The minute Jose Bautista was cut loose by the Braves, it only seemed to be a matter of time before he wound up in Flushing.
Primarily because Bautista, 37, features two of the best qualifications to become a member of the 2018 Mets: Advanced age and a cheap price tag.
That’s not meant to be a knock on Bautista. He’s much younger than me. And with the Mets getting him for the prorated portion of the major-league minimum salary, which is $545,000 this season, we’re not going to slam Sandy Alderson for trying to resurrect a potential power bat from the bargain bin.
The part we’re not so crazy about? The Mets having to rely on someone like Bautista, a player not only on the back nine of his career, but sizing up his approach shot from the 18th fairway. That’s the troubling aspect of the Bautista deal. The actual need for it.
We also saw it with Adrian Gonzalez over the winter, another pay-low, aim-high signing designed as a hedge bet to cover for the disappointing Dominic Smith. The Mets no longer have the talent down below to patch any holes that open up at Citi Field, and with the recent injuries to Yoenis Cespedes and Juan Lagares, the depth chart was looking awfully shallow.
Lagares is likely done for the season after surgery to repair a tear in his big toe — how do these freakish things keep happening? — and Cespedes is out indefinitely with his hip flexor strain. The Mets won’t provide a timeline for Cespedes’ return, other than to say he’s still trying to get pain-free, which is a step or two before resuming full baseball activities. In other words, not close.
Alderson denied that Cespedes’ murky rehab schedule was the driving force behind the Mets’ push for Bautista, but there’s an obvious connection. Both carry the label of righthanded slugging outfielders, and when Cespedes wound up on the shelf, that job was vacant — until Bautista showed up at Citi Field roughly 20 minutes before Tuesday’s game against the Marlins.
“I don’t think this is really a short-term focus or any sort of commentary on where we think Cespedes is,” Alderson said. “I think we have an idea that Cespedes could be a period of time, and Bautista should help us during that time frame. But we do think that he has value to us beyond that.”
There were other teams interested in Bautista, so the opportunity to immediately step into the Mets’ lineup — as he did within minutes of stepping off his flight from Tampa — definitely was the selling point for coming to Queens. For a guy that’s earned nearly $104 million during his 15-year career, Bautista should be set up just fine for retirement, a fate the Braves delayed by signing him earlier this month in a third-base experiment that eventually went sideways.
“When I’m ready to call it quits, I’ll do that,” Bautista said Tuesday night. “I don’t think I’m ready to do that.”
The Mets seem to be tailor-made for him on paper, with glaring deficiencies that could be helped by a revived Bautista — — perhaps if this were 2015, the year he hit 40 home runs with a .913 OPS. As for the ’18 version? The odds are against this relationship working out, but we can’t blame Alderson & Co. for trying. As the GM made sure to mention, the Mets are solely lacking against lefthanded pitching, with a .602 OPS that ranks last in the majors.
Ideally, Bautista should be able to help in those circumstances, and Alderson cited his .913 OPS vs. lefties this season, despite the microscopic sample size (3 hits, 4 walks). Overall, Bautista batted .143 (5-for-35) in 12 games for the Braves with two home runs and 12 strikeouts.
So who is Bautista now? Maybe an occasional contributor. Or in the case of Tuesday’s 5-1 slog of a loss to the Marlins, a mildly entertaining diversion. Bautista’s arrival created some buzz at a virtually empty stadium on a drizzly night, but that dissolved with Jose Reyes’ costly pair of throwing errors — the first led to two runs — and the Mets’ lineup going silent.
Bautista was one of the few Mets to make any noise, poking a double to leftfield in his first at-bat and scoring the only run. Sadly, that should tell you all you need to know.
Jose Bautista’s busy day:
2:40 p.m. — Agrees on major-league deal with Mets.
3:45 — Flight departs from Tampa to LaGuardia.
6:19 — Flight lands at LaGuardia.
6:45 — Mets announce lineup change, inserting Bautista in leftfield, batting fifth.
7:08 — Emerges from Mets dugout, wearing No. 11, jogs to leftfield.
7:11 — Zack Wheeler throws first pitch
7:36 — Bautista hesitates in new outfield, but catches Lewis Brinson’s line drive.
7:47 — Gets nice ovation when introduced for first at-bat leading off second inning.
7:49 — Battles back from down 0-and-2 in the count to rip Caleb Smith fastball down the leftfield line for a double, the Mets’ first hit.
7:52 — Scores on Tomas Nido’s sacrifice fly to cut Mets’ deficit to 3-1.