The Houston Astros have been busy this offseason. After a somewhat disappointing finish to the 2016 season in which they missed out on the postseason, the Astros acquired Josh Reddick, Brian McCann and Carlos Beltran to bolster their lineup.
But while those additions certainly give the Astros a potent offense, they’re still a level below the best teams in baseball. And as rumors swirl that Houston is in discussions with the White Sox for left-handed starting pitcher Jose Quintana, the ‘Stros best route to making themselves instant World Series contenders involves adding another offensive piece.
This would be a classic case of the rich getting richer, and the ideal candidate to be that piece comes in the form of Jose Bautista. The Astros still have a hole in left field, and the former Blue Jay would complement George Springer and Josh Reddick extremely well.
Bautista only managed 22 home runs and a .234 batting average in an injury-riddled 2016 campaign, but that should not scare away potential suitors. If anything, it will lower his price. Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe wrote back in November that the Astros were interested in the 36-year-old slugger, and now Astros should take advantage of a market that seems to be unsold on Bautista’s talent.
If the Astros’ offense looked stout before, imagine the ammunition that manager A.J. Hinch would be able to pencil into his lineup with Bautista.
Again, the current Astros seem to be one player short of being legit contenders. They could try to add a pitcher to their somewhat thin rotation, but the asking price on Quintana was too high, there aren’t any high-caliber free agent arms available this offseason and it’s easier to part with cash than prized prospects.
And, as Dave Cameron pointed out in a recent FanGraphs column, Quintana’s numbers aren’t even that special. Yes, he is a durable lefty who would surely benefit from playing with a better offense behind him, but his numbers the last three years have not been all that different from current Astros starter Colin McHugh. They have similar walk, strikeout and ground ball rates over the past three years, and the main reason that Quintana’s run prevention rates are lower could be his significantly lower BABIP (batting average on balls in play), which is a stat that jumps around from year to year.
In other words, the numbers show that McHugh and Quintana are almost interchangeable. Quintana is better, to be sure, but I don’t think it would be worth selling the farm for a pitcher who doesn’t vastly improve the rotation.
If not a pitcher, then they might as well maximize their run scoring potential, and Bautista would do just that. He has established himself as one of the premier power hitters in baseball in recent years — he leads MLB in home runs hit since 2010 — and would likely love hitting in hitter-friendly Minute Maid Park. The Crawford Boxes sit barely 300 feet away from home plate, and Bautista’s pull-happy approach at the plate would fit the short porch like a glove.
Bautista has his question marks, though, his injury history being one. He has failed to play 120 games in three of the past five seasons and wasn’t very effective in those years even when he was on the field. However, in 2014 and 2015 he was healthy and mashed 35 and 40 homers, respectively.
His character has also been called into question of late, so much so that the Orioles refused to pursue the 36-year-old slugger because their “fans don’t like him.”
“Our fans don’t like Jose Bautista — with good reason,” Baltimore general manager Dan Duquette told Toronto’s SportsNet 590 in early December. “We told his agent that we are not interested because our fans don’t like him.”
Bautista’s epic bat flip in the 2015 postseason and his boxing match with Rougned Odor are probably the two reasons why the Orioles supposedly don’t like him, but the Astros should not worry one bit.
Why, you might ask? Because both of those instances came against the Texas Rangers, a team that happens to be the Astros biggest rival and a thorn in their side the past couple of seasons. Maybe Bautista’s fiery attitude is just what Houston needs to solve its woes against the Rangers, who have won 28 of the 38 contests between the two clubs in the last two years.
Bautista is also 36 years old, which could be a reason why teams are wary of opening the checkbook for him. Again, the Astros should just treat this as a positive — it means he is available and probably won’t cost as much.
Bautista already turned down Toronto’s one-year, $17.2 million qualifying offer, and MLB insider Jon Paul Morosi recently reported that he has turned down at least one other offer with the mindset that he wants to return to the Blue Jays, whom he has played for since 2008.
The time is now for the Astros. Bautista has had the opportunity to see his teammate Edwin Encarnacion sign a shorter and less lucrative contract than he was hoping for — three years and $60 million to the Indians. With Bautista being older, less productive and not as consistent as Encarnacion, he will undoubtedly get a smaller contract.
Maybe the Astros could get him for two years and $35 million, who knows? The only way to find out is to ask. As the New Year quickly approaches, Bautista might be more willing to negotiate. ESPN’s Jim Bowden reported that the Astros had extended an offer for Encarnacion, and now they should do the same to Bautista.
He might be a little more expensive than Jeff Luhnow was hoping to spend at this juncture, but the Astros current payroll sits at around $91.5 million, according to Spotrac, still well under the luxury tax and 17th out of the 30 MLB teams. Of the ten teams that made the postseason last year, nine of them have a higher payroll than the Astros with the Indians being the only exception.
Ultimately, Bautista would be worth it. His swing is perfect for Minute Maid, he fills the Astros biggest positional need and he and Beltran can switch off between left field and designated hitter if necessary to keep both players healthy and rested for the postseason.
Because with Bautista, the Astros would make the postseason and even have a chance to make some noise in October.
That should be more than enough to convince Luhnow to pull the trigger and bring one of the game’s most feared hitters to Houston.