Beset by injuries and thin on outfielders, the Mets signed Jose Bautista to a one-year major league deal. The former Blue Jay, who made a name for himself as the vanguard of the launch angle revolution, has declined precipitously in recent years and went unsigned this offseson. He had a brief cameo with the Braves this season, but they released him on Sunday after only 40 plate appearances with a .143/.250/.343 line.
Bautista certainly checks some of the boxes in terms of the Mets’ needs. With Yoenis Cespedes on the disabled list indefinitely and Juan Lagares out for the season, the Mets’ outfield depth is paper thin. The injury to Todd Frazier further exacerbates the need for a right-handed bat, particularly given the Mets’ cumulative .212/.289/.602 line against lefties entering play on Tuesday, good for a not-so-nice 69 wRC+.
Let’s not mince words though, Jose Bautista has been bad. The last time he was above average offensively (2016, 122 wRC+), his defense in the outfield was so bad (-9.8 UZR/150, 12th-worst among outfielders) that he was worth only 1.3 fWAR. In 2017, he was even worse, posting an 80 wRC+ despite 23 home runs en route to -0.5 fWAR. At 37 years old, Bautista is a negative with the bat, on the bases, and in the field, giving teams every reason to leave him unsigned this offseason. How does he perform against left-handed pitchers, you ask? He had reverse platoon splits last season and essentially even performance against right- and left-handed pitchers in his major league career.
The Mets could very likely get the same quality of performance out of a plethora of internal options. Phillip Evans or Jeff McNeil have both proven themselves at the minor league level and have potential as young-ish utility bats. Neither would be a defensive downgrade from Bautista despite being converted infielders. Wilmer Flores would be a disaster in the outfield, but again, so is Bautista, and Flores is a better hitter at this point, his poor hitting against left-handed pitchers in 2018 so far notwithstanding. Even Dominic Smith would be a more engaging option simply because of his youth.
More importantly, this signing probably takes time away from Brandon Nimmo, who has done a fantastic job early in the season with a .417 OBP and a 147 wRC+ through 96 plate appearances. Bautista was likely not signed to be a bench player, and if you think the Mets are going to make a habit of benching $39 million man Jay Bruce in order to get both Bautista and Nimmo in the lineup, you’re likely going to be sorely disappointed.
This signing fits into a familiar pattern. Mets management has a long-standing preference for big-name veterans no matter how old and washed up they may be. The team raced out to sign Jose Reyes to a $2 million contract this offseason, despite his paltry .256/.310/.397 line since 2015 with terrible defense at every position he has played in that time. Replacing his 2 wRC+ with Evans, McNeil, Luis Guillorme, or even Gavin Cecchni would be an immediate upgrade. Adrian Gonzalez is a similar story, though he’s been serviceable, at least. Still, better, lower-profile options were available in the offseason, and Peter Alonso would be an immediate internal upgrade.
The long and the short of it is this: If the Mets had a track record of gambling on veteran reclamation projects and cutting ties when they failed, Bautista would be a worthwhile roll of the dice. Unfortunately, this team usually does the exact opposite, holding onto washed up veterans and sitting youthful options with upside in favor of playing the biggest name or biggest salary. Perhaps Bautista still has some magic left and this works out, but at 37, it’s more likely he’s simply done. And if that’s the case, he’ll block better, younger, more interesting options while costing a team with a razor thin margin of error some value they cannot afford to spare.