After two months on the open market, Jose Bautista‘s heart may still lie north of the border.
The star outfielder is a free agent for the first time in his career, and his market has been slow to build this winter – but Bautista might be doing that with his eyes still fixed squarely on Toronto.
Bautista has reportedly rejected at least one contract offer from an unknown club specifically because he wants to return to the Blue Jays, where he’s spent the last nine seasons and become a beloved franchise icon, MLB Network’s Jon Morosi reported during an appearance on Sportsnet 590 The Fan’s “Dean Blundell & Co.” program Tuesday morning.
Morosi added that Bautista has apparently been given several “credible” and “solid” offers from clubs that reportedly weren’t enough to sway his gaze away from Toronto, at least for the moment.
While there still appears to be a fit between Bautista and the Blue Jays, and the sides have reportedly kept in touch, they don’t seem to be matching up on the financial side of things. The team has reportedly been loathe to offer the 36-year-old more than a one-year, $ 17.2-million deal – or, the exact amount of the one-year qualifying offer he rejected in November. On the flip side, Bautista has been seeking a multi-year deal, though he may have backed off from his large monetary demands in spring training.
The Blue Jays’ outfield, as it stands now, consists of Gold Glove finalist Kevin Pillar in center field, flanked by Melvin Upton Jr. and Ezequiel Carrera. Bautista’s defense in right field has declined but he’d be a significant upgrade at the plate over both Carrera and Upton Jr. Despite a pair of disabled-list stints in 2016 Bautista remained a presence in the Blue Jays’ lineup, posting a .366 on-base percentage, smacking 22 homers, and drawing 87 walks.
Bautista could also fit the Blue Jays due to his potential versatility. He could feasibly split time between the corner outfield, first base, and DH next year as part of a large rotation with the aforementioned outfielders, plus first basemen/DH’s Justin Smoak, Kendrys Morales, and utility man Steve Pearce.
It’s not clear what other teams are interested in Bautista besides the Blue Jays, but several teams have openly shied away from chasing the notoriously prickly superstar. The Baltimore Orioles, a longtime nemesis of Bautista’s, refused to negotiate on account of their fans not liking him, while talks with the Texas Rangers – who famously brawled with Bautista after not taking kindly to his famous bat flip in the 2015 playoffs – reportedly went nowhere.