Posted on January 1, 2017 by Bryan Zarpentine
Perhaps more than any other player, Jose Bautista has been the victim of a rather harsh market for free agent power hitters this offseason. For a multitude of reasons, the market for Bautista has not developed the way he expected it to. Bautista has even hinted that he would be willing to accept a one-year contract, which would steer him towards a return to the Toronto Blue Jays. However, despite reports earlier this week that Bautista was in discussions with the Blue Jays, the latest reports coming out of Toronto indicate the two sides are not currently engaged in talks.
The Blue Jays have not reportedly made an official offer to Bautista other than the $17.2 million qualifying offer that he declined early in the offseason. Lines of communication between the Blue Jays and Bautista’s representatives have remained open, but the two sides haven’t spoken in any meaningful way since the Winter Meetings when the Blue Jays let Bautista know that he was just one option they were considering.
At this point, a reunion between Bautista and the Blue Jays would make sense, although more so from Bautista’s perspective. From Toronto’s point of view, they may only want to re-sign Bautista on a one-year deal, and they may not be willing to give Bautista more than the $17.2 million they offered him at the onset of the offseason. The Blue Jays have no reason to bid more than that amount, and accepting a one-year deal for less than $17.2 million would be a difficult pill for Bautista to swallow.
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Meanwhile, the Blue Jays seem more intent on exploring their other options, particularly on the trade market. The New York Mets have made Jay Bruce available via trade, making him a player the Blue Jays go after once a few more free agents come off the board and the market clears up. Toronto has had interest in Bruce in the past, and a left-handed power hitter would be a perfect fit for an otherwise right-handed heavy lineup.
There are also rumors linking the Blue Jays to Brett Gardner of the Yankees, although an intra-division trade seems unlikely. Toronto could also consider re-signing Michael Saunders, who like Bruce and Gardner would provide a left-handed complement in Toronto’s lineup, something Bautista would not provide.
This leaves Bautista down a ways on Toronto’s list of priorities, which is problematic because the Blue Jays are probably the best possible landing spot for him at the moment. Bautista has been hurt because most teams would have to sacrifice their first round draft pick in order to sign him. Teams are already hesitant to sign the 36-year old to a long-term deal, and they are even more hesitant to surrender a draft pick if they only sign him for one or two years. This has put Bautista between a rock and a hard place.
Outside of the Blue Jays, the team that makes the most sense for Bautista is the Tampa Bay Rays, who have a protected draft pick. Of course, the Rays are a small-market team that may not be able to afford the kind of money Bautista is hoping to receive on the open market. Again, this points Bautista right back to Toronto. Unfortunately, the Blue Jays appear unmotivated to negotiate with him until they exhaust several other options, leaving no end in sight to Bautista’s free agency saga.