle probably due to the holidays and the story from yesterday that the Cardinals were “very much in it” on Brian Dozier, is that Jeff Passan reported on Friday that free agent Jose Bautista is open to signing a one-year deal. (For what it’s worth, Mark Saxon tweeted today that the Cardinals’ interest in Dozier may have been a bit overblown.) With this news, Bautista, who’s entering his age-36 season, went from being a tough signing to all of a sudden being an intriguing option for several teams. Personally, I think the Cardinals should be one of them.
A few things first, it’s hard to step inside the mind of another fan base, but if I’m a Blue Jays fan the fact that the Jays haven’t swooped in and re-signed Bautista by now would infuriate me. He’s responsible for the biggest moment in franchise history since Joe Carter’s walk-off home run to win the 1993 World Series, and he’s been intimately involved in all of their recent playoff success. Combine that with letting Edwin Encarnacion sign with Cleveland for a reasonable deal and there could be a major void in their core next year. All that while Bautista is apparently willing to sign a one-year contract.
Of course, there’s a slight catch to that one-year deal. Bautista already rejected the Blue Jays’ qualifying offer and according to Passan, he’ll only sign a one-year contact so long as it exceeds the $17.2 million QO sum. Dexter Fowler is the most recent example of player who rejected a QO only to re-sign with the same team but he did so for less money. As far as I’m aware (and please correct me if I’m wrong), no one has ever re-signed for a single year for a price exceeding the QO.
Unless Bautista is trying to force Toronto’s hand, I’m surprised he would make public his willingness to be open to such a deal. It’s different from the Fowler situation from last year where a one-year pillow contract might be worth the risk in order to get a bigger payday the following offseason. In Fowler’s case, that’s exactly what happened when he signed with the Cardinals for $82.5 million, which is a nice bump from the 3-year/$33 million he would have had with Baltimore last offseason had that contract gone through. But, as mentioned, Bautista is 36 whereas Fowler was entering his age-30 season in 2016. Barring a surprising turn of events, it’s hard to envision Bautista going back on the market a year from now and finding friendlier suitors.
All that aside, and stipulating that Bautista is amenable to a one-year contract, the Cardinals should be interested. One year, north of $17.2 million (within reason) for a player even of Bautista’s diminishing caliber is a pretty easy commitment. The bigger question is where he would fit and that “diminishing caliber,” which last year saw him post his lowest OPS (.817) and wRC+ (122) since 2009, his first year in Toronto.
Worth nothing that Bautista had two trips to the 15-day DL last year with a strained left big toe and a strained right knee which likely didn’t help his production. His .ISO (.217) was also at its lowest since 2009. Yet, his batted ball profile at FanGraphs shows a player hitting the ball hard, hitting a lot of line drives. And he still homered once every 19.2 at bats, which ranked in the top 40 in MLB.
The home runs would be worth having around since the club is likely losing 48 long balls from last year with the departure of Matt Holliday and presumably Brandon Moss. Bautista is not the best fit on the field. Players his age rarely are. The last few years he’s been almost exclusively a right fielder or DH, but he’s played a decent amount at first base as recently as 2014. If nothing else, with Holliday in New York we can have another year of “aging slugger who’s a minus defender in the outfield should be at 1B” debate and that really is invaluable.
So far there hasn’t been any indication that the Cardinals have shown interest in Bautista, and this might all lead to him returning to Toronto. He’s far from a perfect fit with the Cardinals - a re-shuffling of the infield would be in order, and it would run contrary to John Mozeliak’s claim that defense would be a top priority this offseason. (Speaking of, “defense will be a top priority” is turning into this year’s “payroll muscle,” and I don’t mean that as a jab. There aren’t exactly a ton of easy options if the goal is to significantly upgrade the defense.) On the other hand, if Bautista was a perfect fit, he’d probably be off the market by now, and a possible single-year commitment should at least draw the team’s interest.