Is Jose Bautista a better option for Dodgers than Brian Dozier?

(Via)

As we enter Day 934 of the Brian Dozier saga, I feel inclined to explore other upgrades for the Dodgers. I have done so — as recently as a week ago — but I’m going to narrow the choice down to one player: Jose Bautista.

Here’s what I wrote about him being an alternative to Dozier.

“One interesting name still on the free agent market is Jose Bautista. While he would cost the Dodgers their first-round draft pick, Bautista is still an above-average hitter, even after having a down season in 2016 (122 wRC+). It’s a far cry from what he was the previous six seasons (156 wRC+), but he’s still good at the plate. The biggest problem with him is his defense, where he has a good arm, but that’s about it. The 36-year-old hasn’t played left field since 2009 and has been below-average in right field since 2010 (his second season with the Blue Jays). Asking him to man left field might not jibe with him, just as giving him a large 1- or 2-year deal might not jibe with the Dodgers.”

Bautista, 36, is indeed one of the most productive hitters of the last six seasons, and is still a free agent two months into free agency. His former Blue Jay teammate Edwin Encarnacion was able to land $65 million deal late last month from Cleveland, yet Joey Bats remains available.

At this rate, his market has dried up quite a bit. Everyone thought he was going to go to Boston, but they signed Mitch Moreland to play first base, meaning DH would be open for Hanley Ramirez. And the Red Sox’s outfield is set for at least the next 5-6 years from left to right. A team like Baltimore could use him, but it seems content to let the Mark Trumbo market play out. Texas seems like the best remaining fit, but it doesn’t seem too eager to jump at Bautista’s terms. A team like Oakland could go for him, as they were in the Encarnacion sweepstakes, but that seems less likely.

Notice, all these are American League teams. That makes a lot of sense seeing as Bautista is the quintessential American League player. His defense is not good and it doesn’t project to get any better with age.

So, why does he make sense for the Dodgers? Well, he might not. But there was a report early in the offseason that the Dodgers had at least checked in on Bautista.

“In an injury-plagued 2016, Bautista batted .234, but with a respectable .817 OPS, slamming 22 homers with 69 RBIs. Bautista in his nine years with the Jays, hit 265 home runs, with 701 RBIs, compiling a .265 average with a .910 OPS.

One problem for the Dodgers is dealing with the luxury tax as per the newly negotiated CBA. The Dodgers are projected to be slightly over $200 million in team payroll for 2017, with the threshold of the tax sitting at $189-million. There are severe penalties to clubs that exceed the limit and clubs are trying to stay under the number. They would need to trade some salary before being able to add Bautista.”

Bautista did have a down 2016 season, but a down 2016 season for him was still a 122 wRC+, a .217 ISO and a 16.8 walk rate. He projected to be a below-average MLB player last season (1.6 WAR/600 PA), but that is almost entirely due to his poor defensive rating with a -9.3 UZR/150 and -8 defensive runs saved. That, coupled with his worst offensive season since 2009 (102 wRC+) and you have Bautista’s lowest WAR since before he was a Blue Jay.

A quick glance at his plate discipline numbers don’t return anything particularly concerning. He did see his O-Contact% (contact on pitches outside the strike zone) drop by 7.4 percent, but he actually swung at a lower rate of pitches outside the strike zone (22.2 percent in 2015; 20.2 percent in 2016) and pitches overall (39.4 Swing% in 2015, 36.6 in 2016) while having a higher rate of contact on pitches inside the strike zone (89.4 Z-Contact%, a career-high).

His batted ball stats tell a better story, but it’s still not crystal clear. He saw his fly ball percentage drop from 48.8 percent in 2015 to 41.7 percent in 2016, and for a guy who had a 47.4 percent rate from 2010 through ’15, that’s quite the drop. As for exit velocity, he did see his batted balls travel 1 MPH slower than in 2015, but he still had a 92.6 MPH exit velo. Possibly a second a result, he saw his average batted ball distance decrease from 235 feet to 222 feet. Breaking it down further, he saw his fly ball distance also drop from 304 feet to 291 feet. Going even further, his pull fly ball (includes pop ups and line drives) distance dropped from 310 feet to 295 feet.

What can we deduce from this data? It seems probable that Bautista’s decline was due more to injury than it was actual regression of skill. He dealt with a right quad injury in early June that may or may not have led to a big toe strain that landed him on the disabled list on June 17 that then kept him out until July 25. His other injury came on Aug. 10 when he suffered a right knee sprain, which kept him out for just a little longer than the required two weeks. The injuries weren’t serious, but they were nagging and led to a downturn in performance. That could be a concern going forward, especially for a power-hitter like Bautista who isn’t getting any younger.

Those injuries are also concerning when it comes to Bautista’s defense. Since he isn’t being brought in to play first base, there is a question of not only where would Bautista play, but would his offense be enough to make up for the well below-average defense.

With Yasiel Puig still in town, it stands to reason he’ll remain in right field. While Puig could move to left field and play well (remember Rich Hill‘s 7-inning perfect outing in Miami?), his arm would be absolutely wasted at the position. That’s why bringing in Bautista to play left field makes the most sense.

Bautista hasn’t played the position since 2009, but playing right field isn’t much different than playing left. Most right fielders are there because of their arm, not because it’s any harder to play. Puig’s arm is unquestionably better and the angles aren’t that different, so Bautista should be able to handle left field for 120 games or so, with maybe some starts at first base to spell Adrian Gonzalez.

