Jose Bautista was sitting on his couch in Tampa at 2 p.m. Tuesday. Forty minutes later, he had a one-year contract with the Mets. About an hour later, he was on a plane bound for New York. At 6:30, he walked into the clubhouse at Citi Field. And at 7:11, he was in leftfield for the first pitch.
“I think one of my wildest [days] in baseball,” the 15th-year big leaguer said standing at his locker besides two suitcases after going 1-for-3 in the Mets’ 5-1 loss to Miami.
The Mets have had difficulty against lefthanded pitching. Lately, they have had an all-lefthanded-hitting outfield and only natural infielders to back up out there because of injuries. So general manager Sandy Alderson tried to solve the problem by signing Bautista despite questions about whether there are many hits left in the 37-year-old Joey Bats’ bat after Atlanta released him Sunday.
But with Yoenis Cespedes still rehabbing his strained hip flexor and Juan Lagares set to undergo toe surgery Thursday that likely will end his season, Alderson knew he needed to tip the balance back a bit to the right against lefties and that he will need depth even after Cespedes returns from the disabled list.
Enter Bautista, the six-time All-Star who launched more than 20 homers the previous eight seasons with Toronto. Alderson said a couple of other teams were interested. . Bautista said the Mets’ “level of interest” made them the most attractive.
“We’re excited to have him,” Alderson said. “We think he gives us some balance against lefthanded pitching and off the bench and maybe a more expanded role depending on what happens.”
Bautista batted fifth. He stepped up in the second for his first at-bat and lined a double into the leftfield corner against lefthander Caleb Smith. Bautista then went down swinging twice against Smith.
“One of the things we don’t want to do is create a similar situation to one he just exited, which is kind of a short-term stint based on injuries,” Alderson said. “The bottom line is, even with Cespedes back, we’ll still only have four outfielders, plus Bautista will be five.
“So we feel there’s room for him going forward. I think he knows that a lot of his playing time will be contingent on performance, which is true of any player.”
Declining performance has been an issue for Bautista, who can play both corner outfield and infield spots. Last year, he batted .203 with 23 homers and 65 RBIs in 157 games.
After experiencing a chilly free-agent marketplace, Bautista finally went to Atlanta to play third. He signed April 18 and hit .143 (5-for-35) with two homers and five RBIs in 12 games, although his OPS against lefthanders was .913. He arrived in Queens with a career .858 OPS vs. lefties.
“Bad seasons happen,” Bautista said. “I feel good enough, and I know what it takes. I’ve kind of been there, done that. When I’m ready to call it quits, I’ll do that. I don’t think I’m ready to do that.”
MLB Experience: 15 seasons
Previous Teams: 6 (Baltimore, Tampa Bay, Kansas City, Pittsburgh, Toronto, Atlanta)