By Zach Gewelb
With star outfielder Yoenis Cespedes on the disabled list, the New York Mets were in desperate need for a right-handed power bat and decided to take a flier on veteran outfielder Jose Bautista.
Bautista, recently released from the Atlanta Braves following a mediocre 12-game cameo, does provide some power, but not much else. Nevertheless, it was a move the Mets had to make, especially with Juan Lagares — the club’s other right-handed hitting outfielder — also injured and out for the foreseeable future, possibly the rest of the 2018 season.
Bautista comes to the Mets on a discounted deal — he will make the prorated portion of the industry minimum salary of $545,000 — and should be expected to play against lefty pitchers while Brandon Nimmo, Jay Bruce and Michael Conforto — all lefty swingers — will see the field against right-handed pitchers. Bautista has a history of mashing southpaws, evidenced by his career .859 OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage) against lefties.
Despite his past success, Bautista has been on the decline for some time now. A noted power hitter with 333 career home runs, Bautista has failed to hit more than 23 since 2015, when he slugged 40. Last season was one of the worst of Bautista’s career, as he hit .203/.308/.366 with 23 home runs and 170 strikeouts, the highest total of his career.
He could not find a major league deal following his abysmal season and latched on with the Braves on a minor league contract. Recalled to the majors on May 4, Bautista struggled at the plate. In 12 games, he managed to bash two home runs and drive in five runs, but hit just .143/.250/.343 with 12 strikeouts, which led to his release.
While it’s clear he’s no longer the player he once was, Bautista can still help the Mets for a short time. His power is real and can still make pitchers tremble. His bat will be an asset in the middle of the Mets’ order, which desperately needs some right-handed thump with Cespedes sidelined.
But once the star outfielder returns from the disabled list, expect the Mets to walk away from Bautista. Yes, he is a versatile player who can take the field at right field, left field, third base and first base, but there won’t be room for him once Cespedes rejoins the lineup.
Plus, the Mets are already an older team, with 10 players on the roster over 30 years old. And Bautista, 37, is the oldest. There simply won’t be room for the 15-year veteran when the Mets get their injured players back from the DL.
Bringing Bautista in is a low-risk, low-reward proposition for the Mets. He’ll provide some power, but don’t expect him to be a savior and carry the team while he’s here. He’s no longer that type of player.
Reach reporter Zach Gewelb by e-mail at zgewe