The calendar is about to turn to 2017 and outfielder Jose Bautista, once believed to be one of the top options in a weak 2016 free agent class in MLB, is still without a job. The 36-year-old slugger has had rumors swirling around him since the last out of the World Series, yet he remains unsigned.
Speculation has bounced from the Blue Jays to the Rangers and to the Astros and back again. A deal to keep Bautista in Toronto has always seemed likely, and the longer he remains unsigned, the more plausible this becomes.
The Blue Jays have had a busy offseason, signing Steve Pearce and Kendrys Morales to help bolster their offense. The departure of Edwin Encarnacion has left the organization looking for help in their lineup.
Jon Morosi of MLB Network recently confirmed that the Blue Jays are aggressively pursuing Bautista, while no news connecting him to any other team has been reported over the last several days. The Blue Jays made their way to the American League Championship Series this season, so obviously they are trying to balance expectations with reality, and bringing back a fan favorite would be a start to this.
Bautista has a qualifying offer attached to him, so the potential loss of a first-round draft pick seems to be one reason his market has been depressed. Another is that Bautista’s performance regressed dramatically.
His .366 OBP and .452 SLG were both his lowest numbers in those categories since 2009. He also posted just 1.4 fWAR, which is the lowest he’s had since the 2008 season. Bautista spent part of the year hurt as well, leading to his lowest number of plate appearances since 2009 at only 517. He is now 36 years old, so there is a great deal of skepticism about his chances to rebound.
Still, the Blue Jays and Astros have both been especially aggressive with regards to adding talent in the open market. Given this, it is not difficult to imagine either squad taking a chance on Bautista with a one-year “prove-it” deal that would allow him to negotiate for more after the season, provided he should succeed. My read of the situation is that he is likeliest to return to the Blue Jays for the 2017 season, but that the Astros and Rangers will likely remain in play until then.null