The Blue Jays have retained one of their free-agent sluggers as Jose Bautista followed Edwin Encarnacion's recent signing with Cleveland by returning to Toronto on Tuesday, agreeing to a reported one-year guaranteed contract worth $18 million US with two mutual option years.
He doesn't fit the Blue Jays' off-season mantra to get younger, more athletic and left-handed, but Jose Bautista was probably the most productive bat remaining on the free-agent market Toronto could have secured.
The 36-year-old's re-signing on Tuesday, pending a physical, is reportedly a one-year guaranteed contract worth $18 million US with two mutual option years that could make the deal worth $60 million. It would address the team's need for a corner outfielder, and unlike free agents Mark Trumbo and Brandon Moss, Bautista is familiar with his teammates, the Jays' clubhouse and manager John Gibbons.
"I'd be stupid to leave. I love the city," Bautista told Sports Illustrated last spring, about seven months before rejecting the Blue Jays' $17.2-million qualifying offer for one season in November.
Bautista, who was said to have demanded a contract extension for more than $150 million US for at least five years last spring training, will make more than the rejected qualifying offer in 2017, according to reports. The Blue Jays would have gained a compensatory draft pick had he signed elsewhere.
After posting a .234 batting average with 22 home runs in an injury riddled 2016 season, many believed Bautista would leave Toronto, thus allowing management to spend some extra money to bring back fellow free agent Edwin Encarnacion.
But Encarnacion officially left for Cleveland recently after agreeing to a three-year contract worth $60 million with the team that knocked out the Jays in the American League Championship Series and finished one win shy of a World Series.
Toronto has had a fairly quiet off-season, signing slugger Kendrys Morales, utilityman Steve Pearce and prospect Lourdes Gurriel Jr., but failing to bring back the popular Encarnacion did not go over well in the Ontario capital.
Before last season, Bautista hit .268 with a .390 on-base percentage, .555 slugging percentage and 45 home runs per 162 games played since his 2010 breakout campaign (.260, 54 homers, 124 RBIs, .378 OBP).
Told y'all. Lol @JoeyBats19 pic.twitter.com/0VjcVRBrpp— @MStrooo6
But the Dominican's 22 long balls in 2016 were his fewest since he hit 13 in 2009, and his 69 runs batted in were his fewest since 2012 (92 games). Bautista, who was in the final year of a team-friendly contract of six years and $78 million, also failed to make the AL all-star team last summer for the first time in seven seasons.
In addition to his power numbers, Bautista's on-base percentage of .366 would also help a batting order that he would co-anchor with third baseman Josh Donaldson, shortstop Troy Tulowitzki and Morales.
Knee and toe injuries saw Bautista placed on the disabled list a couple of times, and his on-base-plus slugging percentage of .817 was his lowest since 2009.
From 2010 through 2015, only Detroit's Miguel Cabrera (.996), Cincinnati's Joey Votto (.971), Mike Trout of the Los Angeles Angels (.963) and retired Boston Red Sox DH David Ortiz (.945) had a higher OPS mark than Bautista's .929.
Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins and Bautista's representatives reportedly met face-to-face at the winter meetings six weeks ago, with the understanding the team was interested in exploring potential trades for an outfielder.
Unsuccessful in completing a deal — some say the Blue Jays were interested in Jay Bruce and Curtis Granderson of the New York Mets — Toronto circled back to Bautista, who struck out 103 times in 423 at-bats last season, compared with 106 strikeouts in 543 at bats in 2015, and is on the decline defensively.
According to BrooksBaseball.net, Bautista's slugging percentage on four-seam fastballs also declined from .554 in 2015 to .475 last season.
But since 2010, Bautista has hit more home runs than any player in Major League Baseball with 249. With 265 overall as a Blue Jay, he ranks second behind Carlos Delgado (336) on Toronto's all-time list.
Shortly after the Jays snapped a 22-year playoff drought with an AL East title in 2015, Bautista hit an epic three-run homer in Game 5 of the Division Series against Texas, punctuating his shot with a bat flip.
Toronto is now expected to focus on improving its depth in the bullpen and at the backup catcher and left field positions.
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