The Jays Get Joey Bats Back

A Blue Jays team without Jose Bautista feels a bit dirty. It’s theoretically possible — and, given the fact that the Blue Jays existed before Bautista donned their uniform, it’s verifiably possible, too. Yet fate seems to have conspired to reunite the bearded bringer of dingers with the Jays. Bautista is reportedly going back to Toronto after finding that his age and rejection of the qualifying offer have dampened his market far more than expected.

After at one point reportedly seeking a contract in the neighborhood of five years and $150 million, Bautista is signing for one guaranteed season at an $18 million clip, with two options that could bring the total of the deal to $60 million. Regardless of whether or not those two years get picked up, he’s beaten the initial $17.2 million qualifying offer. Mutual options are almost never exercised, of course, but Jeff Passan did mention yesterday that Bautista is turning down bigger money to come back to the Jays.

That’s a big deal because, again, it’s hard to imagine the Blue Jays without Bautista. He has been the defining face of the franchise since his breakout 54-bomb outburst in 2010. It’s hard to imagine someone besides Buck Martinez calling Bautista home runs, and it’s hard to imagine half of his home runs happening without that loud foghorn they have at the stadium formerly known as the SkyDome. Like when the Mets re-signed Yoenis Cespedes (both the first and second times), there’s a deeper significance to Bautista’s return than just on-field production. It’s hard for fanbases when their stars leave. Bautista provided the city of Toronto with its most iconic playoff sports moment since Joe Carter touched ’em all.

He then took a nasty right hook to the face — likely in part due to his memorable bat flip — a few months later. Bautista is a polarizing figure in the sport, so much so that the GM of a team flat out used it as an excuse for why he probably couldn’t sign him. He’s the kind of player who’s absolutely loved by his fans and reviled by many others. Those are the iconic figures in sports, the ones who sell jerseys and promote the sport by simply existing. The story of the game over the last seven seasons is impossible to be told without speaking Bautista’s leap to superstardom and the 2015 playoffs, even if the Jays didn’t make it to the World Series. The Jays may have lost Encarnacion, but Bautista is more vital to the soul of the franchise. They were going to always have Josh Donaldson in 2017, but there was a chance they weren’t going to have Bautista. Franchise-defining superstars look weird in new uniforms, especially when that franchise is currently the only one in its home country. It’s good for the Blue Jays, and for baseball as a whole, that Bautista is staying in Toronto.

It might also be good for the Blue Jays from a pure baseball perspective. Before today, the Jays had replaced the departing bats of Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion and Michael Saunders with those of Kendrys Morales and Steve Pearce, and by giving larger roles to Justin Smoak and Ezequiel Carrera. That probably wasn’t going to be adequate, to say the least. Bringing Bautista back solves at least part of that issue. ZiPS projects Bautista to put up a .371 wOBA and 3.1 WAR, along with 27 homers and a .369 OBP. That’ll fit quite nicely into the Blue Jays lineup. Bautista is going to be playing his age-36 season next year, and his defense isn’t exactly trending upwards. Morales is on a three-year deal, so Bautista won’t be able to slide into a full-time DH role unless the former is hurt. The Jays are taking a defensive hit here.

You don’t pay Jose Bautista to play for your team because of his glove, of course. You pay him to hit the tar out of the ball. You pay him to swagger around the bases after he hits the tar out of the ball. You pay him to be the face of the franchise and to be a rallying point. You pay him to pepper the upper levels of Rogers Centre with baseballs and to smack around the soft underbellies of the rotations of the Yankees and Orioles.

Jose Bautista maybe could have gotten a fair amount more money had he not been made a qualifying offer. Teams aren’t clamoring to give up a draft pick for a 36-year-old slugger, it seems. But it would have been strange to see Bautista in another uniform, and it would have been a bad idea for the Jays to go on without his bat. This is a deal that makes sense for both parties. Bautista will continue to be the king of Toronto, and the Jays will continue to have their brightest star.

That’ll do.

Nick is a columnist at FanGraphs, and has written previously for Baseball Prospectus and Beyond the Box Score. Yes, he hates your favorite team, just like Joe Buck. You can follow him on Twitter at @StelliniTweets, and can contact him at stellinin1 at gmail.

Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
7 years ago

I’m pretty sure the Red Sox and Rays also have soft and memorably-peppered underbellies in their rotations, even though I imagine Bautista is probably happier to face Tillman or Sabathia than Porcello or Odorizzi.

7 years ago
Reply to  kbn

Jose Bautista
vs Chris Tillman: 54 PA, 267/.370/.556, 8 BB/11 SO, 3 HR, 7 RBI
vs Rick Porcello: 46 PA, .421/.522/.737(!), 7 BB/5 SO, 4 HR, 11 RBI
vs CC Sabathia: 45 PA, .125/.222/.225, 5 BB/10 SO, 1 HR, 1 RBI
vs Jake Odorizzi: 34 PA, .120/.324/.320, 8 BB/7 SO, 1 HR, 3 RBI

7 years ago
Reply to  LHPSU

Rick Porcello probably isn’t a Joey Bats fan.

Warning Track Power
7 years ago
Reply to  LHPSU

Thanks for this. I don’t want to say this is your finest moment, but it is a damn fine moment.