The most memorable thing that the Orioles have done this offseason has had nothing to do with any player signing at all. Dan Duquette’s infamous proclamation that the Orioles weren’t interested in Jose Bautista because Orioles fans don’t like him still makes me chuckle.
As I read over Christmas weekend that Bautista is now potentially willing to settle for a one-year contract, I find myself wondering: What would it take to make the Orioles reconsider their reluctance to bring Bautista into town?
Bautista is a jerk, there’s no doubt about that. Composing these thoughts on the night of Christmas, I find myself coming back to the classic song about Mr. Grinch. Any number of those phrases apply to Bautista. Cuddly as a cactus? Check. Termites in his smile? Yes. And Duquette and Orioles fans are united in not wanting to touch him with a thirty-nine-and-a-half-foot pole.
Not that it was really ever about Orioles fans not liking Bautista, which MASN’s Roch Kubatko as much as confirmed in a Christmas morning mailbag blog:
It’s an amusing little tale that doesn’t tell the full story. I’m sure there are some concerns about how Bautista would be received, but not just by fans. The clubhouse is a warm and inviting place for all newcomers, but Bautista would really put that reputation to the test.
Fans would get over it if something weird happened and Bautista came here and played well. Baltimore sports fans, in particular, are a bunch of people who would enjoy cheering for a good player who gets booed like a wrestling heel in every other MLB city.
The clubhouse is a different concern. If players like Adam Jones and Darren O’Day, who’ve specifically had incidents involving Bautista in the past, want no part of him, that’s reason enough to shy away from ever seriously thinking about Bautista, no matter how short of a contract he’s seeking now.
For the sake of this hypothetical, let’s put aside any feelings about Bautista himself from either fans or players. If we were talking about a possibly-declining slugger whose soul was not an appalling dump heap, what would have to happen to make you interested in that kind of player?
There is plenty that’s worrisome about Bautista that has nothing to do with his personality. He is now 36 years old and is coming off an injury-plagued season where he hit fewer home runs (22) and had a lower batting average (.234) than any year since 2009.
Bautista has played a lot of right field, which is what the O’s still need, but defensive metrics don’t rate him well any more. Which, of course they don’t. He’s 36 and even when he was younger, he was fine, at best.
What’s more, Bautista is a qualifying offer free agent who will cost a first round draft pick. And even though he’s now signalling a willingness to accept a one-year contract, he still wants one with a value greater than the $17.2 million QO he declined from the Blue Jays back in November. In the waning days of the year 2016, that’s not going to trip the Orioles’ bargain radar even if Bautista was a saint. He ain’t.
If some team out there is going to pay Bautista $20 million, or even $15 million, you probably wouldn’t want that team to be the Orioles. I certainly don’t want it to be them. But if Bautista came to the O’s, hat in hand, willing to play for the MLB minimum just to get to play, would you still say no?
Of course, that exact series of events won’t happen. What if another month goes by and Bautista is still dangling out there?
The fear that Bautista’s 2016, as diminished as it was, may still prove to be better than any remaining year of his career, is understandable. Yet if he has the potential to rebound at all, at a certain price point, the Orioles have to at least think about him. Even considering the lost draft pick, that would have to be tempting.
If the price tag gets low enough, instead of focusing on all of the downsides, we could instead look at how he walked in 16.8% of plate appearances even while having a down year, and how his .366 OBP would have led the 2016 Orioles. Angry Bautista hits dingers, and a Bautista who has to eat some humble pie on his next contract is probably going to be angry and looking to prove people wrong the whole year long.
As unpleasant as it is to think about, the reality remains that the Orioles probably have a two year window remaining with the current roster core before everything falls apart.
A signing of a player with Bautista’s risky profile may be the kind of thing they need to consider in that window. Whether he booms or busts, he would still only cost them money in 2017. No, I haven’t forgotten about the draft pick, but it’s not going to help them be as good as possible before Manny Machado becomes a free agent.
Any signing that doesn’t commit money beyond 2018 is one that doesn’t impact their future payroll space when it comes to trying to retain Machado’s services. At this point, the only bad signing is one that doesn’t make them better over the next two years.
There are plenty of reasons Bautista might not actually make them better in 2017. If the Orioles saw his 2016 performance and heard his contract demands and blew him off, that’s good. “Don’t give $20 million to a 35+ year old guy whose OPS just dipped almost 100 points” is a pretty good rule to live by. And that’s even if he wasn’t a crooked jerky jockey who drives a crooked horse!
The Orioles aren’t going to sign Bautista. It’s ridiculous to even think about it. But hey, it’s the day after Christmas, it’s not like there’s news, so what else are we going to think about?
What do you think? Are you still part of the no-way, no-how crowd for Bautista? Is there a price tag where you’d have to start to think about it?