In a move that surprised no one, the Blue Jays officially declined their mutual $18 million option on Jose Bautista‘s contract, per reports from MLB.com’s Mark Feinsand and Ben Weinrib. Bautista is still set to receive a $500,000 buyout as he enters free agency this offseason.
The 37-year-old outfielder stumbled through one of his worst career years in 2017, compiling -0.5 fWAR while batting .203/.308/.366 with 23 home runs over 686 plate appearances. To his credit, he was able to stay healthy and maintain a nice home run clip, extending an eight-year streak of 20+ home runs per season, but his inability to consistently create runs and contribute defensively hurt his chances of making a full comeback.
Of course, there’s still a chance that Bautista could return to Toronto on a cheaper contract prior in 2018, as he did prior to the 2017 season, but general manager Ross Atkins has made it pretty clear that the team intends to go down a different route. For his part, Bautista seems set on returning to Major League Baseball.
“Contributing to daily wins is what it’s about for me,” he told reporters as the season drew to a close. “I tried to focus that on this year. I did an OK job, not as good as I’m used to, not as good as everybody’s used to seeing me, and that’s OK. There are good and bad years and for the most part my work tool, which is my body, is great, and all I’ve got to do is stay ready to go.”
The Rays started Sergio Romo on back-to-back days and if that sounds weird to you, you’re not alone. Romo, of course, was the star closer for the Giants for a while, helping them win the World Series in 2012 and ’14. He’s been a full-time reliever dating back to 2006, when he was at Single-A.
In an effort to prevent lefty Ryan Yarbrough from facing the righty-heavy top of the Angels’ lineup (Zack Cozart, Mike Trout, Justin Upton), Romo started Saturday’s game, pitching the first inning before giving way to Yarbrough in the second. Romo struck out the side, in fact. The Rays went on to win 5-3.
The Rays did it again on Sunday afternoon, starting Romo. This time, he got four outs before giving way to Matt Andriese. Romo walked two without giving up a hit while striking out three. The Angels managed to win 5-2 however.
Despite Sunday’s win, Cozart wasn’t a happy camper with the way the Rays used Romo. Via Fabian Ardaya of The Athletic, Cozart said, “It was weird … It’s bad for baseball, in my opinion … It’s spring training. That’s the best way to explain it.”
It’s difficult to see merit in Cozart’s argument. It’s not like the Rays were making excessive amounts of pitching changes; they used five on Saturday and four on Sunday. The games lasted three hours and three hours, 15 minutes, respectively. The average game time is exactly three hours so far this season. I’m having trouble wondering how else Cozart might mean the strategy is bad for baseball.
It seems like the real issue is that Cozart is afraid of the sport changing around him. The Rays, like most small market teams, have to find their edges in slight ways. The Rays aren’t doing this blindly; the strategy makes sense based on their opponents’ starting lineup. The idea of valuing on-base percentage was scoffed at. Shifting was scoffed at and now every team employs them to some degree. Who knows if starting a reliever for the first three or four outs will become a trend, but it’s shortsighted to write it off at first glance.