The allure of a contract year can be exciting for a player of Jose Bautista's ilk. Coming off a season where he just produced 4.5 fWAR with a 148 wRC+, the thought was that his wallet was about to put on a substantial amount of weight.
Today, that thought has nearly evaporated. If that's not true, it's certainly true that a lot of Blue Jays fans are less willing to be the ones making that wallet so heavy.
After missing more than a month with turf toe earlier this year, Bautista was once again placed on the 15-day disabled list Wednesday with a sprained knee. At the earliest, this puts Bautista out of the Jays' lineup until August 24th, leaving a possible 37 games for Bautista to play in for the remainder of the season—assuming he suits up for 37 consecutively which he most likely will not.
As a conservative idea, let's say he does manage to play all 37 possible games. That will leave him at 117 games on the season, which is his lowest mark since playing in 92 games in 2012. The problem with this is that his production over that sample has been much worse than it was in the shorter 2012 sample.
In 80 games this season, Bautista has produced a .222/.349/.444 triple-slash line to go with a 0.7 fWAR. Take your pick of the metric and Bautista is having his worst season in what is the most crucial time of his career. His batting average is the lowest of his career in a season with more than 70 games played, his wRC+ the lowest since 2009 and fWAR lowest since joining the Blue Jays in 2008.
While Bautista has plummeted at the plate, it's not like he's any better on the other side of the ball. Take your pick of defensive metric and things are looking dire for the 35-year-old. His DRS stands at -9 on the season with a UZR/150 score of -10.1—both measures that would place him in the bottom podium for right fielders this season. For you non stat-heads, even the naked eye test can tell you that Jose Bautista's defense has floundered this season as he back-tracks missing several balls that were formerly routine.
Of course, all of this matters to Jays' fans and Jose in terms of the amount of zeros put on his cheque come next season. Prior to the season, it was widely reported that Bautista had a certain number ($150 million) and was sticking to it no matter what. It appeared he had no fear of going to free agency to manifest the fruits of his labour.
And, myself included, thought there would be some team willing to foot the bill because for every time you think player x can't possibly earn that untouchable number, some team always seems to step up and hit it. It's free agency after all, the name of the game is overpaying for production. But I truly can't see Mr. Bautista getting that number any more and I'm not alone.
"I don't think he was going to get $150 million anyway," MLB Network Insider Jon Heyman said on Sportsnet 590 the Fan. "He was probably around $100 million for four years (before the season). I think he'll probably (land) a three-year deal in the range of $70 million. We'll see. He's going to have to come back and do okay. He can't be injured or else it'll cost him even more."
Prior to the season, much had been made about how Jose Bautista was different from your typical 35-year-old. He ate better, he knew about his body and he trained specifically in ways that would allow him to stay on the field for the bulk of the remainder of his career. It's the foundation for his reasoning into receiving a large contract this off-season and was no doubt the cement to his $150 million asking price.
But even father time caught up to him. While this season may be a blip in the road in terms of his injuries—it's hard to say a caught spike in the turf is the result of aging—Jose Bautista is not the player he once was and it's hard to imagine that teams will be lining up to pay him like he is either.
More likely, we're going to complete the circle of life to the report that Bautista was willing to accept a, "Yoenis Cespedes" type of contract. For those unknowing, Cespedes inked a three-year deal with the New York Mets last off-season for $75 million.
For some, that might even seem like too high of a price for a player if Edwin Encarnacion and Michael Saunders are higher on the priority list. That said, while the $150 million may have been far outside the Jays' buying territory, Jose Bautista, for better or worse, has played his way back into the Jays' budget.
Whether they're willing to buying that commodity now is the debate that will continue to stoke the fire.