Bautista's day starts in Fla., ends in Mets' lineup
Veteran slugger joins NY club in need of right-handed power, doubles in 1st AB
NEW YORK -- About four and a half hours before their game against the Marlins on Tuesday, the Mets agreed to terms on a one-year deal to bring Jose Bautista to Flushing, adding some right-handed thump -- albeit 37-year-old thump -- to a lineup in obvious need of it. The Mets just so happened to be facing a left-handed pitcher that night, creating an ideal situation for their newest player.
Problem was, Bautista was at home in Tampa, Fla., roughly a three-hour flight from New York City. The Mets told him if he rushed, they might put him in the starting lineup. So Bautista bolted to the airport, caught a flight and -- the true miracle of miracles -- landed 11 minutes early at LaGuardia Airport. Less than an hour before first pitch, Bautista walked into Citi Field, where manager Mickey Callaway told him he was batting fifth and starting in left field.
"I got it," Bautista replied.
Lacking right-handed power with Yoenis Cespedes and Todd Frazier on the disabled list, the Mets were eager to see what damage their new slugger might wreak.
• Bautista doubles in debut, but Mets fall to Marlins
"We're excited to have him," general manager Sandy Alderson said of Bautista, who punched a double into left field in his first at-bat. "We think he gives us some balance, a threat against left-handed pitching and off the bench. And maybe a more expanded role depending on what happens."
For now, consider it a low-cost experiment at the prorated Major League minimum (roughly $400,000). Bautista went 5-for-35 (.143) with two home runs in 12 games for the Braves, who released him Sunday. One season removed from a 23-homer campaign with the Blue Jays, and three years removed from a 40-homer, All-Star effort in Toronto, Bautista noted that his Atlanta sample size was probably too small to draw meaningful conclusions.
The larger landscape is this: In 15 years with six teams, most notably the Jays and Pirates, Bautista owns a .249 average with 333 home runs and an .841 OPS. He is a three-time Silver Slugger Award winner and one of only three big leaguers, along with Nelson Cruz and Giancarlo Stanton, to hit at least 20 homers every year since 2010.
"I've kind of been there, done that," Bautista said, brushing off the fact that his batting average, OPS and adjusted OPS have all declined every year since 2014. "When I'm ready to call it quits, I'll do that. I don't think I am ready to do that."
If nothing else, Bautista offers right-handed power in a lineup currently dominated by lefties. Neither of the Mets' top two right-handed bats, Cespedes and Frazier, are due back in the coming days. In their absence, the Mets have routinely started Brandon Nimmo, Michael Conforto and Jay Bruce, all left-handed, in their outfield. Bautista offers an alternative, tempting the Mets from the moment the Braves released him.
This is not his first stint with the Mets; on July 30, 2004, the team traded for Bautista and flipped him to the Pirates on the same day. It was not until four years later, after Pittsburgh dealt him to the Blue Jays, that Bautista blossomed into one of baseball's best power hitters, making six consecutive American League All-Star teams beginning in '10.
It was also during that tenure that Bautista grew close to J.P. Ricciardi, now a member of the Mets front office and one of the driving forces behind his signing. In his negotiations with Bautista, Ricciardi offered the promise of regular playing time against left-handed pitchers, as well as opportunities off the bench.
"He's a guy who will adjust well to this ballclub because he takes a lot of walks, takes a lot of pitches," former Jays teammate Jose Reyes said. "He's going to be huge for us. That's a good signing for the New York Mets."
Although Bautista entered Tuesday's play with a .669 OPS since the start of last season, he posted a .913 mark in 20 plate appearances against lefties this year. That sample was enough for the Mets, whose Minor League depth consists almost exclusively of left-handed veterans, to take a chance.
"This was really a move made to balance our lineup, and lengthen it against left-handed pitching," general manager Sandy Alderson said, "with or without Yoenis in the lineup."
That line of thinking is why the Mets were so eager to include Bautista in their lineup Tuesday, bouncing Bruce from it just before game time and optioning Phillip Evans, in a corresponding move, to Triple-A Las Vegas. Bautista finished 1-for-3 with strikeouts in each of his last two at-bats, which seems reasonable from someone relaxing in Florida just hours earlier.
"One of my wildest [days] in baseball," Bautista said. "I was sitting at home on a couch at 2 o'clock, and at 6:30 I was walking in the clubhouse."