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Jose Bautista: Future Phillie?

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Should the Phillies be entertaining the idea of signing the former Blue Jay on a one-year deal for a huge amount of money?

Toronto Blue Jays v Philadelphia Phillies Photo by Drew Hallowell/Getty Images

Last week, I wrote a piece about any other ways the Phillies can improve themselves for the upcoming 2017 season. I had come to the conclusion that the only spot they can really get better would be in right field, since they are currently staring down the barrel of a Aaron Altherr-Roman Quinn timeshare to begin the season. Me, I had accepted that this is probably the best way to go, considering where they are on the rebuilding cycle and what they have coming up in the minors.

Then came this little nugget about a certain former Toronto Blue Jay that is awaiting a new home. According to Jeff Passan, author of said article:

“...while (Jose) Bautista is willing to accept a one-year deal, he wants it to be at a higher value than the qualifying offer.”

This all of a sudden changes some thinking about how to improve the team. If Jose Bautista truly is willing to take a one year deal, would the Phillies be wise to jump in?

Before considering this possibility, let’s look at what they’d be getting. Bautista has been an offensive force since joining the Blue Jays, but last year, his numbers dipped:

Untitled

Year PA HR K% BB% wRC+
Year PA HR K% BB% wRC+
2010 683 54 17.0 14.6 165
2011 655 43 16.8 20.2 181
2012 399 27 15.8 14.8 137
2013 528 28 15.9 13.1 135
2014 673 35 14.3 15.5 160
2015 666 40 15.9 16.5 148
2016 517 22 19.9 16.8 122

Even at last year’s level, those are the numbers of an offensive player the team currently does not employ. It’s certainly well within the ability of someone like Maikel Franco to attain these levels of production in the future, but at the present, he’s not quite there. One could argue (quite well, in fact) that Bautista is declining, which is why is still available on the free market in the first place. However, the type of patience and power he displayed last year would fit a need the team has quite nicely in the next season. Steamer, Fangraphs’ projection system, sees a slight bounceback for him in 2017: .250/.371/.475 with 29 HR, 84 RBI, 128 wRC+, which likely means he’d be worth the price next year.

Of course, there is the matter of Bautista’s defense, which according to Fangraphs and Baseball Reference, is below average. As a team that is focusing itself on run prevention at the current time, Bautista’s glovework would be a step backward from where they are trying to get.

Even still, with Bautista willing to consider a one year deal, should the team be considering this route of improvement?

There are two questions to ask here:

1) Does it move you as an organization closer to a playoff appearance?
2) Is it worth the draft pick loss signing Bautista would entail?

To answer the first question, the answer is pretty obviously yes. Consider: upper management has gone out of its way to improve the product on the field without sacrificing future payroll space and roster spots. The bullpen, one of its weaknesses last year, has been shored up by players without commitments passed 2017. The starting pitching should be better, since the depth it has attained will help it avoid having to give starts to below replacement players like Phil Klein. The offense has been improved as well, either through trade (Howie Kendrick) or by roster decisions (declining Ryan Howard’s option). Signing Bautista can also help improve a position that gave virtually no offensive production last year (Phillies’ right fielders had a combined .231/.291/.350 line with 13 home runs and a 70 wRC+). His assumed production could also help protect against some of the expected regression from players like Cameron Rupp, Cesar Hernandez and Tommy Joseph. All of this means that with some luck and improvement from players who are fully capable of improving, the second wild card position wouldn’t be as much of a pipe dream as it would be without Bautista.

However, the second question is the one that causes the most disagreement. Due to the fact that Bautista rejected a qualifying offer, signing him would cause the Phillies to have to give up their second round draft pick, what with their first rounder being protected. Since 2010, the Phillies have had nine second round picks:

2016 - Kevin Gowdy
2015 - Scott Kingery
2014 - Matt Imhof
2013 - Andrew Knapp
2012 - Dylan Cozens (comp pick), Alec Rash (didn’t sign)
2011 - Roman Quinn (comp pick), Harold Martinez
2010 - Perci Garner

Those players italicized rank in Baseball Prospectus’ current top ten prospects in the system, which reflects the type of player the team would lose a chance on developing. Management would have to ask itself whether it was worth taking chance on missing out on a player (and its bonus slot money) in order to sign another player who would assuredly be a “one and done” acquisition. Bear in mind, with the new CBA, the team would not be able to offer a qualifying offer to Bautista next year since it is forbidden under the new rules to offer the same player a QO twice in a row. Sure, you could throw in the “If their out of it at the deadline” disclaimer as a way of discussing prospect compensation, but how did that work out last year, when it was assumed Jeremy Hellickson was on his way out of the building?

Of course, this also leaves out the type of money Bautista would command from a rebuilding team. If he were to truly entertain one year offers, what type of money could the team offer? $20 million? $30 million?

It’s an interesting proposition, signing Bautista. He’d surely improve the team, but at what cost? Are we really sure that he’d be enough of an impactful player that the team as a whole would suddenly vault into the playoff picture? He’s no Altherr, sure, but he’s also far removed from Trout-ian levels of impact. It’ll be very interesting to see where he ultimately lands, whether here or in some other lands far and wide.