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As for cost, well, the money doesn’t really matter much. I mean it does, and it’d be nice to move a pitcher like Scott Kazmir or Brandon McCarthy, but it’s the least of the Dodgers’ concerns here. It’ll probably take a couple of years and an average annual value of $18 to $22 million to land Bautista’s services. It’d be a risk for the Dodgers, but it might pay off big time to have a hitter of Bautista’s prowess in the lineup.

The biggest hangup here is the fact Bautista has a qualifying offer attached to him. That means if the Dodgers were to sign him, they’d have to forfeit their first-round draft pick (currently No. 23 overall). Andrew Friedman has yet to surrender a draft pick since taking over as president of baseball operations for the Dodgers and they won’t be getting any additional picks with Justin Turner and (hopefully soon) Kenley Jansen re-signing. But is losing the pick that bad?

To get Dozier, the Dodgers are going to have to give up multiple prospects, with the name most prominently mentioned is Jose De Leon (makes sense). Other names that have come up are Gavin Lux, Jordan Sheffield and Brock Stewart. Guys like Yadier Alvarez, Cody Bellinger and Walker Buehler have also been mentioned, but in the respect that they’re not available in a deal for Dozier (and rightfully so). What the front office has to determine is whether signing Bautista for $20 million a season and forfeiting the No. 23 pick in the upcoming draft is more bearable than giving up, say, De Leon and maybe Stewart, plus a guy like Sheffield or Willie Calhoun (or even a young MLBer like Trayce Thompson or Andrew Toles) to get Dozier for two years at a much cheaper rate than Bautista ($15 million total).

Losing one draft pick in 2017 won’t make or break the organization’s future or plan for it, and the Dodgers could even try to recoup that pick by trading for a competitive balance pick. Regardless, there are times when sacrificing a draft pick for a proven talent is worth it, and this might be one of those times with the Dodgers betting on Bautista being closer to his 2010-15 level of production rather than his 2016 level of production.

If the Dodgers opt for Bautista instead of dealing for Dozier, they’d be able to keep De Leon and Stewart — both of whom would project to see not insignificant time in the majors in 2017. That would also allow them to trade either Kazmir or McCarthy — or even both — to save some money (to offset the Bautista cost) and open up opportunities for the younger guys.

This would also mean the Dodgers would, likely, go into the season with the trio of Enrique Hernandez, Micah Johnson and Chris Taylor battling for the second base job/platoon, with Calhoun, Charlie Culberson and Jose Miguel Fernandez in the minors as backup. Hell, even Chase Utley could be an option if he’s re-signed. That doesn’t look great, but it also doesn’t mean the Dodgers couldn’t upgrade the position later in the season when there might be more options available.

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We know Bautista and Dozier would help this year, but if the Dodgers don’t want to sacrifice their upper-level pitching depth to fill a position of need, they could just pay money and a draft pick to fill a position of lesser need. I mean, Andre Ethier, Thompson and Toles isn’t nearly as appealing an option (offensively) as Bautista would be. Thompson and/or Toles have options to alleviate the outfield logjam, which makes things a little easier to handle. And let’s be honest, Ethier is probably going to be on the disabled list by the middle of June, if not sooner.

Back to Bautista. He would presumably hit in the middle of the lineup, but since the Dodgers don’t have a lead-off man, maybe hitting him and his career .368 OBP in that spot might be more effective.

Bautista LF
Seager SS
Turner 3B
Gonzalez 1B
Grandal C
Pederson CF
Puig RF
Hernandez/Johnson/Taylor 2B

Yeah, second base looks like a black hole, but the lineup 1-7 could be among baseball’s best. Either that or the Dodgers could also make the deal for Dozier and literally have an All-Star at every spot in the lineup. Suffice to say, things could be worse right now.

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There’s one other area that might be cause for concern. Some say Bautista is not exactly the best guy in the clubhouse. Some say the exact opposite. Not knowing all the details, it’s hard to know who’s right. It’s probably a little of both. If he were to come into a Dodger clubhouse with a lot of established veterans, perhaps some of that anger would be mitigated. I can’t see Bautista coming in and feeling all the pressure with guys like Gonzalez, Turner and Clayton Kershaw already in the clubhouse, for example.

With Dozier, on the other hand, there are zero clubhouse concerns. By all accounts (and from what Brandon Warne told me on his podcast), Dozier is a fantastic clubhouse presence who would fit in quite well with Los Angeles. That’s definitely something for the Dodgers to consider, especially with the emphasis the team has been placing on developing a team culture.

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One way or another this Dozier stuff needs to end this week, and while a Bautista signing would admittedly be a shocking way to declare the trade with the Twins dead, it remains an out-of-the-box option that doesn’t exactly come from nowhere. Of course getting the trade completed is still the most reasonable expectation, but as the Twins continue to drag this out from weeks into months, it gets progressively more likely that the Dodgers do start to explore the potential of more unconventional options.

About Dustin Nosler

Dustin Nosler
Dustin Nosler began writing about the Dodgers in July 2009 at his blog, Feelin' Kinda Blue. He co-hosts a weekly podcast with Jared Massey called Dugout Blues. He does contracts and depth charts for FanGraphs and is a contributor/editor at The Hardball Times. He graduated from California State University, Sacramento, with his bachelor’s degree in journalism and a minor in digital media. While at CSUS, he worked for the student-run newspaper The State Hornet for three years, culminating with a one-year term as editor-in-chief. He resides in Stockton, California, and has yet to be shot.