On its surface, the Jose Bautista deal is a harmless roll of the dice by a team in need of outfield depth. With Juan Lagares out for the season and Yoenis Cespedes out indefinitely, the Mets were stuck with three left-handed starting outfielders, none of whom has a history of hitting left-handed pitching particularly well.
Enter Bautista, the veteran who last year got on base 31 percent of the time despite hitting for a .239 BABIP that was low even by his standards. The big fear about Bautista isn’t that he’ll cost a ton—the Mets signed him for the league minimum—or that he’ll fail to hit lefties better than New York’s current outfielders. The fear is that he’ll take playing time away from important young players Brandon Nimmo and Michael Conforto.
It’s only been two games so far, but Mickey Callaway showed some faith in the youngsters on Tuesday night in Bautista’s Mets debut. Instead of Nimmo or Conforto riding the pine in favor of the new guy, it was Jay Bruce and his .292 wOBA on the bench. I think most Mets fans—especially those who weren’t in favor of bringing the aging Bruce back into the fold over the winter—would be okay with Bautista platooning with Bruce in the outfield for the next few weeks. Neither guy is hitting the ball well right now, so why not put each in a favorable situation and see if their combined powers turn into something productive?
The issue comes with benching veteran players. Would Bruce and Bautista be okay with the arrangement? The former seems like a great clubhouse guy, but he’s been starting pretty much his whole pro career, so we don’t know how he’ll respond to part-time work. Bautista is rumored to be more of a difficult personality, and the Braves chose to release him after just 12 games rather than keep him on the bench. Was that small sample enough to prove that Johan Camargo was the superior option, or did the Braves not want to bother with Bautista being unhappy in a lesser role?
That part is unknown, but we do know from the Matt Harvey release that the Mets—at least this version of the Mets—aren’t afraid of cutting ties with a big-name player who is unhappy with his role. The big reason why Jose Reyes still has a roster spot and Matt Harvey does not is attitude. No matter what you think of Reyes, it’s clear that he’s taken to his role as Amed Rosario’s mentor and is willing to be a backup player and help the team, or at least try, whenever he’s called upon. Harvey stubbornly said “I’m a starting pitcher” before reluctantly relocating to the bullpen.
If Bautista, who doesn’t have the Mets history to fall back on, takes a similar attitude to a reduced role, there’s a good chance that he’ll also be designated for assignment. If he decides that he’s okay with being a platoon outfielder, he’ll probably stick around and maybe even hit a home run or two. As long as Nimmo and Conforto continue to develop as starting players, there’s not much downside to having Bautista around.