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Yankees Potential Free Agent Target: Jose Bautista

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The Yankees could use a designated hitter, but not this one.

St Louis Cardinals v Pittsburgh Pirates Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Last season, the Yankees signed veteran slugger Matt Holliday to serve as the team’s designated hitter. Although past his prime, the club gambled on Yankee Stadium rejuvenating Holliday’s bat. For a while their bet paid off. He tore the cover off the ball before falling ill in late June. He returned following the All-Star break, but managed a 34 wRC+ the rest of the way. The 2017 campaign proved a mixed bag for the veteran.

Should the Yankees look to retry this experiment, they could take a flyer on former Blue Jays masher Jose Bautista. The 37-year-old hit the free agent market after Toronto declined their end of a mutual option. Does it make sense to pursue Bautista? A close examination suggests no.

Bautista struggled mightily at the plate in 2017, hitting just .203/.308/.366 across 157 games. Having launched only 23 home runs, he registered a weak 80 wRC+. While that power output might jump off the page, it becomes far more pedestrian when one considers the ball was likely juiced.

In addition to suffering a dip in power, Bautista ran up a troubling strikeout rate. He struck out 24.8% of the time, his worst mark over the course of a full season. The hard contact that defined his successful run in Toronto also vanished, seemingly overnight.

Credit: FanGraphs

That’s a troubling graph if I ever saw one. When paired with career-worst mark in plate discipline — he posted a 25.3% O-Swing rate — it’s hard not to ignore the red flags. The tell-tale signs of a player in decline are abundant. When someone like Bautista starts to lose it, things can get ugly in a hurry. Think along the lines of Alfonso Soriano or Mark Teixera. Even Alex Rodriguez and Holliday fit here. These bats have a history of falling off the cliff, not exactly something a team wants in a designated hitter.

It’s clear that the superstar of 2010 - 2015, the one who averaged a 156 wRC+ across that period, isn’t coming back. That’s fine, because the Yankees just need a reliable bat in the DH spot. It’s possible he could fill that role, and it’s a bonus that he has a knack for hitting at Yankee Stadium. He owns a .279/.418/.562 batting line with 18 home runs at the new park. That’s pretty good! It just doesn’t make up for his clear slide in production.

There’s also the fact that Bautista might be holding out hope for a reunion in Toronto. "I've said it all along, this [Toronto] is where I want to be and finish my career," he told reporters. "We'll see what happens in the future. It's out of my control now." He could fit into the Yankees’ lineup, but that might not be his top choice.

All things considered, the Yankees would be wise to pass on Bautista. Sure, they need a a designated hitter and he figures to come at a discount price. That said, I don’t think the team is that eager to relive the Holliday experience. There are better alternatives on the market and in-house.