After a down year for both player and team, Jose Bautista will not have his 2018 option picked up by the Toronto Blue Jays.
A bad April put the Toronto Blue Jays behind the eight-ball this year, and they never recovered on their way to 76-86 finish. One of the poster boys for that downturn was Jose Bautista, who hit 23 home runs but posted a .203/.308/.366 slash-line while setting a single-season club record with 170 strikeouts.
Bautista has a $17 million mutual option ($500,00 buyout) with the Blue Jays for 2018, but it seems to be a foregone conclusion he won’t be back in Toronto at that pay rate. According to Shi Davidi of Sportsnet the Blue Jays will indeed decline their part of the option. Bautista, however, still plans to play somewhere in 2018.
Health, at least on the surface, was not an issue for Bautista this season. He set career-highs in game (157) and plate appearances (686) while mostly playing his customary right field (140 starts). But there’s a strong argument, backed by data, that he didn’t belong in the lineup as much as he was. And given he will turn 37 on Oct. 19, it’s possible “Joey Bats” is completely done as anything close to an elite level power hitter.
Via FanGraphs, Bautista hit a fair amount more fly balls in 2017 (45.8 percent) compared to 2016 (41.7 percent). But his home run/fly ball rate dropped to 11.9 percent (16.3 percent in 2016), and his hard contact rate dropped dramatically too (31.4 percent; 41 percent in 2016). As can also be deduced, Bautista chased pitches out of the strike zone more often this year and had a higher swinging strike rate compared to 2016.
Bautista’s struggles at the plate were wide-ranging, but 20 of his home runs came against right-handed pitchers over 525 of his plate appearances. He was also still pretty useful in right field, with his 10th outfield assist coming in Sunday’s season finale.
Bautista made it clear again that he wants to finish his career in Toronto, but the team doesn’t seem to share that interest. There’s a remote possibility the Blue Jays will circle back, and sign him to a deal with a more palatable salary at some point during the offseason. But another team should have room for Bautista, even as just a bench player that can play multiple positions and will occasionally hit a fastball a long way.