The Mets have made a habit of bringing in older players on inexpensive contracts, to varying degrees of success. Their most recent acquisition came with perhaps the lowest expectations of all, but Jose Bautista has surprised everyone with a hot start as a Met while adjusting to a suddenly-heavy workload.
When he was cut by the Braves after putting up a brutal .593 OPS over three weeks, there were some rumblings that Bautista might be done for good. But the Mets had holes all over the field due to injuries and picked him up in the middle of May. Since then, he's been a force to be reckoned with at the plate. Though he's only batting .254, he is getting on base at a .438 clip and slugging close to his career average.
While Bautista is certainly looking every bit the dominant force he used to be, there are a few causes for concern. His on base percentage is boosted by an exceptional 21.2 percent walk rate, which would be the highest in the league if he had enough at bats to qualify.
He's always had an excellent eye at the plate, but it's a safe bet that this will regress in the coming weeks. On the flip side, his strikeout rate is the highest of his career, which can be a red flag for a slugger in his late 30s. When he starts seeing more pitches in the zone, his difficulty making contact could become a real problem.
That said, when Bautista does make contact, it's generally been very good. His hard hit rate is an incredible 50 percent, and his ground ball rate is his lowest in a decade. You can make the case that his four home runs on the season suggests he's been a bit unlucky in that regard and a power surge as midsummer approaches would not be a surprising turn. The two-time home run leader still has plenty of pop -- something the anemic Mets lineup badly needs.
Despite their need for his bat, the Mets need to be cognizant of Bautista's workload as the season progresses. While he has generally been healthy in recent years, he is still 37 years old and has been regularly called upon to play three different positions (four if you count one surreal inning at second base). They are thin in the outfield and he will be playing close to every day until Jay Bruce or Yoenis Cespedes returns, but it's essential that they find the occasional day of rest for him. Next month will also bring some interleague games in AL parks where they can use him as a DH, which should also help offset some of the wear and tear.
Bautista's acquisition was a shot in the dark for a desperate team, and while he has not been able to stop the bleeding as the Mets drift further and further away from relevance, he has been a pleasant surprise and a valuable presence for a group of young players. He has brought a calm personality, a history of success, and one of the best bats of his generation -- and the Mets are better for it.